Learning how to learn Welcome to studying at Wodonga TAFE!

Learning how to learn
Welcome to studying at Wodonga TAFE!
We hope that your learning experience is a happy and fruitful
one. This guide is designed to help you make the most out of
your studies, and to let you know that we’re there for you, at
every step.
General skills and knowledge for successful study .................................................... 2 Improving your memory.............................................................................................. 7 Your learning style...................................................................................................... 8 Time management ................................................................................................... 10 Concentration, procrastination and workblock! ........................................................ 12 Specific skills for successful study ........................................................................... 21 Essay/assignment writing ......................................................................................... 26 Responding to case studies ..................................................................................... 33 Preparing for tests and/or exams ............................................................................. 36 Referencing .............................................................................................................. 38 Acknowledgements .................................................................................................. 45 General skills and knowledge for successful study
There’s nothing magical about being a successful student! The single most important ingredient is,
simply, the amount of time you are able to devote to your studies. The skills that you need to be
successful as a student all point to this - time.
Be persistent
Successful students are able to keep their efforts going over the duration of their studies. This doesn’t
just happen. You need to be persistent and need to sustain your efforts.
Did you learn to read? Ride a bike? Drive a car? If so, then you have already shown that you can be
persistent. We can all be distracted or discouraged from the tasks before us. That’s normal. That’s only
human! The trick is knowing what to do when you find yourself in a situation like that. Contact Learner
Services (phone 02 60 55 6606 or email [email protected]) to help you ‘be persistent’.
Be motivated
You are ready to start your studies at TAFE. Of course you’re motivated! You can’t wait to begin, even
though you may be feeling some anxiety about the journey ahead. Motivation naturally varies over
time, so don’t be surprised or worried if you need, at some point, to re-make connections with your
original reasons for studying. Be creative and imaginative when you do this so that you make it real for
yourself. For example, if your enthusiasm is fading, visualise yourself working in the profession you are
training for!
Remember that whether the things you learn about yourself are helpful or not, they are all good
information. In the end, it is your behaviour (that is, what you do) that will either make what you learn
about yourself work for you, or against you.
You will be able to reconnect with your motivation when other demands and priorities come along, as
they invariably will, by keeping the ‘big picture’ in mind. Try picturing how each small task you complete
contributes to the larger goal. Breaking your larger goal down into several smaller goals is a useful
strategy that will help you to ‘be motivated’.
Be organised
Successful students are well-organised. They set time aside to spend on their studies, even if other
priorities change. Ask yourself the following questions. Can you create and maintain routines for
yourself? Are you able to work to deadlines? Can you change your routines without your life falling
apart? Can you manage several tasks at the same time?
Being able to answer ‘yes’ to these question requires considerable organizational skill! These skills can
be learned and developed. Wodonga TAFE’s Learner Services department (phone 02 6055 6606)
offers lots of support and resources to help you in with these skills, so that you can ‘be organised’.
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Be realistic of success
Successful students are realistic in terms of what they expect of themselves and the tasks they
undertake. Our expectations can shape our behaviour and the decisions we make.
For example, you may expect that studying will be easy and you’ll fit it into your spare time. The reality
may be that you have very little spare time, with the result that you do not spend enough time on your
Expecting that studying will be really hard and having doubts that you’ll be able to do it could be the
push you need to work hard and achieve a good result. It could also cause you to find other things to
do when you could be studying. You avoid the pain of failure, with a negative result.
In general, having expectations that are both optimistic and realistic is helpful. Frame them in terms of
what you want to achieve, rather than what you want to avoid.
Be reflective
Successful students can pause; take stock of where they are and where they’re going, and what
they need to adjust in order to get there. They can step back and see the big picture. They are
Value what you already know
Learning theory tells us that the new knowledge and skills we acquire as students must connect with
and build on what we already know if it is to be useful and meaningful to us. It is therefore important
that you continue to value the skills and knowledge you already have. Don’t lose sight of them as
they can help you enormously as a student.
Other useful bits and pieces that may help …
Attendance is important
Picture the following… your class is early on a Monday morning, you have the textbook already and
one of your friends has said that she’d lend you her notes. You are wondering why you need to even
go to class! Here are some important reasons why you must attend.
Your attendances in class and on the job (during any work placements) will be recorded by your
teacher. If one of your assessments is below par, your lack of attendance may mean that you lose
your second chance to complete that assessment to a satisfactory standard (WIOT 2006, p.3).
You’ve paid for your course. This includes the classes you attend. Don’t throw your money away!
Teachers will often give clues during class as to the material that may be covered in an exam, for
example. If you’re not in class to hear those hints, you’ll miss out.
So much of what you learn from your course will happen inside the classroom, including
interaction with your teachers and fellow students. You can’t learn that from textbooks or other
people’s notes.
Being there means you are taking part, and that’s a learning experience in itself.
How you participate in class and what you contribute may form part of the assessment for your
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Finding people to help you
Support networks are vital to your success as a TAFE student, and they can take many forms. Family
and friends are obvious sources of support for you, but you may find times when the support they can
offer is not quite what you need.
Your course coordinator and teachers are there to help and support you in your studies. Speak
with them if you have any concerns at all. If they can’t help you themselves, they can direct you to
others who can (Learner Services, for example).
Your fellow students can often offer excellent support. Consider finding a study partner –
someone who can collect notes and keep you informed in case you happen to miss a class. You
would, of course, do the same for your study partner!
There are many professional coaches available. Learner Services can recommend someone
suitable, should you decide to go down that track.
Learner Services may also be able to suggest someone to be a mentor for you - someone to offer
guidance to you during your studies, and to keep a bit of an eye on you to make sure you’re
headed in the right direction.
Most TAFE students pay a general amenities fee. This entitles you to the benefits of the Student
Association, which is an excellent support for you.
Working as a team (from Aston 2005)
There’s every chance that group work will feature strongly in your assessment tasks. That’s because,
in the ‘real’ world, you will most likely have to work as part of a group or team. Read on for some
strategies to make working in groups a more effective and enjoyable experience.
Communicating with your team
Good communication is probably never more important than in a team situation, and most team
communication happens at team meetings. The first of those meetings is the ideal time to establish
those communication channels.
Take the time to get to know one another, by way of a round the table introduction and a few
comments about the experiences and skills that each team member brings.
Make sure that contact details (full names, phone numbers and email addresses) are exchanged,
so that all members of the team can be contacted by all other members of the team.
Choose an initial leader. The group leader may change, depending on the nature of the project,
and it’s actually good practice for all members of the group to take a turn in group leadership. The
group leader will have an organizational and coordinating role, and will also probably need to
publicly disseminate the results of the work of the group.
One of the first tasks of the group should be to prepare a comprehensive timetable that sets out
the project’s progress from start to finish. Various roles and responsibilities should be determined
at this time too, so that everyone knows what they need to do and by when.
Make an agenda for each meeting of the group, so that time isn’t wasted. Use these meetings to
check on progress to date, and to ensure that everyone knows what they need to have ready for
the next meeting. So, you need to review and plan.
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Take notes of all discussion at each team meeting, and make those available to all team members
prior to the next meeting.
Make sure that all team members know when and where meetings will be held. Apologies for
inability to attend a meeting should be sent and recorded as part of the notes for that meeting.
Remember to debrief after the completion of any project, to find out what went well, and what
could have been done better.
How to work well as a team
The bigger the team, the more complex the team dynamics become. This is because each team
member is an individual, with individual ideas, suggestions, and ways of working. Here are a number of
suggestions to help make group work a success, no matter the size of the group.
Make sure you include everyone in discussions, and that all comments are valued.
