Understanding Assignments

Understanding Assignments

By Nicole Sampson

Okay, so you’re sitting in class when your professor hands out an assignment. He/she goes over the assignment and then asks, “any questions?” You don’t raise your hand because you think you understand what the instructor is saying; that is, until you get home and begin to work on your assignment. It is at that moment that you realize “I don’t know what to do!”

Understanding Assignments picture

Here are some helpful hints for understanding assignments

  1. When given an assignment, read through the entire assignment thoroughly.
  2. Go back over the assignment prompt, and underline the parts of the assignment that you think you understand.
  3. Highlight the parts of the assignment that you don’t understand.
  4. Look for assisting key terms within the sentence that will help you figure out what your instructor is asking you to do, such as words like: analyze, argue, describe, summarize, etc.
  5. Define each assisting key term that you don’t understand. By defining each term, you gain an understanding of what the word means within the context of the assignment, and it helps you understand how your instructor wants you to approach your assignment.
  6. Once you have figured out what those key terms are asking you to do, go back to the part of the assignment that you are unclear about and substitute the key term for the actual definition. For example, rather than reading, “Analyze the differences between concept A and B….,” read, “Examine, question, investigate, dissect, and evaluate the differences between concept A and B…” (this may require some more dictionary work, as the words used to define a key term sometimes need defining themselves!).
  7. Now, your assignment should be clearer and you are well on your way to completing your assignment.

Key terms to consider

  • Analyze- examine, question, investigate, dissect, and evaluate your assignment.
  • Argue- debate, make a claim.
  • Comparison- similarities, examining how things are alike, in considering comparisons and contrasts.
  • Concept- ideas, thoughts, beliefs.
  • Contrast- differences, examining opposites.
  • Describe- explain something in great detail using the senses, i.e., “As I jogged past an open field, the smell of fresh cut grass and flowers wafted in the air.”

Sample Assignment

You have read an in-class essay dealing with the morality of actions, such as “good” and “bad.” Your assignment might ask you to contrast the “good” and “bad” actions of two people in the essay, and discuss how “good” and “bad” are categorized in society.

How would you approach this assignment?



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