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Deciphering Assignment Questions

Confused student working on laptop

Maybe it's because law lecturers read too many convoluted judgments, but chances are you’re going to come across a few tricky assignment questions during your time at uni.

Sometimes they’re not tough because of the level of analysis that is expected, but because you’re not even sure what the assignment is asking. The question may as well be written in hieroglyphs for all the sense you can make of it. Here are some tips for deciphering your assignment question…

1. Get up to date with all your readings and lecture tapes

Lecturers (hopefully) won’t set assignments if they haven’t also given you the knowledge and tools you need to answer them. Most assignments will relate to a particular topic within the subject, so it’s crucial to work out which topic that is and get up to speed.

2. Reach for the dictionary

Depending on the question, you might need a legal dictionary and a regular dictionary. Some of the words in your assignment question that you don’t understand may be legal terms, but it’s also quite common to come across convoluted or ambiguous language. Even if you’re familiar with the terms, it can be a good idea to check a dictionary in case the words have multiple definitions. If a word in your question has a legal meaning and an ordinary meaning and you’re not sure which one your lecturer intended, just ask.

3. Get a second opinion

Speak to some class mates or your study group if you’re stuck. If you still can’t work it out, seek clarification from your lecturer or tutor. Another student may have already asked the same question, so check the online announcements board first.

4. Find the source

Often assignment questions will contain a quotation and then ask you to discuss it in light of a particular law, case or legal doctrine. If that quotation is from a legal source, for example a judgment or a law reform commission recommendation, it is often a smart idea to look up that source and put the quote into context. More often than not, this will help you to understand the question and you’ll be able to impress your marker with your deeper understanding and analysis of the topic.

5. Work out what the question is actually asking you to do

All assignment questions contain action words, such as 'analyse', 'discuss', 'explain', and 'outline' that tell you what sort of response you’re expected to provide. If you're not 100 percent sure what you should include or exclude, check out QUT Library's Task Word Glossary.

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