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Tough College Assignments and How to Ace Them

No matter the school, the major, or the year you are in college, you will at some point (or at several points, to be perfectly honest) encounter a difficult, seemingly impossible, dreaded assignment. And while your first instinct may be to avoid the thought of it and put it off until its due date, that is one of the worst strategies you can utilize.

All assignments are doable, if you know how to attack them. Read on to find out how to make any difficult assignment a bit more manageable, a little less stressful, and maybe even a tad more enjoyable.

1. Break the assignment into smaller pieces

You do not want to write a paper, finish a report, or complete any of these large assignments in one sitting. While the thought of the entire project may sound daunting, think of it as a set of smaller, less intimidating steps that when combined, will create a final product. With each project, there are different strategies to break the work up. Separate the project in a way that is realistic and well-suited to the assignment, making sure you are including each stage of work. For example, for a research paper, you would want to break the project up into several mini-steps such as research collection, research analysis, paper outline, writing each section of the paper, completing the reference list, editing, revising, and so on. To help yourself even more, you could even break each piece up into smaller sections.

2. Create a timeline

Once you have your assignment pieces, you’re ready to start timing them out. Oftentimes, college professors only assign a final date, leaving the tough part of staying on task up to you. To avoid procrastination and keep yourself accountable, you should create a timeline that is realistic, manageable, and that will ensure you complete your assignment in time. Begin by giving yourself time to understand the assignment, as that is necessary before beginning any actual work. Give yourself time for several drafts, even if they aren’t required, as well as time to edit those drafts.

3. Determine what questions you have up front

If you have walked through the assignment, broken it into steps, and created a timeline, you should have a good understanding of the task you are setting out to accomplish. With that, you probably have a good deal of questions that you need answered. By compiling questions (and getting the answers!) that you may run into early on in the assignment, you are proactively avoiding problems that could potentially occur and slow you down throughout the process.

4. Meet with your professor, peers, or TA

Even if you find that you don’t have any questions you need answered, it is always a good idea to run your initial ideas by a group of peers or a TA. Speaking with other people about your plans for an assignment is always a good gut-check to make sure you have thought each part out carefully. When you’re talking things out, you may realize something you’re missing, a mistake in thinking that you’ve made, or you may realize you have even better ideas.

5. Incentivize completion of the project

There is nothing better than a little self-incentivizing to help yourself finish a project. Because you’ve broken up the project into so many pieces, you can choose a little incentive to get you through each part. Maybe you reward yourself to a treat for each milestone you accomplish—think ice cream or a Netflix binge. Or maybe you treat yourself to something you really want once you’ve finished the entire project, like a pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on or a weekend trip you’ve been wanting to take. Having something to strive for, aside from a good grade, can be extremely motivating and make the project a little more enjoyable.

6. Double-, triple-, and quadruple-check your work

The last step to nailing a difficult assignment is to thoroughly check your work. First, you are checking that your ideas are structurally sound, your assignment is presentable, and that your grammar and spelling are on point. But you also need to check to make sure that you have completed all parts of the assignment. If you completed step one, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it is always good to cover all your bases.  

No matter how much you love learning, there will be a time when a tough assignment comes along that you are not exciting about doing. While this is completely normal, those who know the tips and tricks to succeed on the project know that even the most difficult assignments can be manageable and rewarding.
Brittany Phillips is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.