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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3.1 What assessors will be looking for in your postgraduate assignments

Assessors and examiners will be looking for evidence that you:

  • are not simply taking everything that you read (e.g. claims being made) as ‘granted’
  • are exerting independent thought and originality of thought in researching a particular subject (insight and thoughtful engagement with the subject)
  • have read widely around the subject, display an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the issues (demonstrating scholarship)
  • can demonstrate that you are able to distinguish and critically evaluate different types of information (data/theories/evidence/results) as appropriate to the field of study
  • have analysed the key issues
  • have evaluated arguments
  • have used relevant resources (and a wide range of sources) to effectively support your own arguments or discussion (logical use of evidence)
  • have considered alternative views, theories or evidence
  • have identified potential gaps in knowledge, discussed limitations, and identified further lines of enquiry where appropriate
  • present a logical, well-structured, clear, coherent and persuasive argument (and your writing is in line with academic conventions).

An assignment that is poorly structured, descriptive and superficial (showing limited depth of knowledge and understanding of issues or critical analysis) is quite a contrast to one that is coherent, logically presented, and shows an in-depth and critical understanding of the subject matter.

The expectation at postgraduate level is that you question, challenge and consider alternative views, as this demonstrates evidence of your independent inquiry into the subject matter. Depth of engagement is important, but you should make sure that you also retain focus, and remain on topic and within the scope of your assignment. If you feel particularly strongly about an issue, it does not mean that you should abandon your beliefs, but you need to be willing to critically evaluate and challenge your own deeply held beliefs and assumptions, acknowledge your emotions and understand how they can influence your argument. Letting emotions take the place of reasoning and evidence which could convince and persuade others can instead undermine an argument.

Box 1 Applying critical and analytical thinking

  1. Assess your source(s)

    What is the source? (e.g. web, academic journal, newspaper etc.)

    What are the strengths and limitations of this source?

  2. Identify bias

    What is the purpose of the writing?

    Does the writing reflect a personal or political viewpoint?

    Who might disagree with the author?

  3. Evaluate the evidence

    What evidence/examples does the author use?

    How reliable or useful is the evidence?

    Does it support the argument?

    Is the evidence up-to-date?

  4. Consider the argument(s)

    What is the main argument?

    What statements/evidence in the article strengthen or weaken the argument?

    Are there any assumptions being made?

    Think about the viewpoint in relation to the bigger picture.

    Do other authors share these views? Do their views differ?

    What are the contrasting views?

  5. Draw your conclusions

    Understand why authors have arrived at different conclusions.

    Argue why one viewpoint is preferable to another.

    All ideas and arguments must be supported by evidence.

    Question your own assumptions and biases as well as those of the author.