It is the middle of term, which means it’s assignment season. While formative essays don’t count towards final grades at LSE, they can be an important tool to make the most of your courses.
As teachers will tell you, formative essays are the best opportunity to get feedback on your work. This is particularly important if you are studying a qualitative subject. Quantitative courses have more frequent homework assessments, but for any other modules, you only get the opportunity to submit your own work once or twice a term.
Having made the general importance of formatives clear, here are my pieces of advice:
1. Start early
By this, I don’t mean to start writing weeks before the deadline. However, I have found that it pays off to think about the topic early, perhaps once you receive the assignment prompt. This allows you to think about the topic in classes in the back of your head and might give you good ideas later on. Besides, this also means you will be able to clarify any questions.
2. Be strategic
Continuing about topic selection, it is worth thinking about the summative assignment when choosing your topic. This matters especially when your graded assignment is based on coursework, meaning you will submit an extended essay. Often, you will be able to draw and expand on the research you already did during the term. In my Master’s for instance, I submitted outlines and topic proposals for summative essays.
Being strategic also matters when the final assessment takes place in form of a timed exam. Most exams will require you to be strategic and choose topics to specialise in. Therefore, if you find something interesting during the term, you will be able to save yourself a lot of time later if you’ve already written an essay on it.
3. Plan ahead
To avoid stress just before the deadline of the formative, make sure to make a rough plan of when you are going to write your essay. I tend to do readings and then choose a day to sit down and write the essay. This doubles as practice for exams.
It often gets to week six or seven of the term and suddenly you have to fit in several assignments with your usual weekly tasks. This is undeniably stressful. To avoid burning out, it is worth considering whether you want to prioritise some tasks over others. Not everything needs to get done at once. It’s okay to do one thing at a time and plan on catching up on other tasks later in the term.
5. Implement feedback
The last step is key in making the most of your assignment. Look at the feedback that is given to you and try to take steps to implement it for future essays. You could, for example, go back to your notes and make changes. If you still have open questions, go to office hours or email your professors. This has often helped me to get an even better understanding.
These strategies have helped me to manage the increased workload in the middle of term. The most important thing to keep in mind: assignment season is temporary. Once your essays are submitted, there will be time to catch up on readings and enjoy more free time again. While making a start on an essay is always daunting, in my experience, completing it is very rewarding.