Listen to what other team members say, and allow uninterrupted contributions to the discussion.
Make sure that the objectives of the project are clearly understood by all group members, and
revise them regularly in terms of the project’s progress.
Allocate specific tasks to group members, so that each person has a responsibility in terms of the
Resolving any conflicts
Invariably, because it’s human nature, some group members will work harder than others. This can
become a problem if certain individuals in the group completely shirk the responsibilities they’ve been
given. What do you do then?
Try to nip these things in the bud, before they become serious enough to threaten the integrity of
the team.
Speak to the person concerned.
Note what you’ve done to try to resolve the issue (phone calls made, emails you may have sent,
discussions you’ve had etc.).
If your efforts are not successful, you may need to approach a third party from outside the group
to assist (your course coordinator or one of your teachers, for example).
On the other hand, some group members may be over-achievers, and expect everyone else in the
group to achieve as highly as they do. Follow the same steps towards resolution of this problem
as you would for under-achievers in the group.
Aston (2005, p. 88) summarises that the ‘success of group work depends on good communication,
clear objectives, cooperation and teamwork’.
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Actively participating in your studies
We encourage you to be an active participant in your studies, so that you gain the maximum output
from your input. There are many ways that you can actively engage.
Revise previous notes and handouts before each class, so that you are fully prepared to take part
in any new material. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask your teacher to clarify it at the
beginning of class.
Try to do some preparatory reading for each class. The relevant chapter in the textbook is a good
starting point, for example. An insight, however small, of what will be discussed in class will put
you in a better position to learn more effectively, and engage more fully with it.
Stay alert during class. Pay attention and listen carefully to what others say.
Take notes of what is being said. Your own words will help your understanding of what is being
Participate! Don’t be afraid or shy to ask questions, as doing this helps you sort out what you’re
learning. That applies not only in class, but also if you are on work placement. It’s also an
excellent opportunity to practise some public speaking.
Make the most of your time in class and on work placements, as that’s where you’ll learn the
Work placement is the ideal situation for you to practise your skills under expert supervision, so
make the most of those times.
Having another go (if the first one doesn’t go well)
You should make it a priority to read Wodonga TAFE’s assessment procedure (system procedure
DP025), which includes information about appeals and exams as well. It is up to you to know your
rights in terms of resubmitting assessment tasks or having another go if you don’t succeed the first
For example, Item 8 of the assessment procedure states that ‘a candidate must be provided with
two assessment opportunities for each assessment task or activity’ (WIOT 2006, p.3).
Item 10 of the assessment procedure states that if ‘a candidate does not demonstrate the required
level of competence on their first attempt they must be provided with timely feedback on their
performance and information about options for further assessment’ (WIOT 2006, p.3).
Furthermore, ‘if a candidate does not meet the requirements for an assessment task or activity
because of absences during the training period for which there is no valid reason, then the
teacher is under no obligation to provide repeat training for that candidate’ (WIOT 2006, p.3).
Item 11 of the assessment procedure goes on to state that if ‘a candidate does not demonstrate
the required level of competence on their second attempt, they must be provided with feedback on
their performance and information about re-enrolment and program delivery options and
schedules so that the candidate can pursue further training before attempting assessment for the
third time’ (WIOT 2006, p.3).
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Improving your memory
Every age brings with it ever-increasing amounts of information, to the point where we can often feel
quite overwhelmed. How are we expected to remember it all? Thankfully, we don’t have to. We store
information in our memories, in filing systems and on our computers. More important than being able to
memorise information is knowing where and how to access what you need.
Of course, there are many things that you remember very clearly and will never forget. That’s probably
because they are of interest to you, caught your attention, and bring pleasure. Key factors in being able
to remember information (no matter what that information is) over a long period of time are attitude
and attention.
If you have an interest in the subject you’re studying, your chances of remembering its content are
high. You are not as likely to remember information that you have little or no interest in. The chances
are though, that not every subject you study at TAFE will hold your interest equally.
Factors other than your interest in something can influence your ability to remember information about
it. For example, if you want to be employed in a particular field, and need to pass certain subjects to
make that happen, your motivation may give you a positive enough attitude for you to process and
retain the information you need.
Paying attention in this context means taking note of what’s important, focusing on it, and using it so
that you remember it. You will probably have heard the expression, ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’.
Research indicates that knowledge and information will fade quickly if they are not repeated and
rehearsed often. Doing those things will help keep the information alive and actively working in your
memory. So, use it, or you’ll lose it!
Internet sites for information
There are many types of memory (sensory, short-term, long-term) and many steps involved in the
memory process. Try the following links if you’re interested in learning more about how your memory
works, and how you, as an individual, best learn, retain and apply knowledge. You could also use a
search engine such as Google to explore even further if you want to.
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Your learning style
We all have the ability to learn. The key to successful learning is finding behaviours and patterns of
learning that work best for you. These are often called your learning style. Your learning style
preferences are often characterised and can be identified in frameworks or models. One of these was
developed by David Kolb in 1984. It classifies learners as having four distinct learning styles or
Divergers are reflective learners are thoughtful observers who like to use experience,
imagination and observation to learn.
Assimilators are theorists who learn by watching and thinking, and who prefer to use
observation and conceptualization, and inductive reasoning to learn.
Convergent learners are pragmatists who enjoy doing and thinking. They like practical or
technical issues that have a single best answer. They are good problem-solvers and decisionmakers.
Accommodators are activist learners (doing and feeling) like to learn by experience and
experimentation or exploration. They tend to act intuitively, and are willing to take risks.
Find out more about Kolb’s classification of learning styles at
On the other hand, Dunn and Dunn (1993) characterise learning styles in terms of instructional
preferences. They suggest that there are four major learning strengths, these being:
30-40% of learners preferring this approach
20-30% of learners preferring this approach
20-25% of learners preferring this approach
20-25% of learners preferring this approach.
See the following website for further explanation about this interpretation of learning styles:
There are many different methods of analysing learning styles. By trying some of the learning style
questionnaires given below as internet links, you should obtain a clearer picture and a better
awareness of yourself as a learner. They could make a substantial difference to the way you learn (and
they’re a bit of fun as well!).
Charles Sturt University’s Division of Student Services sums up learning style preferences beautifully,
noting that they ‘indicate a generalised approach to learning, and are also influenced by habits,
attitudes, personality and experiences of the adult learner. There are many different approaches to
learning, and it should be accepted that as efficient learners, we do not always use the same learning
style all the time for all learning situations.’
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Internet sites for information
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Time management
We never seem to have enough time to fit everything in to our busy schedules as it is, let alone if we
add studying to that mix! Decisions that you make about how you use your time will have implications
on all aspects of your life, including your work, family, leisure, community involvement, and of course,
your studies.
There are a number of principles that you should keep in mind when you are parcelling your time up.
Plan regularly, maybe once a week.
Allow adequate chunks of time for learning new material, understanding theories and concepts or
drafting an assignment.
Break large tasks into a number of smaller sub-tasks.
Remember that 20 to 30 minutes is the average concentration span.
Use short periods (15 minutes or so) when you begin or finish a scheduled study session, for
revision of previous learning.
Reward yourself for achieving daily and/or weekly study goals.
Timetable more challenging tasks for when you are most alert and able to concentrate.
Make studying a regular habit – daily if you can.
Be task-orientated. Rather than allocating two hours each night for study, be specific about the
tasks you will study in the time available.
Set study goals that are achievable (Division of Student Services 2004).
Take the time to plan your study
It makes sense to use your valuable time wisely. A study timetable can be very useful in that regard,
but you must give yourself the time you need to put the timetable together in a way that will work for
you. It can:
reduce your worry about whether or not you have enough time
increase your sense of control over your own time
provide you with a basis for measuring the progress you are making towards meeting your goals
and priorities (Division of Student Services 2004).
