If you want to get a good grade in your open university tutor marked assignment (TMA) then you must answer the assignment questions. I’ve written about the other steps to getting awesome assignment marks before. However a few more tutorials, and some painful personal experience, has shown that I need to revisit answering the assignment questions.

Three Steps to Decoding Assignment Questions

  1. Read the assignment questions closely
  2. Identify the thinking or cognitive skills
  3. Pick out appropriate theories from the assignment questions

1. Reading the Assignment Questions Closely

The people that write our assignment questions are very careful in their use of language. They pick the words to give us clues, and they use them precisely.

So spend some time reading the question and make no assumptions about what you are being asked to do.

Break the assignment questions into each of their component parts. That way you won’t miss any parts of what you are being asked to do. You might want to copy it into a word processing package and put some breaks in.

Pay attention to the word count and marks assigned to each part of the question. This gives you clues to help with your understanding of what the university wants to see in your answers.

2. Identify thinking or cognitive skills

When you are reading the question closely, and separating out its components, then highlight the cognitive skills being asked for. These include the following:

  • Evaluate – did something work?
  • Recommend – choose something and say why it is good, possibly mention limitations
  • Compare – show how two things are similar, or can be used in the same context
  • Contrast – show the difference between two things
  • Reflect – show your learning journey

3. Pick Appropriate Theories

Sometimes the questions tell you specific theories to apply. Sometimes they point at part of a module. Other times they tell you what area to look at. Use all the clues that you are given, and don’t forget to use stuff from other parts of the course too.

The purpose of all assignments and exams is to provide evidence that you have learnt from the course. So give the marker what they want.

See also Six Steps to an Awesome Assignment.