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5 top tips for writing ICA assignments

by: (Associate Director, Research and Development) on

These tips were published originally in 2013 but have recently been revised. We hope you find them useful!  

Here at ICT we recognise that the assignment and exam process can be a challenge, particularly if you haven’t studied in a while and are also trying to get to grips with the subject matter. So we try our best to help.

This is really a companion to both of those. Again, I’m writing this from the point of view of someone who has undertaken ICA Diploma assignments as a delegate, as well as a member of the ICT Academic Team.

Number 5 – Read the question

I know this seems obvious, but REALLY read it. Then read it again. Take it apart. Use a highlighter maybe.

What are the key words? What are the examiners looking for? What do they want you to do? Some questions may be more or less open than others - for example, a case study style question could be more focussed than an ‘evaluate/discuss’ type question.

Then decide where you will earn the marks. Sometimes this is clearly demonstrated in the question, other times less so. At Diploma level for example, 3000 words equates to 100 marks – so you need to recognise this and work within it (ie: 10 marks = 300 words, and so on).

Number 4 – Use what you already have

studyingWider reading and research is important (see below), but for a start off, use what you already have, as there’s normally quite a bit of it. The syllabus will normally drive the subject matter underlying the assignment, so consult your course material.

Then have a good look at the ICT Learning Platform – there’s plenty of resources on there, usually including additional reading & resource lists and ‘how to’ guides. Also key is the Assessment Guidance contained within the Student support area, some of which deals specifically with Assignments, including areas such as questions style, approach, formatting and referencing. And the ICA member website has an extensive knowledge bank.

Finally, if you are attending workshops, the assignment question is usually discussed – make the most of bouncing ideas off the tutor and your fellow delegates.

Number 3 – Undertake your own research

studyingIf you want to get towards the higher end of the marking scales (merits & distinctions), you generally need to go beyond the content you receive from ICT. This is particularly true at Diploma level.

Have an opinion if one is asked for, and back it up with a reference, a quote or a case study. Perhaps someone else in your industry has commented on this topic? What did they say and what do you think about it? There are certainly no marks for plagiarism, but assimilating and assessing reports, news stories and so forth demonstrates your ability to think and apply reason.

Quick word of warning though – this is a balance. It needs to be relevant and appropriate, and should support what you are saying. Simply chucking in loads of external references won’t win the day. In fact, it will probably only confuse both you and the marker. All of which leads us nicely onto the next tip…

Number 2 – Structure is important

ICA does not apply a negative marking model – everything you write is an opportunity for you to earn marks. In fact, you can earn marks in other ways too.

Think about the structure, format, grammar and spelling of your submission. Is it clearly laid out? Is a contents page appropriate, an introduction, a background, or a conclusion? Is the tone and format appropriate? (particularly if you have been asked to design a Board Report or a specific approach to training for a certain demographic).

Bear in mind it remains an academic assessment, albeit often with a practical slant.

(My own preference for structuring an assignment is to start filling a Word document with key points I want to make or subjects I want to discuss, then fleshing it out from there. Other people like to simply write and then edit it afterwards – there is no ‘best’ way really – it’s what works for you).

Number 1 – Don’t leave it until the last minute…

Some people work well under pressure, but this isn’t really the point. It’s easy to get caught up in an assignment, until eventually you can’t see the wood for the trees. It should all look good to you – you wrote it!

If possible, finish it a week early. Have a day or two’s break from it and then read it again, with the question, as if you were the marker. Does it answer the key points you identified? If possible, ask someone else to read it. I’m not sure it’s crucial they are familiar with the subject matter – they can still tell you if it makes sense and look for typos etc.

You’ve got time for a quick edit then if need be.

Hope this helps

Ultimately, an assignment is a different beast to an exam, but the same underlying principle remains – take your chance to show what you know and impress the marker.

Now stop putting it off and get cracking!


If you're not currently studying and you're interested in an ICA qualification more information can be found on our ICA certificates and diplomas page. Alternatively, please call +44(0)121 362 7506 and we’ll happily talk you through your study options.

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