Assignment planning
When you need to meet an assignment deadline, backward planning can actually be very beneficial in
moving you forward! This involves you identifying the stages that are involved in the planning, and
allocating yourself appropriate periods of time for each of those stages.
Charles Sturt University’s Division of Student Services (2004) identifies those stages as follows.
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identifying what you already know
determining what is required
analysing the question
deciding what information you need
locating relevant information sources
gathering source material
reading, digesting and recording the information
Organising your response
grouping information and identifying key issues
deciding what information to include
creating an assignment plan
Writing drafts
developing a first draft
refining the draft
editing the final draft
Polishing for presentation
writing a reference list and checking citations for accuracy, completeness and correctness
printing a final copy
Reward yourself!!!
Ask yourself how long each stage will take, and when you will fit it in. Then, document these
details into your timetable.
Internet sites for information
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Concentration, procrastination and workblock!
(Reproduced in 2006 with permission from Swan TAFE, Western Australia)
If you can’t concentrate on your work (and we all experience this at times!), it is important to know if
this is caused by procrastination, or workblock, or simply just an inability to concentrate at the time.
Let’s first look at the phenomenon that is concentration…
Concentration has been defined as ‘the ability to direct one’s thinking in whatever direction one would
intend’. We all have the ability to concentrate some of the time, but at other times, our thoughts are
scattered and our minds race from one thing to another. To deal with such times, we need to learn and
practise concentration skills and strategies. Concentration is a learned skill, and as with any skill you
learn, this means practice day after day until you achieve enough improvement to feel that you can
concentrate when you need to.
Your ability to concentrate depends on:
enthusiasm for the task
skill at doing the task
your emotional and physical states
your psychological state
your environment.
You need to make a personal commitment to put in the effort needed to do the task in the way that you
realistically plan to do it. If you just play at it in a half-hearted manner, then it is much more difficult to
take the task and yourself seriously.
If you are interested in the task and enjoy doing it, then you will find it easy to motivate yourself to start.
Once started, your feelings of involvement in the activity keep you going… you want to do it!
Knowing how to do something gives you confidence that your efforts will be successful, so you don’t
have to deal with anxiety about whether what you are doing will work or not. Anxiety tends to impair
Our emotional and physical states
When you are in good physical condition (feeling rested, relaxed and comfortable) and your emotions
are calm and benevolent, then you tend to be positive about most things. This in turn raises selfesteem, making you more able to concentrate, mainly because you don’t have to worry about things
that may otherwise bother you.
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Our psychological state
If you are in an obsessional or distracted state, your thoughts are pre-occupied, leaving little mental
space for you to think about anything else.
Our environment
It is much more difficult to concentrate if your surroundings keep intruding on your awareness, perhaps
because it is noisy, too hot or too cold, the furniture is uncomfortable or the people around you are
stressing out.
Expanding your concentration span
You may have heard the term ‘concentration span’. Your concentration span is the amount of time you
can concentrate on a specific task before your thoughts wander. When you learn concentration skills,
the aim is to extend your concentration span, bearing in mind that you will have a different span for
different tasks. It can’t, however, be expanded to infinity!! Most people find that their concentration
span for most tasks is around an hour, but for some people and for some tasks, it will be just a few
minutes, while for others it may be two or three hours.
The main barriers to concentrating are boredom, anxiety and day-dreaming. So, to improve your
concentration skills, you need to counteract those barriers. Take a look at the following basic skills of
concentration. Remember that you need to practise them if you want to improve.
That sounds almost too simple, but it works. When you notice your thoughts are wandering, tell
yourself to ‘stop!’, and gently bring your attention back to where you want it to be. Each time it
wanders, bring it back. At first, this could be several times a minute, but each time, tell yourself to
‘stop!’ and then re-focus. Don’t waste energy trying to keep thoughts out of your mind (forbidden
thoughts attract like magnets!). Just put the effort into ‘stop!’, and then re-focus.
To begin with, you will do this hundreds of times a week. However, you will find that the period of time
between which your thoughts stray becomes a little longer each day, so be patient, and be determined.
Be attentive
Being attentive in this context is about maintaining concentration and not giving in to distractions. It
could be described as a sort of tunnel vision. You keep your concentration on what is in front of you. If
you are distracted, use the ‘stop!’ technique to regain concentration. You can practise being attentive in
many situations. For example, in the classroom, if people move or cough, ignore them. Don’t look at
them. Actively exclude them from the tunnel that you have formed between you and your teacher.
You can practise this technique socially as well. In a social situation, keep your attention solely on one
person – what they say, how they look – and ignore what else is going on around you.
Worry time
Set aside one or more specific times during the day when you allow yourself to worry. Try setting them
just before a favourite TV show, or a meal-time, to make sure that you stop worrying on time.
Whenever an anxious or distracting thought enters your mind during the day, don’t allow yourself to
think about it until your next scheduled ‘worry time’. Instead, re-focus on what you are supposed to be
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It is important that you keep your worry time and use it fully. If you find that you can’t fill the time you’ve
set aside, make a conscious effort to reduce it. Try keeping a list of the things you worry about. You will
notice that certain things keep reappearing. This is a clear indication that you probably need to do
something about them!
Active learning
Everyone has their own distinct learning style. Some people learn by reading and then asking
themselves questions, others learn by making condensed notes and memorizing them, others learn by
the associations they make to the material, and others retain a pictorial image of the material.
Once you know your learning style, organise your study material to suit it. If you don’t learning may be
more of a struggle than it needs to be, and your concentration will suffer. Having your own learning
style involves having your own internal ‘language’. This means the words you use to translate and
understand the material so that it has meaning for you. If you don’t know how you learn best, try to
analyse your experience either with someone who knows how you work, or with someone who has
expertise in this area. There is more information about how to discover your learning style elsewhere in
this study skills guide.
Other things that can help
Once you know what your concentration span is for a specific activity, decide whether it is
acceptable, or whether you need to train yourself to extend it, for example, a concentration span
of ten minutes in a class that lasts for an hour is probably not going to work well! To expand your
concentration span, try to keep focused for a little longer each time by using ‘stop!’ and being
attentive. Practice with something that doesn’t matter in terms of the task at hand. For example,
you could expand your class concentration span by practising listening to the news on the radio.
In between periods of concentration, do things to change your physical and mental activity. You
could move around to boost your circulation if you’ve been sitting, or you could think about
something completely different (and fun!) to give your brain a new focus.
Give yourself incentives and rewards appropriate to the level of concentration you have had to
maintain. Quite often they can be linked to the things that usually distract you. If you dream of
sitting out in the sun when you are in a library trying to study, make your reward a period of sunworship (with the appropriate sunscreen of course!).
Be active in your mental activity! Use a hierarchy of questions to help you focus when you read
reference material or listen in class, rather than passively reading through it or listening and
hoping that something will stick. Then write brief notes about the answers to your questions. Ask
yourself how you will use the material, where it fits into what you already know and what new
questions it triggers.
Ensure that your environment aids concentration and reduce distractions but don’t be so
comfortable that you nod off.
Do tasks that need most concentration at times when you are mentally and physically fresh.
Concentration is harder to maintain when you are tired. This means that you need to know the
times of day when you work best. Don’t forget that people vary as to when their best times are.
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Experiment and see whether working with another person helps to keep you focused on the task.
It can often refresh interest in the subject by sparking off new trains of thought which then reinvolve you in the task.
