Assessment First Aid – Quick Links

Assessment First Aid

Below are a list of quick links to posts that will help you during assessment season:

(*Click on the title and it will take you to the post)


Taking Notes in Lectures: The Why & How Of It All

Taking effective notes in class and writing down verbatim what the lecturer says are two very different things. Proper note taking not only assists with comprehension and retention but transforms you into an active learner.

Note Taking

The style of teaching at college level is very different from what you were exposed to in high school. During your school years, particularly Grades 11 and 12, teachers tend to focus quite narrowly on “textbook learning” and preparing you for your final exams. In college however, lecturers rely more on expanding on what is in the textbook, so as to provide you with a broader and deeper understanding.

This change in style and focus can be disorientating for students who are used to learning the content of a textbook by heart and having little experience in applying what they have learned.

A simple and effective way of improving your understanding and retention is by learning to take effective notes during lectures.

Why the Emphasis on Taking Notes?:

1. Retention and Review

First and foremost, studies show that retention (i.e. remembering new information) decreases at the following rate:


Thus, having good notes to review for exams or for use in assignments is essential.

2. Listen and Learn

Taking notes while in a lecture forces you to:

  • Actually tune in and listen to what is being said.
  • Analyse what is being said – sifting out what is important and should be taken note of, from what is not.
  • Be an active, rather than passive, learner – resulting in you thinking about what you are taking note of and identifying gaps in your understanding.

Note taking is in fact a high level skills involving complex cognitive processes such as: analysing, evaluating, reviewing, writing and synthesizing.

note taking.2


How to Take Good Notes:

DO’S –
  • Be attentive to the main points and important information i.e. facts, details, examples and explanations that expand on a main point.
  • Keep your notes brief. Take down key words and short sentences.
  • Where possible, use your own words – this helps with retention and comprehension vs. mindlessly writing down  what you hear.
  • Formulas, definitions, terminology and specific facts should be noted down exactly.
  • Write legibly – notes are of no use to you if you cannot decipher what you have written.
  • Create your own system of symbols and abbreviations that you use consistently e.g.


  • Use bullet points and indentations to indicate levels of related information and to distinguish between major and minor points.
  • Use one highlighter or pen colour to indicate new words, terminology.
  • Use a different highlighter or pen colour to highlight words or concepts you are not sure of or need to look up – you can then go back to your notes and add what you find out about the word / concept.
  • Start your notes for each new lecture on a new, clean page, date and number your pages – this will help keep your notes in order.
  • Do review your notes within 24 hours – look for and attend to any words or phrases you cannot make out or don’t understand; fill in key words, gaps, questions you might have; compare your notes to your textbook reading and add to them.

Note Taking

  • DO NOT try to write down every word the lecturer speaks. Be selective, seeking out the main points and information.
  • Do not use tatty, scrap pieces of paper to write your notes on.
  • Do not record a lecture using your cell phone voice recorder, in place of taking notes. By actively deciding what to take note of and the physical action of writing the information down, you are processing, analysing and comprehending the information. In addition to this, you can quickly read your notes later for points or facts you need or in preparation for a class vs. having to troll through the entire voice recording and all the added, unnecessary “bumpf” the lecturer also spoke about on that day, in search for a single phrase or point. Don’t be tempted. Don’t be that guy / girl.

How to Pick Up on What is Important?

The following is not a hard and fast rule…BUT…lecturers often give clues as to what is important and should be taken note of, the trick is to look (and listen) for the verbal and non-verbal cues (and blatant HINTS) given throughout the lecture:

  • If it’s been written down on the whiteboard…it is most likely important and should be noted.
  • If it is in bold or CAPS or BOTH in the lecture notes or PowerPoint notes…it is most likely important and should be noted.
  • Repetition. They aren’t repeating the same point over and over for their health…get the HINT.
  • Emphasis. This can be picked up in two ways: a) tone of voice and gestures used when discussing a particular topic / concept / theme e.g. “There are TWO THEORIES on the …”; b) the amount of time a lecturer spends on a particular point or topic, the number of examples they use in order to ensure that the idea is clearly understood.
  • Reviews given at the beginning of a class (highlighting important points or topics from the previous lesson) and summaries given at the end of a class.


Dietsche, V.K. (2000). Taking Notes: 5 College Success Tips. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Taking Lecture Notes. (2001). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016].

