Some students feel overburdened by the number and nature of assignments that they are expected to complete at university. Unlike at school, your lecturers and tutors at NUI Galway are unlikely to stand over you asking you to complete and submit your assignments on time, or to explain yourself if you don’t.

You are expected to take responsibility for your own learning (see our guide to independent learning) and if you don’t manage to submit your assignments on time without a very good reason, you lose the marks, plain and simple. Assignment deadlines are often set far in advance, and it is commonplace for a number of deadlines to converge around the same time. When you leave university and go to work, you’ll find that the very same issues arise.

See our assignment checklist for a step-by-step guide to surviving assignments. The checklist is designed to ensure that you don’t encounter the most common problems for students when it comes to assignments, which are:

  • Not knowing about an assignment
  • Not being able to start an assignment
  • Starting, but not completing, an assignment
  • Doing an assignment at the last minute, in a hurry
  • Completing an assignment but forgetting to submit it
  • Completing an assignment, but submitting it incorrectly
  • Failing an assignment, or getting a poor mark in an assignment, for a variety of reasons

In order to stay on top of your assignments, it's important to:

Be organised

As early as possible in the semester, try to get a handle on the coursework requirements for each of your modules. Most lecturers will provide a ‘course’ or module outline, which sets out what will be covered in, and how you will be assessed for, their module. This is a key document, usually available on Blackboard, that will help you to plan your efforts over the semester. See our assignment and exam planner template and adapt it so that you can see all of your assignments (and exams) at a glance. See also the Getting Organised section of the Academic Skills Hub.

Be motivated

At best, your end-of-semester exam is twelve weeks away. More likely, it is much sooner than this. It makes sense to put some work in all semester long to avoid the pain and panic of the last-minute assignment, or of heading into an exam with little or no marks under your belt. Slow and steady wins the race at this level. You may have to learn this lesson the hard way, but it really is a great motivator!

If you have trouble getting motivated to start or to work on your assignments, go back to basics and remember your motivation for coming to University of Galway in the first place. You might find the goal-setting activity in the Getting Organised section helpful for this. You might also find it helpful to look at our guide to addressing procrastination if this is an issue for you.

Be strategic

Find out exactly what is required of you and how to get the marks that you want. If you’re in any doubt about what’s expected of you – ask! Be strategic also in how you use your time. There is little point in spending days on a piece of assessment worth 2% while neglecting another piece of assessment worth 30%. Measure your efforts against the potential rewards. Another common mistake is to put a huge effort into your first due assignment, to the detriment of all of the other assignments you have to complete. Take a look at our resources on Manage Your Time if time-management is a challenge for you.

Work with others

When you have an assignment to complete, it can be helpful to work with a ‘study buddy’ or as part of a study group. Talking about your assignment with your peers and comparing notes and ideas is a great way to clarify your thinking and your approach. However, it is vital that your assignment is fully your own work. Penalties apply for plagiarism or copying the work of others. See the University of Galway code of practice for dealing with plagiarism for more information.

Allow time for reflection

It’s highly unlikely that you will complete a really good assignment in a short space of time. You may need time to think about what you have done, reflect on how it can be improved, and make any necessary changes. Aim to have each assignment completed as far ahead of time as possible so that you have a chance to revisit and improve it before submission.

Ask for more time if there are extenuating circumstances

Unfortunately, your best-laid plans can be derailed by unexpected events such as illness, personal or family difficulties, or other circumstances. If you find that you cannot complete an assignment on time because of such ‘extenuating circumstances’, let your lecturer or tutor know as soon as possible, and ask for more time if you need it. Deadline extensions can’t always be granted, but you can always ask. See our email templates in the Communication Skills section of the Academic Skills Hub if you’re not sure about how to do this.

Seek and learn from feedback 

Mistakes are great. They help us to learn and improve. If you can’t understand, or are unhappy about, a result for coursework, ask your lecturer or tutor for feedback. Then listen to and absorb that feedback and resolve to act on it next time around.