Check if you are unsure whether the problem is one of poor concentration, or one of a lack of the
necessary knowledge or understanding. If it’s the latter, do something about it.
Don’t look for an easy answer in stimulants such as caffeine. They only have a short-term effect of
making you feel alert, and can have serious effects on your physical and mental health if they are
used too much or for too long.
Combating specific problems with concentration
When you have been concentrating well but your brain now feels saturated
Take a short break and then recharge your mental batteries by reviewing what you have done so far. It
might be help to change to a new topic at this point. If you feel too tired to restart after a short break,
review what you have done and where it fits into the overall task. Then, define where you need to pick
it up again. Make a note of this if you need to. Before you stop, decide when you will restart the task.
How to concentrate on a topic that you hate, or that bores you
Actively search in the material for aspects of the subject that can be turned into useful (and interesting!)
information. You could do this by focusing on finding five central, important ideas to think about. Write
down the results of your search, and try writing test questions to summarise your learning after each
study session.
Focus on the personal rewards of completing the topic satisfactorily (even if it’s only to be rid of the
task!) and build in treats to reward yourself as you progress through the task. If all else fails, see it as a
personal challenge. Don’t let it beat you!
To counteract any daydreaming, use the ‘stop!’ technique, and be attentive! You could allow yourself
some daydreaming time as a reward after a period of concentration.
Negative thinking
Loss of concentration can lead to negative thoughts about yourself. Deal with them as you would deal
with other distractions, and put them away until your ‘worry time’. Then you can check out how real (or
not) they are!
Being vague
If you are not quite sure what you are supposed to be doing or why you are doing it, then it will certainly
be difficult to maintain concentration. You could try to define the task in terms of its content and
purpose, and then make a realistic estimate of how much time and effort will be required to do it.
Feeling overwhelmed
Sometimes what we have to do is just too much for us to get our heads around. When we think about
it, it is too huge a task to contemplate and our feelings of inadequacy take over. Both contribute to
losing concentration because it all feels impossible. In such circumstances, look for ways of breaking
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the task into smaller parts that are more manageable. Treat them as individual tasks, concentrating on
each of them separately. It then doesn’t need so much effort to fit them all together later on to make a
complete whole.
Intellectual activity takes place mainly in the brain and so is not something you normally share unless
you make a special effort. If we don’t discuss what we are doing with others, it can become very easy
to wonder whether what we are doing is OK or not. This can lead us to feel ineffective and fragile,
which in turn can lead to self-doubt.
You need to reduce or banish your doubts if they are not to interfere with concentration. If it isn’t
possible to discuss what you are doing with others, you could try using the steps mentioned under
‘negative thinking’ above to check out the worth of what you are doing.
If you’ve concentrated well enough to get this far in reading about concentration, then you’re doing
What is procrastination?
When you procrastinate, you avoid doing a task that needs to be done, postponing until tomorrow what
can be done today. Procrastination not only affects your work, but also commonly involves feelings like
guilt, inadequacy, self-disgust, stress and depression. We often try to disguise our avoidance by being
very busy doing things that may be interesting, and even useful, but that don’t contribute towards the
main goal. For example, we may even do something we normally hate rather than write just before an
essay is due!
Why do people procrastinate?
There are many reasons why people procrastinate. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Poor time management, often associated with a distorted sense of the time available
In inability to prioritise
Overload of tasks at a specific time
Anxiety about the task, so time is spent worrying rather than doing
Difficulty concentrating
Not knowing what is required
Feeling overwhelmed by the task(s)
Concern about failing or not meeting your own standards
Fear of success and its possible consequences
Perfectionism, often associated with unrealistic standards
Negative feelings, e.g. ‘I’m stupid’, ‘nothing ever goes right for me’
All-or-nothing thinking, where one setback is seen as a total catastrophe
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Being bored by the task
Never having learned how to work or sort out problems while at school or living at home
Avoidance of things which are disliked or difficult.
How to overcome procrastination
Overcoming procrastination usually involves both better organizational and time-management skills as
well as a clearer understanding of its personal or emotional meaning. The former skills can be learned
and improved with practice. Although there are some useful tips that can help you improve, it is
primarily a matter of finding the ways of working that best suit you, rather than trying to rigidly follow
someone else’s model.
Counselling can help you to understand and change the personal or emotional aspects of your
procrastination. Here are some suggestions to start you off.
Accept that there is no magic wand. You will simply have to do the task!
The words that we use to ourselves in thinking or talking about the task really do matter. They
have feelings attached to them that colour our anticipation and experience of the work. Try
changing the words ‘have to’ and ‘can’t’ to ‘choose to’ and ‘choose not to’. This won’t always work
or be true, but it will probably be more honest most of the time. After all, you don’t have to do this
work! You probably chose to come and do this study, and you can always choose to leave it.
Take account of the sort of person you are, of your values and your expectations. Assess whether
these fit with the way in which you are trying to tackle the task. Do you need a new approach?
One with which you will be more comfortable? Patterns of working vary from one person to
another, as do the desired outcomes.
Learn to recognise self-defeating behaviour and its associated thinking. Try to work out why you
procrastinate. What do you gain from it? Find out how to overcome such behaviour. You might
choose to sort it out yourself, refer to a self-help book, or consult the appropriate person (your
teacher, supervisor, manager, colleague or counsellor).
Identify goals and make realistic decisions about how to do the tasks. Then prioritise!
Ensure that you have the right equipment and information to help in tackling the task. Some time
spent in preparation and planning is vital but not to the extent that no real work is done. Set a time
limit for the planning stage. Plan a section and then work on it.
While spending time planning is very useful, here’s a word of warning to those who make very
detailed plans that go wrong within an hour and are then ripped up in disgust. Plans need to be
flexible!! Don’t plan all the hours in the day. Leave plenty of unplanned times and spaces to allow
for things taking longer than expected, and for you to have extra time for relaxation when they
Break tasks down into manageable chunks. Set yourself small goals. For example, read one
chapter, write one page, work for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break and then work for another
45 minutes.
Boost your motivation. Focus on your strengths, on tasks you have accomplished and feel good
about, in order to remind yourself that you can be successful.
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Give yourself rewards when you accomplish something.
When you are getting stuck, rather than just stopping work, try a different strategy. Take a pencil
and an old half-used piece of paper out of the bin, and scribble unplanned and unstructured notes
and ideas to yourself for the task at hand. Try starting on a different section of the task (you don’t
have to work through from the beginning to the end), choosing the least demanding in thought or
Quite often, procrastination is connected to anxieties about the quality of the work you hope (or
fear) you will produce. At times like that, it’s worth remembering that it’s better to produce
something rather than nothing!
If you can’t work, it is important to know if this is caused by procrastination or by workblock.
Procrastination is characterized by an avoidance of work, whereas workblock of characterized by an
inability to work.
Why are you unable to work?
It isn’t really that you can’t do anything. The problem is that you can’t do the task to the standard that
you set yourself. Fear is missing the standard feels like failure or ineffectiveness.
You could work if only you didn’t have to expose the end result, either to yourself or to others, for
assessment. It is difficult to cope with criticism and/or with praise. There is an assumption that you will
be judged harshly, or ridiculed.
You know what you want to write or say, but you just can’t express it meaningfully. It won’t come out!
You can’t seem to connect what you know with what is required. It’s as if there’s a missing link
somewhere that is probably very simple but that you just can’t identify.
Sometimes we can’t perform because we don’t have the necessary tools, information, knowledge or
You no longer believe that you can work because you couldn’t yesterday, or the day before, or the day
before that. What’s more, nobody can give you encouragement that sounds half-way realistic!
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What can you do about it?
