Tag Archives: instructions

Your Exam Game Plan


Understanding an Assessment Brief

We are officially four weeks into Semester A – 2017, which means that assessment briefs have either already been issued or are about to be issued. 


Reading & Unpacking an Assessment Brief

Regardless of the subject, lecturer or assessment style, you cannot go wrong by adopting the following two habits when approaching an assessment brief:

  1. Read the assessment brief carefully as soon as you receive it. The sooner you become familiar with the assessment brief, the more time you will have to analyse and understand what is expected of you. The simplest, most straightforward assessment briefs can turn out to be the most complicated, time consuming of responses to produce.
  2. Ask your lecturer about anything you are not sure of or do not understand. Do not be afraid to ask if you need help with understanding an assessment brief. A lecturer would much rather spend time helping you come to grips with an assessment brief than assessing an assessment that has totally missed the mark (See also: Student-Lecturer Meetings).

Introductory Information:

Boston Media House makes use of a standardised Assessment Brief Template, as such when receiving an assessment brief, regardless of which subject it is for, the brief will follow a standard format and will provide you with the following introductory information:

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  From this introductory section alone, you now already know:

  • What subject you’re working on.
  • The type of assessment event i.e. formative or summative, which tells you how much the assessment will count towards your final overall grade.
  • Who to go to for assistance if you are struggling with understanding or unpacking the brief.
  • The due date, time and venue for submitting your assessment – remember late assessments attract harsh penalties (Refer to: Section 5.8.v – Late Submissions of the BMH Student Rulebook)
  • The importance of attending lectures as they provide you with a foundational understanding of the topic that is being assessed. By missing lectures you are not only missing important input and understanding of the subject and assessment topic, but you are adding to the number of hours you will need to put in, in order for you to catch up on missed information needed for the successful completion of the assessment.
  • The approximate number of hours it will take you to complete the assessment. This information is important for time management purposes, particularly when you have several due dates all around the same time.  It also gives you an idea of how far in advance you should start working on the assessment and, more importantly, that 3 hours of panicked effort the day before the submission date will certainly not be enough (See also: Time Management).

Assessment Brief Format:

Most essay or short question type assessment briefs follow a basic format:

  • An Overview
  • Task Words
  • Content Words
  • Limiting Words
  • Technical Information

An Overview

The lecturer may (or may not) set the stage by providing you with a quote or general introductory statement on the topic of the assessment, or a cue which reminds you of something pertinent that was discussed in lectures.

Task Words

Task words tell you what you have to do: the action you need to perform when crafting your response. You can identify task words by looking for the action words / verbs in the assessment question / statement. Words such as: identify, analyse, discuss, or illustrate, these action verbs provide you with instructions on how to approach the topic of the assessment. Also look for words such as: who, when, what, why, and where, these words further specify the task of the assessment.

Content Words

These words tell you what the topic area is and thus what it is you should write about. Content words set and define the assessment scope; they assist in focusing your research and reading on a particular area.

Limiting Words

Limit and focus the topic; they define the focus of the topic even further, highlighting aspects of the topic you need to concentrate on.

Example 1:

“Describe in detail, referring to Ansell, how to prepare for an interview. Outline your answer in steps. Start from when the journalist receives the brief from the news editor and end at the point where the interview is about to take place. Include aspects to consider such as strategies, contexts, what to take, how to record, potential problems and body language.”

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Assessment Brief.2

 Example 2:

“Use the following information to write a hard news story (200-300 words). Only use the facts provided. Do not add any other information and do not comment or mention yourself in the article. Your piece must be purely factual and objective – not your opinion. Make sure your story provides answers to the five “W”s and “H” questions of news writing and use the inverted pyramid style.


  • Xenophobic attacks
  • Broke out in Johannesburg and Natal
  • 6 killed, including a teenager
  • Presidents and ambassadors from other African countries have condemned South Africa’s slow reaction to the violence

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Assessment Brief.3

Technical Information:

This includes instructions such as –

  • formatting rules – font, font size, spacing
  • structural guidelines – length, referencing system
  • mark allocation and / or marking rubric
  • penalties – late submission, plagiarism
  • submission date 

Assessment Brief.4

 The “Non-negotiables”:

The “non-negotiables” of an assessment brief refers to the technical information i.e. formatting rules, mark allocation, penalties etc. This may not seem relevant to your planning and drafting of an assessment response, but it is where marks are most often lost because students have not read or followed these non-negotiable rules.

The information provided in this section of the brief also provides you with hints as to how to go about responding to the assessment question. For example, if the lecturer gives you a maximum word / page count for the assessment, they are telling you how many pages or words it should take to adequately cover the topic. If an assessment is meant to be a maximum of 3 pages, you know you need to be concise by making your point early and supporting it with clear and definite evidence. Whereas, if an assessment response is meant to be a maximum of 10 pages, you have the “space” to be more complex and detailed in your response. If, however, you are only able to squeeze out 4 pages for a 10 page assessment, you need to either review the assessment question to ensure that you are picking up on all the parts and requirements of the question, or you need to go speak to your lecturer and ask for guidance.

Final Words of Wisdom:


  • Do use “spell-checker” – but make sure that it is set for either UK or South African English.
  • Do get a friend to read through your assessment response for you – a new set of eyes can pick up spelling, grammar and other mistakes, as well as give you feedback on whether or not your response makes sense.
  • Do ensure that you have referenced correctly throughout your assessment – BMH makes use of the Harvard Referencing Method. Don’t know what that means? Start attending your Academic Literacy classes ASAP!
  • Do give yourself enough time to research and complete your assessment – having problems with time management? Refer to the BMH Student Wellness Blog for help with: time management, concentration, studying skills etc.


  • Do not spend more time on the cover page than the actual assessment – pictures, coloured pages and expensive binders are no replacement for a well thought out and written assessment. This obviously excludes an assessment brief which requires some form of creative presentation.
  • Do not use huge fonts, wide margins, or extra spacing as a way to padding your assessment – these “tricks” an be easily spotted and merely highlight the fact that you are purposefully trying to bulk up your assessment.
  • Do not use text speak, abbreviations or slang in your written assessments e.g. b4, U, wld, cray-cray – unless the inclusion of such serves an actual purpose and forms part of your response to the assessment question.
  • Do not answer an assessment question using bullet points – unless otherwise stated, always write in full sentences; one idea or main point per paragraph; punctuation, spelling and grammar are important.
  • Do not plagiarise – refer to Section 5.8.viii of the BMH Student Rulebook for information regarding plagiarism.


For more tips on approaching an assessment brief click here.


The following works were consulted and / or adapted from in order to create this guideline. Please click on the links below in order to be directed to the original works.

Martin, C., Uys, G. & Gradidge, C. (2015).  JRN1: Summative Assessment 1 [Assessment Event Brief / Scope]. Boston Media House, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales. (2012). Answering Assignment Questions. Retrieved from: http://www.lc.unsw.edu.au/onlib/pdf/assignquestions.pdf. [Accessed: 19 August 2015].

The Writing Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2012). Understanding Assignments. Retrieved from: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/understanding-assignments/. [Accessed: 19 August 2015].