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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3.2 Read the question critically

When reading the assignment question, you can use your critical thinking skills to make sure that you understand the question fully. For instance, if the question asks you to ‘compare and contrast’ two different approaches, you will know that you have to devote some of your word count to one approach and some to the other. Likewise, if the question asks you to ‘assess the value of X to our understanding of Y’, you will have two points of focus in your answer. Look to the process words (keywords), which in assignment questions prompt certain aspects of critical thinking. Generally speaking these would be along the following lines:

  • Evaluate, assess, defend, support: you will need to prepare a reasoned judgement based on your analysis.
  • Apply, demonstrate, illustrate, interpret, solve: you will need to apply the subject (to a given situation).
  • Develop, formulate, arrange: you are expected to combine the material with other materials you read in the course.
  • Compare, contrast, discriminate, distinguish, examine: you will need to analyse the argument.
  • Define, list, name, order: you will need to identify the content.

However, do bear in mind that the keywords introduced here may have alternative meanings that are specific to your discipline area. Always consult your assignment guide carefully to make sure you know what is expected of you. You will also have tutor support during your postgraduate studies, so if you are in any doubt, do ask your tutor.