Try to objectively and honestly analyse why you can’t work. Do any of the situations described above
apply to you? If you are able to analyse what the problem is, can you go on to understand how it
arose? If you can understand, in part or totally, does this give you clues about what you might
experiment with to try to start working again?
Have a look at the following examples …
In order to feel good about myself I need to produce perfect work. As a child, it seemed that I only
gained approval from others when I performed well. Maybe people will like me for who I am rather than
what I achieve. Maybe I will discover that I like myself! Can I risk just aiming to work, and then see if I
still think I am OK?
If I do produce work, it will be judged by others. Will I be damaged if they criticize it? Will I feel
embarrassed if they praise it? Is this a problem because I felt destroyed by someone’s criticism in the
past? Why do I believe that it is me being judged, not the piece of work? How can I change my thinking
so that both criticism and praise become normal - just consequences of producing anything for
assessment, and from which I might learn something useful?
Why can’t I get what’s in my head into a meaningful end-product? Is it because I can’t think clearly,
can’t focus, or because I don’t have the vocabulary to express myself? Am I trying to be too clever, too
complex, rather than being content with expressing things simply, at least to begin with? Maybe I
equate cleverness with jargon?
I seem to have the mental equivalent of something being ‘on the tip of my tongue’. Maybe I can’t
conceptualise? Maybe I can’t use lateral thinking? Have I, in the past, been taught to think in an
ordered, hierarchical way, so that to look at things in new or seemingly chaotic ways seems risky?
Perhaps I can learn to play with knowledge, and just follow where the leads take me?
Is there something vital that I need to know or to be able to do before I can tackle this task? If there is,
why haven’t I already done it? Have I, in the past, been left feeling foolish after owning up to not
knowing something basic? Can I persuade myself that it’s better to acknowledge ignorance and deal
with it, rather than remain blocked?
Can I really not work… at all? I must have been able to do things once, or I wouldn’t be where I am
today! Why have I lost my self-belief? Can I learn to tolerate, in the short term, the discomfort of not
being able to do something straight away, so that I can stick at it until something happens? I know it
takes more effort to start something than to sustain it. Could I take the risk and tolerate the discomfort
of just producing anything, even what seems like rubbish, just to get myself started? Can I tell someone
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else, someone who will encourage me without nagging, and who will remind me that all I need to aim
for at first is just to get started again?
Getting started again
1. Create the right working environment for you. Then gather together all the necessary equipment
and information that you need for the task.
2. Start playing with the material. Brainstorm, or talk into a Dictaphone – record or note anything that
comes into your mind when you think of the topic, even if it seems ridiculous, far-fetched or
nonsensical. Try using an old scrap of paper and pencil and allow yourself a very short time (five
minutes or so) to scribble down an outline. If it feels OK, try bouncing your ideas off someone else.
3. Select one bit of your scribblings from (2), and start asking questions about it. Why do you think it
came into your mind? What is it connected to? What does it lead you on to?
4. Imagine telling a specific person about (3) above, then start writing down what you are telling that
person, however colloquially, and with all the gaps and asides.
5. When you have a chunk of stuff from (4), begin to edit it.
6. Repeat steps (3) to (5) with a different bit from (2).
7. Begin to put your chunks into order, and continue the editing process.
8. Work out where the gaps are, and do what’s necessary to fill them in.
Remember that the objective is to get you working again, not to produce perfect work straight away.
Once you start to be able to work, you will slowly build up confidence again. Then you will feel able to
edit and look for gaps. To begin with, don’t aim for ‘perfect’ – ‘good enough for the purpose’ will be fine.
Can anyone else help you?
You might want to ‘reality check’ your assumptions with someone you trust, to discover what is realistic
and what is unrealistic. They might help you to analyse and understand the workblock, and encourage
you in risking new approaches. They might also help you fill in gaps in your knowledge and skills.
You could speak to a teacher or supervisor, a colleague or a friend, if you find them approachable and
not over-critical. If you think though, that they are part of the problem, you might want to consult
someone outside the TAFE.
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Specific skills for successful study
As well as the general study skills mentioned previously, successful students have also developed
specific skills including note-taking, essay and report writing, referencing, active reading, effective text
and exam preparation, and others. The staff in the Learning Services department at Wodonga TAFE
can provide all the support and resources that you will need to develop those skills yourself. All you
need to do is contact them on 02 60 55 6606.
Effective reading
In undertaking a course you will be required to read widely and in depth in a number of subject areas.
Some subject areas will be new for you and the reading will be quite challenging. You will find that
authors think and write in different ways for different subject areas. There is a range of strategies you
can apply to help you read faster and to remember more of what you have read.
How you read depends on your purpose for reading
Reading has many purposes and there are many ways to read.
To locate specific information you might skim over most things very quickly until you find what
you’re looking for. For example, when you read a newspaper, you usually leave our more than
you read.
To understand reasons and facts, and to learn, you may need to read slowly and deliberately.
To enjoy words and descriptions, as in poetry and some prose, several readings may be
necessary to get the feel of the language or to picture a scene.
To escape into a novel, you might skip the dull parts and pick up enough detail to see what
happens and how it ends, skimming some parts and dwelling on others.
Reading when the material is new
You may need to spend some time developing a basic understanding of a new subject area before you
are able to read in depth.
Begin with a general introduction such as an encyclopaedia, and read slowly.
Jot down new terms that keep recurring. Make sure you understand their meanings. Make sure
you can spell the new terms accurately.
Look up their meanings in a recommended dictionary or reference book. Write them in your own
Reading essential texts
In some courses there are set textbooks and articles that you will be expected to read.
Look at the information about the authors of the text and the date when the book or article was
first published. This may help you to understand the authors’ point of view and where their work
fits in with other publications in the same field.
Scan the contents page before you begin reading. It will give you an overview of what the book
covers and what the authors thought was important.
Go to the index at the back. Pick out the key words or names that you need to follow up.
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Skim through each relevant chapter or section. Skimming is moving quickly through the
paragraphs, reading only the key sentences.
Read the first and last paragraphs of chapters or articles. These will often provide a concise
statement of the authors’ intentions and major points.
Read the whole work carefully, section by section, noting major points or ideas in your own words
and recording which sections are of particular interest so that you can find them again later.
Reading for assignments
Select a book or article from the reading list that gives an overview of the topic.
Ask yourself what you need to find out. Write down your own questions as a guide to your
Check the authors, publication date, contents page and index of each book or article to see if the
material is relevant to your needs.
Records details of author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication now, so that you
don’t have the frustration of trying to find the book again when you are preparing your
bibliography. Record page numbers with any notes you take.
Skim-read relevant sections and compare them with other material before you start to take notes.
You may need to skim through several books or articles before deciding what you want from
Avoid overuse of fluoro markers (highlighters) when reading photocopied material. Too much
‘colour coding’ can make your text confusing. Brief notes in your own words are most useful.
These can be made in the margin of photocopied material.
When reading is difficult
Be an active reader. Ask questions like, ‘What is the author saying?’, ‘How can I use this
information?’, ‘Does this agree or disagree with other readings?’, ‘How does this information relate
to my experience?’
Prepare for your reading by referring to any course, unit, or classroom notes that you may have,
to gain an overview of your topic.
Turn any headings in your book or article into questions and note the answers in your own words.
Break the reading into small sections and note one section at a time.
If the language or style of writing makes it too difficult for you to understand your set readings, ask
a teacher for help. Your teachers may be able to suggest a simpler introduction for you.
We answer some common questions about reading…
How can I possibly read all of these books and articles?
Simply, you probably can’t! And you won’t need to! Make sure you know your purpose for reading
before you start. If, for example, you have to prepare for a class by reading a book chapter, you will
skim the information. This means you try to understand the main ideas, and that should be enough to
give you the information you need for that purpose.