Academic Skills: Methods of Taking Notes. (n.d.) Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]




FRIDAY FEATURE: Hot Reads for Cold Nights

Winter is the best time to curl up with a good book

winter reading

What to Read:

Here is a list of some of the most popular books of 2015 and 2016 (thus far), according to Good Reads:

Book list

10 Benefits of Reading:

1. It’s a form of mental stimulation – The brain, just like any other muscle in your body, needs to be exercised. Cognitive exercise can slow the progress of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

2. Stress reduction – An engaging and well written book can transport you to a world far away from your everyday stressors and worries.

3. It’s a source of new information and knowledge – Everything you read adds to your knowledge, be it general or specific.

4. Vocabulary expansion – The more you read, the more words you are exposed to, the greater the chances of you using them in your everyday discourse, college assessments and perhaps even that job interview you are going for.

5. Memory improvement – When reading a book you need to keep track of the story, characters, background information…bet you never looked at it that way.

6. Strengthens analytical thinking skills – Ever read a book and thought the plot was amazing or utterly unbelievable, that’s analytical thinking at work. How about that last thriller you kept re-reading pages of, looking for clues and thinking you’d figured out the culprit before the last page…yup, analytical thinking again.

7. Improves focus and concentration – in today’s digital world we tend to jump from one thing to another, dividing our concentration between checking Instagram, We Chat’ing with a friend and having a conversation with another. However, when reading a book you are forced to concentrate on the page until you are utterly absorbed in the story and don’t notice all the distractions around you.

8. Better writing skills – This goes with improved vocabulary. Reading well written prose influences your own style of writing and fluency.

9. Improved spelling and grammar – This too goes with improved vocabulary and writing skills. Reading improves your spelling and grammar proficiency.

10. It’s a source of free entertainment – Yes, books are pretty expensive but for an annual membership fee at your local library you could have an unlimited treasure trove of books at your disposal. Or have you thought about starting a book club, everyone brings a book or two of their own and you swap, read and discuss them.



Good Reads. (2015) Best Books of 2015. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]

Good Reads. (2016). Best Books of 2016. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]

Winter-Hebert, L. (n.d.). 10 Benefits of Reading: Why you Should Read Everyday. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]

FOCUS ON: Group Work – Overcoming Challenges & Handling Conflict

Working in a group & having to deal with different personalities & schedules, can at best be challenging, and at worst result in total fallout

tug of war

Managing Group Conflict

You aren’t all going to agree on everything all the time – that just isn’t how groups function – at some point there will be disagreements and possibly tensions, and the way in which this is expressed and resolved is of importance.

When conflict arises within the group or between group members try to:

  • Remain objective. This means focusing on the issue of disagreement and not on the person you are disagreeing with i.e. do not attack the person, their personality, their personal traits.
  • Remain calm and hear each other out. If the disagreement turns into a shouting match and free-for-all, call a “time out”, give everyone a few minutes to calm down and collect themselves, then re-open the discussion with the rule that each person will get a chance to speak.
  • Use “I” Statements. This requires you to take responsibility for your own feelings and will help you to improve your communication when you are feeling angry or upset. The purpose of using “I” Statements is that the focus is placed on what is causing the upset whilst minimizing blame e.g. instead of saying: “We are sick of you arriving late for meetings”, you’d say: “I feel frustrated when you arrive late for meetings because it leaves the group with less working time” OR instead of saying: “You never respond to group e-mails”, you’d say: “I feel annoyed when you don’t respond to group e-mails because it makes it difficult to figure out whether or not you agree with the suggestions being made”. The format for an “I” Statement is: “I feel _______when you_______because_______.”

I Statements

Challenges & Possible Solutions

Some common challenges when working in a group include:

Uneven contribution:

One or some group members are not contributing to the group project or are perceived  as not contributing, resulting in increased group tension and possible conflict.

Possible Solutions –

  • Set up clear expectations and guidelines for the group from the very start.
  • Assign roles & responsibilities so as to ensure that everyone contributes equally to the end product.
  • Address the issue directly and respectfully with the person/s who is not pulling their weight.
  • Include a “Record of Contribution” from each member in your project – this is a report that identifies exactly what each person in the group contributed to the project. If two people report contributing the same thing, this will raise alarms bells for your marker, and the students may then be required to provide evidence supporting their claim.
  • Refer back to the posts on: Group Work – The Basics and Group Work – Getting Organised & Started 
Scheduling Problems:

This may result in work on the project starting late or not being able to continue, resulting in feelings of resentment and frustration.

 Possible Solution –

  • Consider using alternative ways of meeting or communicating, set up an e-mail group or What’s App group for example, and use that as a way of discussing important items and keeping the project moving forward.
  • Refer back to the post on: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started.
Different Expectations & Work Ethics:

Some members may be striving for a distinction whilst others are just interested in passing. Some may go the extra mile and get their work done ahead of schedule, others may procrastinate, leaving their contribution to the last minute. This may cause considerable group tension and resentment because it feels as if not everyone is committed to the project. 

