By Leanne Goodall

Handing in a good Open University TMA can often be simpler than you think

Every student wants to do well on their TMA but sometimes (often?) it’s the process of understanding the question that really becomes a stumbling block for students. For some, writing a killer TMA takes a lot of hard work and for a few it comes more naturally but whoever you are, you really need to do one thing well to be able to submit a great TMA:

Answer The Question

That might seem like the most obvious point ever but have you really stopped to think about it? In order to actually answer the question you really need to understand it well – that’s your key ingredient.

The problem comes in the interpretation of the question. It can be so easy to go off track or misunderstand exactly what that question is asking of you. So how exactly do you work out what that question wants?

Read the guidance notes. They’ve been created for a reason and not just as formality. The notes often point to some specific pages which can help you with your answer and they often remind you of some of the basics that you may need to refer back to in order to be really clear in your points. Guidance notes are always worth a careful read.

Go to your tutorial if you can. Almost all tutorials will focus on the TMA question, even if it’s just for part of the tutorial. Here your own tutor – the person marking your assignment – will give guidance as to how you might like to tackle the question. They will often come up with discussions or activities to help you to get your mind thinking about the right kinds of things. Really take this in and think about how it relates to your set question. The activities and discussions will have been chosen for a reason.

Keep re-reading the question. Write the question down on a bookmark and take it with you whenever you are reading the course materials. After each section of reading have a think about that question again. How does the part that you’ve just read relate to the question? It might not relate at all but that’s also good because then you can find the points that do, mark them pages down and focus on them more.

Break down each word. By this I mean the words in the question. You’ll get the idea of what it might mean quite quickly but really think about the meaning of the key words within the question. Doing this has often led me to think on a slightly different note and it’s often helped. For example: I recently had a question which touched on the ‘Enlightenment’. At first that seemed an obvious thing (I’m studying a History module about Enlightenment and Romanticism) but when I got thinking about it I realised that this could mean: ‘Enlightenment thought’, ‘Enlightenment culture’, ‘Enlightenment science’ or simply the Enlightenment in general. Each of those would need a different approach so I really had to look at the rest of the question and use all of the things above to help me decide how to tackle it and what things they would be looking for.

So by breaking the question down, understanding key phrases and how they relate to the material that you have been learning from you’ll begin to really understand your question. By using all of the available resources and spending time thinking about how you can use them to formulate a strong and direct answer will help you to grasp a really good understanding of the question that has been set. Use these tips and add them to a clear structure and you’re onto a great answer for your TMA.

Leanne is halfway through a BA (Hons) in History with the OU and enjoys writing as a freelancer as well as on her personal blog, Growing my Knowing, where she catalogues her experiences as a student. You can catch up on all of Leanne’s excellent contributions for STOU here.

How do you approach an Open University TMA? Do you agree with Leanne’s advice? Please LIKE/TWEET/SHARE or leave a comment below. This social currency helps us to grow and improve the value we are able to provide for OU students.

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The Open University study guide is now available! Click on this image to find out more.