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OK then, how do I skim for the main ideas?
In order to skim for the main ideas, open a page of your textbook.
After reading the page, stop and ask yourself what the main ideas are. Don’t worry about
remembering the examples or the unimportant information when you skim.
Write the main ideas on a piece of paper or in your notebook.
If you remembered more than one point, decide which points are important. You might find that
only a few are really important. Underline them.
Now tell yourself what the main ideas on that page are. Do this aloud if you can, because listening
to yourself repeat that information will help you to remember it well.
At other times, scanning will be sufficient. This means that you are looking for specific
information. For example, if you are doing research and you are looking for some specific
information to back up a statement you’ve made, you don’t have to read every word. All you
need to do is to find that one statement!
OK then, how do I scan for specific information?
Again, take a page from your textbook, or an article that you have to read.
Choose a word or a fact that you want to find in the text. For example, it may be a definition that
you need to know for your next class.
Read the text as quickly as possible until you find that word or bit of information you are looking
Mark it on the page.
Keep reading to check if it appears again. If it does, mark it again. At this point, read only this
information. Later, you may have to read the paragraphs that come before and after in some
detail, so that you understand the context of the information. That depends on your purpose.
Knowing what kind of information you need from a book or article will save you a lot of time and
How can I remember more of what I read?
Reading is only useful if you remember the information afterwards. Otherwise you could be wasting
your time!
Find out how long you can concentrate on a text for. This will vary according to the degree of
difficulty or interest of what you read. Start reading, and when you find you are reading the words,
but you can’t take in what you are reading, take a short break.
Set yourself a goal. For example, tell yourself that you’ll read for 15 minutes and then take a five
minute break. Try extending that time (the reading time, that is, not the break time!).
Break the text up into logical sections. Textbooks and articles often do this for you. Summarise the
important main points after each section – aloud if you can. Saying them aloud and explaining
them to yourself activates additional parts of your brain and helps you to memorise the
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If you need to remember the information for an exam, for example, draw yourself a diagram, or
picture. That also activates more parts of your brain and helps you to recall the information later
Try to put the information into context. If you understand the big picture, it is much easier to
remember the details.
Effective note taking
Note taking provides a framework within which you can think about, organise and recall relevant points
and ideas. Your notes are your personal response to your studies and it is to your advantage to make
them as useful as you can.
The most important thing about your notes is that you read and re-read them, so that you learn the
material contained in them. This includes any criticism of the major viewpoints you may have been
given, or have found or thought of yourself. The material has to go into your head! It is a waste of time
to make notes and then ignore them. You must read your notes and think carefully about what you are
Note taking is not a single skill that you acquire, for all times and occasions. It is a range of different
activities, the common characteristic being that you are writing for yourself rather than for an audience.
It is more a strategy than a skill, and involves reading in an active way. You ask yourself questions like,
‘What is this about?’, ‘What do I want to remember?’, and you write down the answers. You should
keep asking yourself, ‘Are these notes doing the job I want them to do?’ If they’re not, then change
your approach accordingly.
What’s the point of taking notes?
Taking notes as you read helps you focus, and stops your mind from wandering from what you’re
Your notes will help you make sense of what you are studying.
Notes represent the progress you are making. They are evidence of work, and can boost your
They help create order, and make ideas less confused and more user-friendly (you being the
Is there a way of taking notes properly?
You need to plan your learning by finding a system for learning and remembering the information that
is useful to you. Your notes should not be a shorthand copy of what you have just read. They should be
your attempt at ‘picking the bones’ out of your reading – those points that are relevant to what you are
The SQ5R system of note taking (and learning) works well for many successful students.
Survey or skim through, checking for sub-headings, or words in bold or italics, to give yourself an
idea of what is being covered. Don’t read everything word for word. Look for summaries.
Questions – ask yourself questions based on the headings in the books or articles that you are
reading. For example, in a biology book with a heading ‘involuntary muscles’, you could ask
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yourself questions like, ‘What are the involuntary muscles of the body?’, ‘What does ‘involuntary’
Read actively with definite questions in mind. Read only to the end of each headed section.
Record, in note form, up to five main points under each heading. Make key ideas stand out so that
they will ‘flag’ you later (for example, use highlighting or colours to do this, but only on your own
Recite – ask yourself questions and try to answer them without looking at your notes. If you can’t,
go back and try again.
Review each headed section briefly as you complete it. Make time to revise again, testing yourself
by writing and reciting.
Reflect – ask yourself, ‘What does all this mean’, ‘How can I apply it?’ Try to make a picture in
your mind, or tell yourself a story to consolidate the material.
Is it OK to use a highlighter?
Highlighting a book as you read it is a perfectly acceptable way to make notes (as long as the book
belongs to you, of course!). It makes learning quicker and easier, because you re-read the highlighted
words over and over again to learn them. Some students find highlighting is a complete waste of time –
if it is important enough to highlight, then you should be making your own notes about it. You can
always do both! It all comes down to your own personal preference for learning effectively.
keeps your attention focused on the text
makes you think about what the key concepts and issues are
is concrete evidence on the page that you have made sense of what you’ve just read.
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Essay/assignment writing
Assignment requirements will vary from unit to unit, but the following general steps for
essay/assignment writing will help you. You should check with your teachers for any special
assignment requirements. Use a word processor if you can, both for organising your notes and ideas,
and for presenting the final document. Computers with Microsoft Word software are available for your
use in the LIRN space.
Choose the topic
Ask yourself what you will learn by choosing to write on a particular topic. Your interest, knowledge,
and background will influence what you choose. Jotting down ideas may help, and may help you sort
out what you know and what you need to find out.
Analyse the topic
Some questions are written in such a way that the content and structure of the essay are outlined in the
question itself. This often occurs in a long question. However, other questions require that you first
analyse the question to determine the direction that is required and the level of analysis needed.
What exactly is being asked of you? Is it a description? A well-documented argument? A
personal view? Something else?
Look for the key content words that will determine what you will need to research, that is, what
you are expected to write about. Pay attention to words that indicate the:
General topic (this often helps you with a good introductory sentence to your introduction
Focus of the question (this is what your teacher wants you to specifically write about).
Look for the task or direction words that will help you to use your information. These are
sometimes contained within the instructions leading up to the question.
Contrast, analyse, discuss, and evaluate require you to show your thinking about your research,
not just describe what you found. Words such as describe, explain, and outline will often
accompany short answer questions.
How does the topic tie in with the unit and the teacher’s expectations?
What are the main points you want to make?
List any others that could be relevant.
How do these points link together?
From this analysis, make a plan with headings and sub-headings.
Be selective in your reading
Start early! You may not be able to get access to recommended readings easily, or when you
want them. Getting material from other libraries or sources takes time. Begin at least three weeks
before the assignment is due.
What evidence will you need to prove, illustrate or develop each point? If you look at each of your
headings with appropriate questions in mind, you will stay focused.
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Keep your notes well-organised with suitable headings.
It can be difficult to know when you have collected enough material. So that you can finish your
assignment on time, you have to plan when to start actually writing.
Organising and planning the material
Planning does not simply mean gathering information at random to support your argument. It involves
grouping information into a series of points and working out a logical order in which to present those
points. There are lots of ways that you can do this.
Work out what your viewpoint (your ‘thesis’) is. Did you start your research with one? Has it
changed since then? You should have one now to help guide your response to the assignment
question. Your viewpoint will help you structure your writing.
Decide which points you want to include in support of your viewpoint.
Check to see if there is a logical way you can group those points. Some groups will have only one
point in them, and others could have more than one.
