Matching Assignments to the Level of Study

Different assignments make different cognitive demands on students. For example, a critical evaluation assignment requires students to be comfortable with alternate views of a topic. This may be impossible for first-year students who still see issues as black or white due to their level of cognitive development. They may choose one view they think is right and ignore the rest. This is not an outcome you would want or expect from this type of assignment!

To avoid these problems, think about your students’ intellectual maturity and expertise with the subject matter when designing assignments and try to match the level of difficulty to the students’ abilities. To give some idea of what level of work is appropriate for undergraduate students, the following list of library-based assignments has been categorized into those that are more likely to be appropriate for first and second year students, and those that are more likely to be appropriate for upper year students.

First- and second-year students

  • Locate a popular magazine article, then find a scholarly article on the same subject and compare and contrast the arguments presented in the two papers.
  • Locate primary sources published on the date of their birth, select six different sources, and write an annotation of each source, including the complete bibliographic citation.
  • Read an editorial and find the facts to support it.
  • Research an event in different sources and write a newspaper article about it; have other students research the same event, and compare the stories that result.
  • Assemble background information on an organization in preparation for a hypothetical job interview.
  • Search a topic both on the web and using books and journal articles, then compare and contrast the information available through each resource.
  • Select a topic and compare how that topic is treated in 2-5 different sources.
  • Prepare an evaluative annotated bibliography of books, journal articles, and other sources.
  • Nominate someone or a group for a Nobel Prize, justifying the nomination.

Upper level students

  • Update an existing bibliography or literature review.
  • Write a grant proposal to a specific funding agency; include supporting literature review, budget, etc., and present final product to peer groups for review.
  • Evaluate the impact of a particular researcher’s work on a topic.
  • Pick a topic and research it in the literature at date-specific points, then compare and contrast the literature at these different points.
  • Create a poster on a research topic for a set audience and present it.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact. 

For more ideas or discipline-specific suggestions for library-based assignments, consult with your liaison librarian.

teaching tips

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