Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Succeeding in postgraduate study

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.

Skip Your course resources

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371