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How can I improve my marks?

Improving your marks is possible by working on a combination of elements: clarity of expression, structure, paying attention to assessment criteria, answering all parts of the question and communicating a clear position on an issue.

Your presentation

Work on the presentation of your assignment. This means you should spend time on getting your grammar, spelling, referencing and writing style right, especially if there has been a trend in your work for losing marks in this area. But, while this is an important part of your communication with your marker, there are more important things to focus on.

The features of academic assignments

Re-acquainting yourself with what assignment writing looks like can be one strategy to improve your marks. You may be missing key features in the structure of your writing, for example, such as a good introduction and conclusion or a good executive summary. Examine the samples and tutorials provided in Language and Learning Online to help improve your academic performance.

All parts of the question

When students receive a lower mark than they expected (or hoped for), the reason tends to be because they have left out some essential component or content of their assignment. For example, the question may have asked them to give reasons for a particular phenomenon and to comment on the implications. In the rush to complete the assignment or simply because of inexperience with the discipline and subject, some students might leave out discussion about implications. This results in a lower mark. Focus on organising your writing, and re-acquainting yourself with the task analysis.

Pay attention to assessment criteria

Another area of importance to improving marks is in terms of the depth of the assignment. Your lecturer will provide her or his expectations about content and quality in your assignment objectives in the criteria set for the task. You will be assessed on how well you achieve these objectives. See What's the difference between a pass, credit, distinction and high distinction? and How can I be more strategic with my assessment?

Taking a position

This is the most important element to improving your marks. Your assignments need to move beyond the surface features of explanation and description. You need to provide an argument that addresses the key issues you have been given to consider. Sometimes, you may not be sure of which perspective has merit but you still need to provide some kind of direction for your reader.

Here is an introduction to a (well-regarded) essay considering the giftedness debate in Education. The student knew she should demonstrate to her reader that she had a grasp of the key ideas associated with the debate - which she does in her introduction.

Sample introduction

Education for gifted children poses a particular challenge to educators in Australia. Given the Education Minister's current review of educational policy, Dunn (2005) highlights the debate raging among educators on selective education. While most educators agree that every child needs to derive the best advantage out of the educational system, debate arises in the area of gifted children. Sports education, for example, has been questioned in terms of whether it should focus upon the gifted few while the majority is largely relegated to the sidelines (Small, 1999). Traditional methods of teaching are concentrated on maintaining homogeneity and teacher centred instruction. Such rigid systems have been found to be counter productive as far as gifted children are concerned, placing them on a different level as compared to the average child, which results in isolation and/or social problems that affect their grades and produce under achievers (Whitmore, 1980). On the other hand, the creation of specialised education for a select few poses the threat of elitism (Gross, 1993) and the eschewing of the social function of schools in favour of competitive education (Dunn, 2005). While some educators contend that special education is a healthy psychological experience that nurtures talent, others feel that children run the risk of narrowing their focus too soon (Dunn, 2005). In fact, the very concepts of what exactly constitutes 'talent', 'creativity' and 'giftedness' itself are at issue among educators, adding fuel to the hothouse debate about educational policies and the role of teachers in the classroom in ensuring that children's educational needs are met in the best possible way.

In this case, the student appreciated the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the debate but didn't feel she had enough of a grasp on the literature to make a definite case for either the use of streaming or the discounting of it.

Here is her conclusion. Notice how she again points to the key issues in the debate about giftedness. She does not focus so much on which argument has more merit. Instead, she points to the advantages that can be deployed for the gifted could be used for all students and that it could be that the traditional education system itself needs addressing.

Notice too, that she has not merely described and explained the differences in perspectives on the issue; she has also evaluated and made a judgement about what conclusions can be drawn from such perspectives.

Sample conclusion

Education targeted at gifted children, education that essentially singles them out for preferential treatment and sets them apart from the majority, has been a policy that many educators oppose as 'elitist' (Gross, 1999). Carey (2000) satirically comments that special education for gifted children is like 'educational apartheid' and segregates the gifted few from the majority of the 'great unwashed'. Yet, other educators like Bragett and Tassel have identified the need for a diversified curriculum, specifically to address the needs of gifted children who are under achievers but could make a valuable contribution to the country. Other researchers such as Ericsson have extolled the virtue of hard work and practice as the tool for achievement of excellence and development of talent and this standard can be applied uniformly to the entire population without any need to separate out the gifted children, who also benefit from hard work and perseverance. In the debate of excellence versus equity, there can however be no doubt that the traditional systems of education need modifications and provision must be made for the different needs of a wide range of intellectual ability among the same age groups. The role of the teacher has to undergo a transformation in order to adapt from the old, traditional teacher centred classroom, into the role of a facilitator, who aids the children in their process of acquisition of education, providing opportunities for everyone - not only gifted children - to identify and develop their latent talents.

For further guidance, consider the materials, resources and links provided in Improve your academic outcomes.

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