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MSc Public Health

Lauren Bishop has already had a few postgraduate assessments, so she’s got some advice on how to ace them…

If you’re considering taking up postgraduate study, you might wonder how assessment differs from undergraduate. I pondered this before embarking on my Masters; I kept hearing ‘it’s a big step up’, but didn’t know what that meant. Having worked on a couple of assignments now, I’ve gained some insight into what that leap from undergrad to postgrad entails, and will impart this wisdom to you, the reader, with explanations for a number of key words I feel capture the crux of Master’s level assessment.

The first word that springs to mind for me is depth; Master’s level study requires deeper knowledge of your subject area, deeper understanding of every paper you read, deeper thinking and deeper criticality towards your own and others’ work. I felt like I was continuously told to ‘be critical’ during undergrad studies, but I only really grasped what this meant in my final year and am only properly using the skill now at postgrad level. I’ve realised it’s important not only to be able to think critically but also to effectively demonstrate this in your assessments: It’s no good having the skill if your marker can’t tell you’ve got it! There are some good books on critical thinking and writing available, which I’d recommend if you’re finding it challenging to work out what it’s all about.

Another word that springs to mind is precision; every little thing you write needs to have a clear purpose towards answering the question in hand, and specific details need to be communicated properly. Similarly, it is vital to be concise, summarising complex information and ensuring only relevant points are included. In my experience, word limits are tight and you can’t waste precious words on details that don’t contribute to the overall argument. Of course, this is the case at undergrad level too, but I’ve found myself having to further tighten up my writing in my Masters assignments. This brings me onto writing style: it is important to be diplomatic and unbiased, convincing the reader of your argument with evidence and avoiding emotive language or other methods of persuasion.

Something else I’ve noticed is that whereas at undergrad level I had to answer a specific question or choose from a set, I’m now choosing my own topics out of absolutely anything relevant to my subject, as long as I meet the intended learning outcomes along the way. This has offered me the opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge of specific issues I’m really interested in – this enhances my learning experience and makes the assessment process more enjoyable – which I hope will be music to everyone’s ears!