Decide on the order that you’ll present the groups in. You could choose on the basis of, for
example, importance, time, or personal preference, but it should follow the order you indicate in
your introduction.
Take note also of any points that contradict your viewpoint. You should address these as well, for
a well-balanced argument.
Delete any points that you think are now irrelevant.
Give each group of points a main heading.
Give each point within a group a sub-heading. Then make sure the sub-headings are in the order
in which you will present them in your writing. If the order doesn’t make sense, change it!
It’s time to write your first draft!
Follow your plan when you write, and make use of the headings you have made. Sometimes
turning a heading into a question helps keep you to the point.
It’s often a good idea to start writing the section you feel most confident with. There are actually
many benefits in writing the introduction last!
In each paragraph, you must be clear about the points you are making and why you are making
them. You know what you mean. Make sure you tell the reader what you mean. Relate the points
you are making to the original question, and to your viewpoint on that question.
Do not use first person, such as, ‘I think…’, ‘I believe…’, ‘In my opinion…’, unless you are
permitted or asked to do so.
Use full sentences when you write.
Always reference other people’s ideas if you paraphrase or directly quote their work.
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Your writing style
Different courses require different styles and approaches to writing. Handouts, other course
literature, and talking things over with your teachers can help you decide what is required.
Sentences that are simple and clear to read are better than complex but confusing sentences.
You don’t need to impress by using big words and jargon!
If you are not sure about your expression, get someone who is skilled in the use of English to give
you a hand.
Keep your style consistent.
Avoid slang, informal language, clichés, and colloquialisms. For example, do not write:
The union representative was a thorn in the side of the manager.
Brown (2004) stuck to his ideals.
Smith’s (2000) analysis was spot on.
Rewriting and refining your work
Before rewriting, read the assignment topic again and make sure that your draft addresses it.
Note course requirements regarding size of margins, line spacing, and so on.
Count the number of words you fit onto one page, and then calculate the number of pages you will
need for your assignment (approximately).
The introduction clarifies the topic by giving it meaning and context, and also outlines the main
point of the view you are taking. It should catch the reader’s interest and lead into the main body
of the essay.
Each paragraph in the main body of the essay should contained one point which is then proved,
developed or illustrated with evidence from your references.
If you can’t prove that something is true in every case, then don’t use generalisations like ‘all’,
‘always’, ‘none’, or ‘never’ in your writing, but use words like ‘most’, ‘often’, ‘some’, or ‘sometimes’
Use suitable and varied joining words to make sure that your paragraphs flow smoothly from one
to another.
In your conclusion, summarise all the points that you have made in the main body of your work,
making sure to put special emphasis on your main conclusion to give it a strong finish.
Remember to include all your in-text referencing.
Compile your bibliography (all your sources of information) and/or reference list (those sources
you actually quoted from).
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One last look…
Put your work aside for a day or two before you have ‘one last look’ at it, from an editing perspective.
Otherwise, you will be inclined to read what you expect to see, rather than what you have written. Often
the best way to edit your work is to read it aloud, or to read it to someone. You could also give your
work to someone else to read.
Editing involves not only making sure that your spelling, grammar, punctuation and referencing are
correct, but also checking your work as a whole for coherence and logic. Does your writing make
sense? If you are aware of the mistakes you tend to make, look for these mistakes first.
Read the final version of your work, word for word, in hard copy before you submit it. Make sure your
pages are numbered and stapled firmly together. Finally, make sure that you’ve saved a copy of your
Report writing
Report writing is different from essay writing because it has a different purpose. Reports are common
communication tools. They usually outline a problem, provide the relevant facts and ideas that relate to
the situation, and recommend a course of action to be taken.
Reports are highly structured so that information they contain can be easily understood. Headings
within a report allow you to choose the parts you want to read. Headings also enable each section of
the report to stand alone. The structure of a report can be enhanced through the use of sub-headings,
diagrams, tables, graphs, illustrations etc.
You may be asked to write reports to show that you have investigated or researched a particular
problem. The investigation or research may be either primary, which is original or first-hand research,
or secondary, the investigation of literature or other material already in existence on the topic.
Information needed
Report requirements may vary from unit to unit, or course to course. Teachers requiring written reports
may provide you with the following information:
The topic or subject of the report
A clear idea of its purpose and its audience
The format – headings to be used and their order
Required length and due date.
Your teachers may also provide:
A detailed format including information about abstracts, summaries, conclusions,
recommendations, and how these are to be presented
A model of a similar report showing style, and how diagrams and statistics are to be presented.
This is often the practice in government and industry.
Ask yourself …
What exactly is the report about?
What is it designed to achieve?
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What is its scope or range?
What actions might follow from it?
Is it objective and scientific? Are opinions and interpretations appropriate?
What type of information or approach is specific to your unit area?
Getting started
Check that you have all the preliminary information you need before you start to read, research, or
The length of the report will determine the extent of your data gathering.
Use specific structure headings as a plan.
Note research information under these headings, on separate pages.
Write a sentence or thesis statement (your line of argument, your viewpoint) clarifying the subject
and purpose of the report. This may be used later in the report.
New information
Primary reports require new information. Plan experiments, interviews, measurements,
questionnaires, and other research methods carefully. Consider length, timelines, methods and
Make sure the data gathering will be completed well before the due date of the report.
Get help in designing methods and approaches if you’re uncertain.
Secondary information
If the report requires the collection or integration or interpretation of information already in books,
journals and media, then reading for a report is like reading for an essay. Notes should be short –
either briefly acknowledge quotations, or information in your own words. This is essential to
understanding and avoids copying and plagiarism.
Write accurate bibliographical information about all sources as you read to be used in referencing
and building your bibliography.
Writing the draft
Use the structure headings to write some sections of the report before the research is completed.
Explain terms that the reader may not know, or where clarify requires it. Explain symbols,
abbreviations, diagrams and statistics if necessary.
Decide on the numbering system before you start writing the draft. There are many different
systems in use. We have used the decimal system in the example provided here.
Be consistent in your use of headings, font type and font size.
Be concise.
Express doubt if there is uncertainty or if alternative interpretations can be made. Use words such
as ‘probably’, ‘possibly’, or ‘usually’.
Aim to write one draft only, which will be edited to provide the final copy.
Keep your audience in mind as you write.
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The visual pattern of a report is important. Major sections need to be clearly identified, and
presentation should be clearly identified, and uncluttered. Reports impress through their accuracy
and clarity.
When editing:
Be meticulous about references, bibliography, and analysis of data required.
Check that the argument is logical.
Make sure the length is within the required limits.
Make sure the purposes have been met.
Check accuracy of data and facts.
Label and number all diagrams and tables.
Make sure that conclusions and recommendations follow logically from the data.
Use appropriate size and quality of paper, margins, spacing, tables, graphs, diagrams and
After editing, proofread the final copy to eliminate any errors of spelling, punctuation or
numbering. Use the spell-check and grammar-check functions on your computer!
Ask a friend or colleague to proofread the final copy for you.
Keep your notes and a copy for your own reference until they are no longer required.
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Basic report format
Title page
Table of contents
Synopsis/Executive summary
This tells your reader what the report is about as it describes the topics or issues discussed. It indicates
the depth of the discussion as well as providing a summary of the recommendations and reasons for
them. It is usually one paragraph of approximately 120 words. Usually this is not included in your word
count. If in doubt, check with your teachers.
This tells your readers what you’re going to tell them in the body of your report. Your introduction gives
the background to the report, why it is useful, what the objectives, purpose and limitations of the report
Main heading
This is where you begin the discussion, outlining relevant facts and events. This is the main body of the
report, and is divided into two sections (headings) and sub-headings.
