Unclear Instructions

Ever had a task that was so unclear you were asking about it every step of the way?

Sometimes I will encounter very ambiguous assessment instructions. Usually this is because a few different documents posted on the same unit’s Blackboard (uni communication website) page will give different instructions, due dates, or assessment information. Or, in some cases, the unit coordinator doesn’t know how to communicate what they want. Sometimes this is because they’ve been running a certain class for so long and they know everything about the assessment, but they forget that the new students that take the class each semester do not have the same knowledge.

I’ve had a few classes at uni so far that provide unclear assessment instructions. Usually I can piece together information from several documents and Blackboard posts and come up with one whole, concrete answer. But other students, since they don’t read everything (because they couldn’t be bothered or don’t know where to find something due to lack of looking) can’t piece together a solid answer, so almost each tutorial during the semester they will ask the same questions over and over again. This is frustrating because the redundancy is wasting everybody’s learning time, especially in a unit where tutorials are vital for understanding the complex content.

Some tips for clarifying the unclear are:

  • make sure you read absolutely every document you can get your hands on;
  • highlight and make notes, and write in your own words, what the documents are saying to or asking of you;
  • ask others in your class if they understand the task; and
  • ask your lecturer/tutor in person to explain the task and follow up with an email.

Do all of this as early in the semester as you possibly can.

Like I said, sometimes instructions for one task are spread out over many documents, so reading a few documents might give you insight.

Rewriting tasks into your own words will help you understand what is wanted of you, and will make it easier to remember what you have to do, as writing information out by hand enhances your memory.

Asking others in your class to explain an assessment task is like writing it in your own words: it will be delivered more simply and in a way that is more understandable than the assessment outline.

Above all else, asking your lecturer or tutor should clear up your concerns. However, I suggest following a verbal conversation up with an email, because then you have it in writing. This is useful as it gives you something to reference and you won’t have to rely on your memory. Also, if someone else asks the teacher the same question in class and they give a different answer, you have proof that they have done this, and can further clarify what they mean (verbally and in email again).


Until next time


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