Possible Solutions –

  • Keep work and project goals realistic and attainable.
  • Remember that your actions (or lack thereof) will impact on others in the group or the group as a whole.
  • Agree on a schedule upfront and revise it periodically to ensure that everyone is keeping pace.
  • Refer back to the post on: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started.
Getting Stuck:

Groups sometimes hit a wall and get “stuck” – this can result in procrastination and work avoidance.

Possible Solutions –

  • Re-read the assessment brief focusing on the expectations and goals of the assessment.
  • Call a brainstorming session so that you can generate and discuss ideas.
  • Use mind mapping to link common ideas and threads.
  • Set up a group-lecturer appointment to discuss the problem and get unstuck.
  • Refer back to the post on: Student-Lecturer Meetings.


Effective Group Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Therapist Aid. (2014). “I” Statements. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 19 April 2016]

Weimer, M. (2014). 10 Recommendations for Improving Group Work. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 04 September 2015]

Working Effectively in Groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

FOCUS ON: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started

Now that you’ve got the skills to work in a group, it’s time to get started on organising and working.


Setting Parameters

If you think of any team sport, be it netball, soccer or hockey, without rules and parameters the game would disintegrate into chaos and a free-for-all. The same goes for group work, there have to be agreed upon rules, roles and deadlines, not only in order for the work to get done but to ensure that everyone is contributing and working towards the same end result.

Things you may want to consider at your first group meeting include, but aren’t limited to:

  • General group etiquette – Some ideas to consider: cell phones are put away and on silent during meetings; do not interrupt someone when they are speaking; always be respectful in your tone and manner; no screaming, shouting or temper tantrums; arrive on time for meetings.
  • When to meet – This may be difficult to arrange but short-term, personal compromises may need to be made for the benefit the greater group e.g. coming to campus on a day you have no scheduled lectures, forfeiting your lunch break. You should not however miss a class in order to attend a group meeting – lecture attendance is non-negotiable.
  • Where to meet – Select a place that is accessible to all members, often campus is the best and easiest solution. Also consider finding a quiet, comfortable place to meet – trying to have a group meeting in the middle of the parking lot with cars and other students passing by is not conducive to a calm and productive meeting environment.
  • Keeping in contact with each other – It may not be feasible to physically meet as often as the group would like, that is what technology is for – together, agree on an additional form of communication e.g. e-mail, WhatsApp group, something that everyone has access to. Also ensure that all messages sent via the the chosen form of communication is a) sent to every member of the group and b) read / picked up by every member of the group , so there are no excuses of “I didn’t see it” or “I didn’t get it“. This can be done by applying a “read receipt” to e-mails or checking on notification status of messages.
  • A realistic schedule – The best way to do this is to work backwards from the submission date, that way you can identify important milestone dates, conflicting dates etc. Once a schedule is agreed upon it is important that each member of the group commit to it. They only way you will get group buy-in regarding milestone dates is if those dates are negotiated and agreed on by all the members and not just a select few.
  • Minute your meetings – This is a common practice in the working world and a good way of keeping record of: who was present / absent; what was discussed; what was agreed on; who was assigned what task etc. [Remember: if you aren’t happy with the mark your group gets and you want to appeal the decision you will need evidence to back your argument, minutes of your meetings may hold information and proof to support your request.] Appoint one member of the group as the “scribe”, it is this persons responsibility to accurately note any decisions, task allocation etc. made during the meeting, to write out / type out the notes and distribute them to all members of the group within a reasonable amount of time i.e. 2 – 3 days after the meeting.


Making the Most of Meetings

Meetings need to have structure in order for them to be productive, without a pre-set list of goals or topics for discussion, a meeting can easily degenerate into a conversation about next week’s campus talent show and the new lecturer’s hair colour.

  • Either during the first few minutes of the meeting or else a day or two before the meeting (via e-mail or WhatsApp) agree on items for your agenda – what needs to be discussed, what feedback needs to be given etc.
  • Use the agenda to keep the group focused during the meeting – when people start going off on a tangent, you waste time, others will lose interest and your meeting becomes unproductive.
  • End your meetings by confirming that everyone knows what is expected of them and what needs to be done / completed / ready for review by the next meeting. Be sure that your group scribe notes all this down and circulates the minutes timeously, so that there can be no comebacks of “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do“, “That isn’t what I was tasked with“, at the next meeting.
  • Agree on the date, time and venue of the next meeting.


