How to succeed on university assignments

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Explore these resources to prepare effectively to succeed on individual and group assignments. Book an appointment with a Peer Success Coach for personalized support improving your approach to completing course assignments. Visit the Writing and Communications Centre for support with writing and presentation projects.

Manage social media distractions while you study

Are you spending too much time texting or using social media? Use the tips below to take back control so you can focus and stay on top your assignments.

Keep a time log for a week

  1. For just one week, note the start and end times of all your study sessions, and the start and end times of each time you look at social media.
    1. A quick glance at social media – even a second – is considered a break. You have to switch your attention away from learning to check your phone.
  2. At the end of the week, total the amount of hours spent studying compared to hours spent on diversions. You might be shocked by how much you’re switching your attention! 

    Out of sight, out of mind

    • Keep your computer and phone turned off and out of sight while you study. It’s much easier to get distracted when your phone and computer are giving you auditory and visual reminders that a friend is trying to reach you.
    • If possible, turn your computer and phone completely off to concentrate for longer periods of time. 

    Temporarily deactivate your social media accounts

    There are free applications you can use to temporarily block your favourite social media sites, addictive websites, online games or your internet access. Once started, deleting the application or restarting your computer won’t get you back in. You must wait for the timer to run out. Use one to concentrate while you work on your computer. Imagine how quickly you could get through your work without those distractions.

    Focus on the future

    • When you start to lose concentration, think about how your hard work now will benefit you in the short and long-term future.
    • How will studying right now affect your future goals? It will help you get the grades you need to pass the class, the knowledge you need for the next term, your degree, the next phase of your education and your ideal career and lifestyle.
    • Remind yourself regularly how your hard work will benefit you.

    Reward yourself

    • Make looking at social media or checking your phone a reward after 25 minutes of focused work. You can use an online Pomodoro Timer to keep track of your time and remember to take short breaks.
    • Avoid leaving browser tabs open on social networking sites if you’re studying at your computer.
    • Set clear boundaries between study time and connecting with friends.

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    How to navigate group projects effectively

    Group work can be an excellent opportunity for students to draw on their peers’ strengths and experiences. However, group work is often a new experience for students and can result in stressful situations. These tips can help students create a group that works together successfully.

    Get organized

    1. Assign roles – See group roles below.
    2. Create a timeline – A timeline will make sure project work isn’t left until the last minute.
    3. Schedule meetings – Group meetings should be done in-person, but you can also use virtual technology such as Skype or other chat apps if needed.
    4. Create a communication plan – However you decide to organize communication, it’s important to set mutually agreed-upon ground rules for contribution. For example, if a group member misses a meeting, they’re expected to read and respond to notes taken at the meeting within 24 hours. Or, if a member consistently misses meetings or fails to communicate or to produce work, they won’t get credit for the project. That said, life happens. Put yourself in the shoes of your group members. Try to understand where they’re coming from and be as inclusive as possible.

    Group roles

    Assigning group roles and dividing up responsibilities are critical steps to working effectively as a group. The following list of roles and responsibilities isn’t exhaustive, but it can be a starting place for assigning roles that suit your group’s needs.

    Draw on people’s strengths to identify roles, but don’t get saddled with the same task throughout the project. For example, one person can research one section of a project, write another section and review a third section.

    Role Responsibilities
    • Leads discussion with open-ended questions
    • Encourages all group members
    • Facilitates brainstorming by summarizing and clarifying group comments
    • Helps guide conversation and focuses on positive statements
    • Checks for consensus or questions from group members
    • Schedules meetings
    • Keeps the project on track
    • Thinks about the “big picture”
    • Ensures meetings follow a timeline or agenda
    • Takes notes at meetings and sends them to everyone after meetings
    • Edits completed work
    • Compiles different sections of reports or presentations from group members to create flow and consistency
    • Researches topics for the project
    • Presents information to the group
    • Provides group members with sources and information
    • Writes the project/report/presentation
    • Responsible for following a timeline, so the editor has time to review and compile information
    Troubleshooter / Brainstormer
    • Considers positives and negatives of ideas presented by the group
    • Thinks about possible solutions to problems
    • Critiques project based on assignment expectations/rubric to ensure success
    • Works with group members to compile and create the presentation
    • Presents information to the class

    Common group work challenges and solutions

    Challenge Details Solutions
    Scheduling conflicts
    • Creates roadblocks to getting started or continuing with projects
    • Feels frustrating for group members who feel that others aren’t compromising and taking other’s situations into consideration
    • Try to be understanding of others’ schedules and responsibilities, which may be different from your own
    • Consider using virtual meeting spaces, such as messenger apps, Skype or email to communicate
    • Take turns picking the venue and time of the meeting
    Group conflict
    • Group conflict is natural and often necessary for effective group work
    • Sometimes it may escalate and make it difficult for members to focus on the project
    • Don’t let personal feelings impact your work in the group. Focus on the work you have to accomplish
    • Try to find common ground between two ideas to reach reconciliation
    • Address conflicts directly and respectfully
    Uneven contribution
    • Some group members don’t or aren’t perceived to be contributing to the group project
    • Creates tension in the group
    • Feels unfair to group members
    • Set clear guidelines and work expectations at the beginning of the group project
    • Assign roles and responsibilities so that each person will contribute equally
    • Speak directly, but respectfully, to the person who isn’t completing their work
    Conflicting expectations
    • Some group members may strive for perfection, while others simply want to pass
    • Some people begin projects in advance, while others procrastinate
    • Creates tension because the group isn’t working toward the same goal
    • Early communication is key to ensure everyone agrees on common goals
    • Keep goals realistic and understand that your actions affect other group members
    • Create a timeline so the group can keep to an agreed-upon plan for completing the project
    Getting stuck
    • Hitting a mental roadblock
    • Can be discouraging and lead to procrastination and avoidance
    • Review the assignment expectations and goals
    • Have a brainstorming session where ideas are discussed. Create a mind map to link common ideas and trains of thought
    • Seek help from your professor if you remain stuck
    • Some group members agree with others to avoid conflict
    • Stifles creativity and constructive evaluation of alternative ideas
    • Think critically about ideas presented, offer and assess alternatives, and embrace diverse opinions from group members
    • Work through projects analytically using the groups’ combined knowledge and experience

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    How to split large assignments into smaller steps

    Use these resources to break large assignments into smaller, more manageable steps:

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