University assessments come with specific criteria - they’re not just based on gut feel - so what are some things you can do to ensure you minimise mark deduction?


Actually answer the question

The frustrating reality of assessment is that you don’t always get the chance to demonstrate or use all of your knowledge. You might have studied really hard for a certain topic that doesn’t come up on an exam at all, or an essay topic might only be tenuously linked to an area on which you feel very confident.

The temptation here is to try to manipulate the question to better suit your knowledge, which results in you providing a lot of information that is, ultimately, irrelevant. Unfortunately, markers won’t give bonus points for answering a question that isn’t on the page, so your best bet is to directly respond to the question prompt as specifically as you can.

"The temptation here is to try to manipulate the question to better suit your knowledge..."

(As an aside, spending time writing out information irrelevant to the question is really just taking time away from other questions where you could get marks!)


Write clearly

Something I struggled with a little bit when I started university was expectations on writing standards. I felt that because I’d made it to university, my writing had to be all complicated and smart-sounding. But what I realise now is that good academic writing is actually super simple and clear.

If you’re writing an essay, what you want to do ultimately is demonstrate your knowledge, and if your knowledge is couched in super highfalutin, difficult-to-understand language, all you’re doing is making it way harder to read. And if it’s way harder to read, it’s way harder to see that you actually know your stuff, and therefore way harder to give you marks.

"... what you want to do ultimately is demonstrate your knowledge..."

Being clear and concise with writing is a skill (something I’m still trying to develop bit by bit). It’s important to consider this through the editing process - if you’ve written a first draft, you can almost certainly make it clearer with revisions.


Don’t give a reason to subtract marks

Some assessments have criteria that don’t really require expert knowledge - just diligence. For example, most written assessments come with a criterion relating to academic referencing.

We know that academic referencing is really important at university level. Lots of universities have online guides to referencing. You may also use academic referencing software to help you, or consult your institution’s library services for advice. Aside from much more important potential issues with academic misconduct, not adhering to referencing requirements gives markers a super easy reason to deduct marks.

The same is true for other criteria specified in the marking rubric. For instance, if the marking rubric specifies you need an introduction and a conclusion, using a different structure is again giving a clear reason not to give you marks. When it comes to marks, you need to give the markers what they’re looking for, even if it’s not how you’d approach the assessment usually.


These tips are all quite straightforward - there’s nothing really groundbreaking - but they’re also things that a lot of students ignore. Don’t be one of those students!