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The TutorNinjas Guide To Planning Your Assignment

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Have you ever worked really hard on an assignment, only to discover that you completely missed the mark? Perhaps you dedicated lots of time to the task in hand, but your grade just didn’t reflect the effort?

Whether you’re working towards your GCSEs, your A-levels, your undergrad degree or a Masters, all assignments are fundamentally similar. 

Of course, the scale grows with the level but – at the heart of it – an assignment will give you a title, a word-count, and a matrix that indicates what you should need to do to get the top grades. 

And a lot of students fail to get the top grades because they don’t read the assignment brief. 


In this article, we’re going to explore the component parts of a standard educational assignment; helping you to work more closely to the brief, and improve those disappointing grades. 

What is an assignment?

Whether an assignment is academic, practical, research-based, or otherwise, an assignment:

  • Asks a question
  • Suggests a mode of delivery, and
  • (Usually) offers insight into the type of performance expected for each grade. 

Assignments are designed to do several things, but the most common aim is to ascertain the level of a student’s understanding. And, for a teacher to assess normatively, there needs to be a clear assessment model that you can use to understand HOW the assignment will be marked. 

What Is The Question?

The most common reason for lower-than-expected grades is where the student fails to address the question. It doesn’t matter how beautifully constructed an assignment might be; if it doesn’t answer the question asked, the marks simply don’t stack up. 

So, spend time analysing the question. Ascertain what it is that you’re being asked to do?

Are you being asked to write an academic essay (with references and statistics)? Or is it a presentation? Perhaps it’s a report. Or you might be asked to report the details or evaluate them? Maybe you’re being asked to discuss or compare. 


Look out for these keywords because they are heavy hints that suggest what you need to do to get the top grade. 

A report is a statement of fact. Stick to the evidence and make sure that it’s presented in a logical order.  

A report might demand additional components (such as an evaluation or a discussion) but only give more if it’s asking for it. Examine within the question and consult the listed assessment criteria to find out if more than a basic statement will get you higher grades. 

For example, a basic facts-driven report might get you a PASS, while an evaluation might get you a DISTINCTION.


An evaluation demands substantiated evidence, including references and recognised statistics. 

An evaluation asks you to analyse and make sense of the facts, rather than just presenting them.  It might demand comparison, and will almost certainly require a conclusion based on your combined findings. 


A discussion isn’t just a verbal practice. If your assignment asks you to discuss something, it’s asking you to provide a balanced view of the question from a range of sources and opposing perspectives. 

It might ask you to consider a range of opinions and make a value-judgement based on the evidence you’ve presented.

A discussion is a balanced view – it’s taking multiple angles and opinions into account. 


A presentation refers to live delivery, usually requiring you to stand in front of a panel of your peers, delivering your research or findings. You might be asked to create a slideshow to accompany your verbal delivery.   

Again, you will be asked to prepare your presentation based on the question – so if it’s a report, give the substantiated evidence; if it’s a discussion, explore the various angles, etc. 

Be super-specific

Recognising the specifics of the question are paramount to gaining the top grades. If you’re unsure of what the question is asking you to do, consult your tutor and ask them for additional guidance. 

How are you going to be assessed?

Always read the assessment criteria. Sometimes it will be VERY specific, other times it might be more open to interpretation. 

If – for example – you’re studying for a BTEC National Diploma, the assessment criteria might SEEM vague, but there are clues to look out for.

If you’re studying for a degree, there will be a detailed description of the standards expected for each grade. But there will be a level of interpretation involved. 

If you’re studying for your GCSEs, it could come down to the number of relevant facts you provide in the body of your assignment. Find out how many marks you could get – it’s a pretty good indication of the number of points you’re being asked to include.

Understanding Assessment Criteria

Most assessment criteria work on a sliding scale. 

For example:

In BTEC ND Music Performance, the grades might be assigned like this:

  • PASS – Play a 12-bar blues chord progression with each chord in root position with little hesitation
  • MERIT – Play a 12-bar blues chord progression in root position with fluency throughout
  • DISTINCTION – Play a 12-bar blues chord progression fluently throughout, using chords in root position with logical movement between the chords using inversions.

This clearly states the standards required for each grade. Sure, the Distinction might be more challenging to achieve, but at least you understand what you need to do to get there. 

Create a Plan

Once you fully understand the task and recognise how you’re going to be assessed, it’s time to plan your assignment. 

Planning allows you to create a structure for the work, with a focus on getting the higher grades. 

Planning also gives you a timescale, helping you prepare for the deadline; avoiding that last-minute rush. 

If your assignment is practical, you should plan a practice schedule. If your assignment is factual or academic, it’s useful to gather all of the information you’re going to need BEFORE you start writing. 

Consider: what do you already know?

When planning an assignment, it’s useful to list the elements of the work that you already know. This helps you focus upon the work you need to do to complement your knowledge.

Research can be dangerous territory – it’s easy to drift away from the question. Remember, you only get marks for answering the right question.

Make brief notes while you read and research and remember to note down page numbers of anything relevant – you don’t want to get to the writing and spend half an hour looking for a quote.

Gather your notes together, and start to compile a rough, first draft. 

Creating the First Draft

The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect – it’s an opportunity just to put your research together. 

Create a “subtitle draft” – list your subtitles in the order that you’re planning for your write-up. 

Make sure that the flow of facts is relevant to the question and the grading criteria. 

Once you have your subtitle draft, you can fill in the paragraphs. 

Create The Second Draft

It might seem laborious to create several drafts of an assignment, but it’s all about refinement, isn’t it? 

Try to make the content interesting – if you can entertain the marker, then they’re going to feel more favourable towards the piece of work. 

Be entertaining but not inappropriate: there’s no place for jokes in an essay about the holocaust, for example. 

The second draft is an opportunity to consider how you might improve the content. Is it answering the question and satisfying the requirements for the higher grades? 

Consider your word-count. How close is it to the maximum? 

This is an excellent time to assess where you can edit if you’ve gone over the allocated words or where you can elaborate if you haven’t. 

Create The Final Draft

Before you hand in your assignment, do a final, thorough proofread. Check that you’ve fully answered the question and that you’ve correctly referenced any claims or statistics. 

If you use Harvard Referencing, try the Harvard Reference Generator to make sure you get the correct format. 

Complete a full spelling- and grammar check. Grammarly checks your document for grammar mistakes and typos, and you can use it with a free account. 

Grammarly will also run a plagiarism checker, identifying sections of your text that need altering to pass plagiarism checks in TurnItIn, etc. 

Hand It In   

Get your work in on time. Many degree courses penalise late submissions, so make sure you counter in any time you might need to put aside for online submission. 

If you submit your work through TurnItIn, there’s usually an option to upload a draft. This is a useful feature that allows you to view your submitted assignment – you’ll be able to see whether there have been any issues in the upload. 

And relax. 

TuturNinjas is here to help

Of course, TutorNinjas can help you master your assignment preparation. If you’re looking for additional tuition to help you get up to speed, check out our vast subject range – whatever you’re studying, you’re sure to find help from our platform.