Appointing Roles & Organising the Work

The appointment of roles and organisation of work can make or break a group. This is where your communication and listening skills really need to come into play and where compromises, for the greater good, may need to be made.

Dividing up the work 

It is important to know a little about the members of your group, particularly in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, before you decide on who will be doing what; you don’t want to appoint the final verbal presentation of your assessment to someone who has a phobia of speaking in public.

Be sure to include everyone in on discussions, decisions and work allocation. People are more co-operative, productive and willing to take responsibility, if they have been included in the groundwork that led to the decision.

Everyone should be given a chance to speak and “pitch” for specific jobs (if the assessment brief is that way inclined), listen to what they have to say and keep the group agenda, not your agenda, in mind when making final decisions – what is best for the group?

Group Roles

The way in which the work has been divided may automatically assign people to particular roles, or you may need to assign specific roles over and above the work that has been assigned.

Some common group roles include:

  • The Leader – leads discussions using open-ended questions; they facilitate discussions by clarifying and summarising group comments and decisions; they guide conversations, keeping them on track and positive; they check for consensus and / or questions from group members.
  • The Organiser –  schedules and communicates meeting dates, times and venues; ensures that meetings follow an agenda; records and distributes notes of the meeting (incl. important items that were discussed, decisions that were made, tasks that were allocated); monitors the project timeline and keeps the project on track.
  • The Editor/s – compiles the final piece of work from parts received from different members of the group; ensures that the final produce flows and is consistent; edits completed work (i.e. spell check, grammar, formatting etc.)
  • The Presenter/s – if applicable: works with the group members to compile a cohesive and articulate presentation; presents the presentation in class.

Meet the Team.2

Characteristics of an Effective Group

  • Everyone understands and acknowledges that the assessment cannot be completed without the contribution and co-operation of all the members.
  • All members are given the opportunity to share their ideas and express themselves. They are listened to carefully and without interruption, and useful points are acknowledged.
  • Differences or issues are dealt with directly with the person or people involved. It is up to the group to identify what the problem/s is, everyone is given the opportunity to give input, and together the group come to a decision that makes sense to everyone.
  • The group recognizes hard work and encourages each of the members to take responsibility for their tasks and / or roles. There is a shared sense of pride responsibility.

In the next post we will be looking at how to overcome the challenges of working in a group, as well as how to handle group conflict.


Effective Group Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Sarkisian, E. (n.d.). Working In Groups: A Note to Faculty and a Quick Guide for Students. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Tips for Working in Groups. (2008). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Working Effectively in Groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]


FRIDAY FEATURE: Keeping Your Home Warm in Winter

With winter well on its way here are a few budget-friendly tips on how to keep your home warm during those cold winter evenings.


Let the Sun Shine In

The sun is a free and natural source of warmth, especially in winter. Once the sun is up open the curtains in rooms that get sunlight and allow the sun to warm things up for you.

Close the Curtains

I know…I just told you to open them BUT as soon as dusk falls closing your curtains will help you retain heat which escapes via cold windows. Curtains aren’t just for decoration, in the winter months they play a practical role in helping keep your home warm.

Pick a Room

Decide which room you intend on spending most of your time in (e.g. the lounge) and then close the doors leading to it, that way you create a smaller, insulated space that is easier to heat and keep warm.

You should also close the doors of rooms that aren’t being used (e.g. bathrooms, bedrooms etc.) this will prevent cold air from circulating around the house.

Cover the Floors

Many South African homes have tiled floors, which are great in summer but suck up any warmth in the room in winter. Carpets and rugs, like curtains, aren’t just for decoration they too help to keep rooms warm.

Seal Any Leaks

Check your windows and doors for gaps that allow cold air to creep in through and warm air to escape.

A cheap and effective way of stopping cold air sneaking in from under doors is by using a “door snake” or door draft stopper, these can be bought ready made or you can easily make your own:

  • The Pool Noodle Draft Stopper – cut a pool noodle in half, insert it into a pillow case or sheet, secure the noodle to the fabric with a safety pin and it’s ready to use.

pool noodle draft stopper

  • The Stocking Draft Stopper – cut the leg off of an old pair of stocking or tights, stuff it like a sausage with old pillow stuffing, scrap material, other old stockings or socks, even shredded paper, tie a knot at the open end and place it in front of your door.

sock door draught stopper


Allen, P. (2014). Make an Under-the-Door Draft Blocker with a Pool Noodle. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]

Anderberg, J. (2014). 13 Ways to Keep you House Warmer this Winter. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]

Heyden, T. (2013). 14 Low-Tech Ways to Keep your House Warm Over Winter. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 06 July 2016]