Creating a high-grade Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA) that you can be proud of is not an easy task. When I first started with the Open University I was guilty of making some basic errors before I accepted the fact that I was going wrong and it was time I formed a clear idea of the fundamentals components that make up a successful TMA essay. I’m sure that you love the hyperbolic title of this post. Seven tips towards an “amazing” TMA. Not an average one or a good one, or even an excellent one, these tips will hopefully lead you to an amazing end product. Seriously though, I have written about these nuggets because I believe they are very important.
Each TMA is different and the questions will demand a specific approach, argument or research point but these 7 hacks are applicable to 99% of the TMAs you will attempt during your studies. I didn’t start off as a Grade A star student and my early endeavours with the Open University were difficult as I struggled to find my groove. But gradually my marks and confidence improved as I worked out strategies to help me tackle each assignment. Here are some of the basics I learned:
1) Get started and keep working
Procrastination can be an absolute killer. When there’s a tough TMA to be completed we can suddenly find ourselves grouting the bathroom tiles or cleaning out behind the washing machine and generally doing anything and everything to avoid getting down and dirty with an impending essay. Sitting in front of the computer with a blank Microsoft Word document open, cursor blinking furiously back at us can be intimidating. Don’t let it be – just write. Scribble down your name, the essay title, thoughts on the essay, initial ideas, anything related that comes into your head. This “freewriting” can help loosen you up and remove the curse of the blank page. Hey presto the document isn’t blank anymore and you’ve started your essay!
2) Read the Question and Answer it
You’ll be surprised how often this is overlooked. Each question needs an answer and no matter how well you write, how well you research or argue your case the question needs an answer. Some TMAs get no answer and just end up as a ramble (oops, you should see my earlier attempts!) some are just regurgitated ideas and information on a page while others might answer a question but, sadly, not the question. First things first, read the question. Then, if need be, scrawl down a rough answer and later use bullet points to elaborate on it. Be explicit about what you’re attempting if you have to but make sure the question is answered.
3) Do your research
One thing that I learned from years in the journalism trade was to cross-check dates, times and stats. This might sound simple but do not leave these things to chance or rely on pulling them off the top of your head. Academic requirements will mean that any argument or theory will need to be explained correctly and cited so make sure you research it properly. Who did what, who said what, what was said – quote it and cite it but make sure it makes sense and is accurate. Research during an essay is an ongoing process and does not start and end at any point during the TMA. As you’re writing you will find yourself jumping across books or reputable websites trying to back something up or disprove it. The ability to engage in good research is a vital skill for Open University students.
4) Nail your argument and conclude
Following on a bit from number two here but answering the question and producing a strong conclusion or summation of the main points are interlinked. Of course there will be a few bits in the middle to worry about but coming to a conclusion is extremely important as is making an overall case for your argument. Don’t forget to also take into account counter arguments to show you are comparing and contrasting viewpoints and balancing the TMA.
5) Give it a thorough edit
Make sure you have adhered to any style guides or especially the accompanying notes and cut out any irrelevant material or chunks of filler that do not add to the argument or flow. Check paragraphs are well structured, balanced and hold together in the greater context of the TMA, i.e. by furthering the argument, adding an element, explaining it and wrapping it up before moving on.
Proofreading your document is a must, to catch all of those niggly typos, punctuation drops, spelling mistakes, citation errors and other things that you will find within. Everybody approaches things differently but I prefer to write everything down, assemble it into some sort of order and edit at the end rather than going along. Editing constantly and finely while the TMA is in progress could stifle or halt that progression.
6) Do your best and don’t plagiarise
It goes without saying that passing off somebody else’s work as your own is a big no-no. Plagiarising is not only an unethical practise but it could likely see you not only getting stripped of marks but kicked off a course altogether. Taking on board concepts and ideas and trying to present them in our own words can be a tough task but it is wholly necessary. The easy nature of cut and paste on a computer can make it extremely tempting to grab a chunk of text and put it in to the essay but it is not worth it.
7) Embrace feedback and learn from it
Whenever I received an email saying that my TMAs had been marked I had a feeling of excitement mixed with trepidation. Even though I was glad to see that it had been read and rated and I was clear to move on to the next piece or work, I was fearing the result and its critique. As my studies continued my mind-set began to evolve. I became excited by feedback, eager to learn from it, implement it into my next essay and show that I had taken it seriously. PT3 forms can be our friend. Use their constructive nature to right wrongs and show your tutor next time that you have learned from the feedback and can move on. Even though marks and grades are important don’t focus too heavily on them either way and work on eliminating any negative patterns that may be creeping into your TMAs. Here is a page from the Open University website that helps further with managing feedback.
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