Main heading
This is where you give an overview of the material presented in the discussion and an interpretation of
the relevant facts and events.
These are drawn from your conclusion. Your recommendations outline the specific actions that are
required. When detailing your recommendations you may also need to consider who will action them,
how they will be measured, and the timeframe for the recommendations. The priority that you place on
each recommendation may also be required.
You must list all resources referred to in the report, organized in alphabetical order, by the author’s
surname. These are not included in the word count.
The appendices include related materials, if appropriate. These are not included in the word count.
They are optional for the reader, that is, the reader can choose whether to refer to them or not.
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Responding to case studies
A case study is a description of a series of problems, challenges or issues that need to be investigated
and solved. Teachers use case studies because they simulate real-world situations, and so they add a
dimension of reality to your studies. They are also used to assess how well you have understood the
relevant theories and concepts by your ability to apply these to solving the problems that are detailed in
the case study. Your task is to read, analyse and present a solution to the case study.
Read the case study through without stopping to analyse it. Do this to get a basic understanding
of what happened, who was involved, and the general problems.
Read it a second time to identify the key elements, including what happened, the sequence of
events, who was involved, any significant relationships, the facts, and the problems.
Make sure you understand what you have been asked to do. Re-read the case study, this time
clarifying the key issues and identifying the problems that need to be solved. Remember that case
studies are written so that you can propose solutions. As with real-life situations, there is usually
more than one way to solve any problem.
Bring together the problems you have identified using the concepts and theories that you have
learned from your classes and studies. Don’t just describe the problems. You need to analyse
them. If you need to make assumptions to fill in any gaps that are not provided in the case study,
you will need to explain your reasoning.
Look at a range of possible solutions to the problems. Evaluate the problems by giving your
opinion or some expert’s opinion, by considering the advantages and disadvantages of each
solution. Always justify your choices.
Depending on your assignment question, write your response to the case study in the form of a
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Editing and proofreading your work
Editing and proofreading are what you do with your work just before you submit it for assessment, and
it’s definitely not time wasted. Failing to edit your work will impact on your marks despite all your hard
work. Always allow yourself time to complete this important step as it can make all the difference to the
success of your work. When you revise and edit your work, ask yourself the following questions.
Have I answered the question as completely as possible?
What is my main argument?
Did I build the argument clearly? If I take ‘sides’ on an issue, do I state my position clearly in my
Do I prepare the reader early for what is to follow?
Is my work structured clearly?
Does it have a clear introduction, a body, and a definite conclusion?
Is it logical? Does it flow sensibly?
Are the major points connected? Are the major points relevant to the topic? Have I shown how
they are relevant?
Are my paragraphs clearly connected and coherent?
Do they flow smoothly and logically from one point to the next?
Does each point and/or paragraph state its case clearly and completely? Do I need more
information, details, evidence, or examples to support my arguments?
Are the quotes and examples relevant and supportive of the points I’m making? Do I support
opinions with examples or references if I can?
Is my writing clear enough?
Do I explain my ideas clearly?
Are the words I use clear and direct?
Will the reader of my work know exactly what I mean?
Is my referencing OK?
Have I referenced all the ideas, words, and information sources that I’ve used?
Is my referencing style consistent and correctly formatted?
Can the reader distinguish clearly between my own words and those I’ve cited from other
Are my quotes accurate?
Am I sure that I haven’t plagiarised?
Do I have too many words?
Check to make sure that only relevant information is included (and remove any that is not
Have I repeated myself anywhere?
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Have I waffled or been too wordy? Can I be more concise?
Do I have too few words?
Have I answered the question fully?
Should I read more widely to include more discussion?
Have I supported my ideas and arguments with enough evidence and researched information?
Proofreading tips
Don’t rely solely on the spell and grammar check functions on your computer. Read every word of
your assignment for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Try reading your work aloud, or giving it to a friend to read. Try reading it backwards – this helps
break up your thoughts about the writing so that you can concentrate on the words themselves.
Above all, don’t feel bad if you find mistakes. Think about what you need to do to fix them – it’s all
part of the learning process.
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Preparing for tests and/or exams
If you have already had success with exams and tests, remember your past strategies and keep using
them! Accept that at those times, you will feel a higher level of anxiety than usual. If you have not
already developed successful strategies for these occasions, you may appreciate the following
guidelines that have helped many students in the past.
Stay positive
Success (and everything that comes with it) is a very positive and motivating experience –
remember what it feels like to be successful.
Some levels of stress and anxiety are normal and to be expected when it comes to sitting exams
and tests. However, if these feelings become excessive, there are ways that you can deal with
Keep yourself healthy and fit
Set yourself good eating, exercise and sleeping routines and stick to them if you can – they will do
wonders for the performance of your brain.
Don’t forget to take time out for leisure and pleasure – it’s healthy to play.
Start early with your revision
Make yourself a revision plan but make it flexible to allow for the unexpected. Include time to relax
and enjoy yourself.
Plan what you will do with each of your revision periods, and make sure you take regular breaks
to avoid brain overload.
Try to stick to the timeframes that you’ve set. If there is too much work to in the time you have
available, then prioritise. Which topics are most important? Which subjects do you find more
difficult? Which require more work from you?
Sometimes it helps to revise with fellow students. Perhaps arrange to meet a few friends and test
one another’s memories, or just talk things over.
Find out as much as you can about your exam/test
Read your course outline carefully for details about what the exam or any tests will cover.
Write down what you know you need to know!
Will you have to answer multiple choice questions? Short answer questions? Essay questions?
Find out, and revise accordingly.
Try to find copies of previous exams or tests. They make excellent revision practice.
Do you know anyone who has already done the course or unit? Have a chat to them about what
you can expect.
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On the day
Don’t try to learn new material on the day of the exam. At the most, look over a few key points.
Nerves can be contagious, so don’t arrive too early at the exam venue (but don’t be late either!).
Make sure your pens, pencils, calculators and other equipment are working before you go into the
exam room.
Use your reading time wisely to start planning what you will write.
Read any instructions, and make sure you follow them carefully.
Allocate the time appropriately to the questions you will answer. Keep an eye on the clock as you
Start with what you know best and can answer most easily, as this boosts your confidence.
Make sure your writing is legible!!
Leave some minutes to check your work over at the end.
Take regular ‘mini-breaks’ during the exam or test. Slow your breathing. Have a stretch. Be aware
of letting some of your tensions go. Then make a deliberate effort to re-focus.
After it’s over
Have a plan as to what you will do immediately after your test or exam.
Avoid post-mortems with other students – there’s nothing you can do to change your results now,
so just let it go and forget about it.
Have something to eat, have a snooze, go for a walk or a swim. Do something nice for yourself.
You deserve it!
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If you use or refer to someone else’s words, thoughts and/or ideas in your own writing, then you must
acknowledge that person’s work. You do this in two places.
In-text referencing is acknowledging the original author(s) at the exact point in your work where
the idea or words is used.
End-text referencing is acknowledging the original author(s) at the end of your work, in your
reference list.
Referencing is done according to specific styles, and your teachers here at Wodonga TAFE require
you to use the one that is based what is called the Harvard or author/date system for books, articles,
and all other sources of information. You must be very careful to fully acknowledge all your sources of
information. Failure to do that is called plagiarism, sometimes referred to as cheating or stealing.
In-text referencing
Direct quotes in-text
A direct quotation in-text requires the name of the author(s), the year of publication, and the specific
page(s). Please note carefully all punctuation (including commas, lack of commas, spaces, use of
upper and lower cases etc.).
A short (less than 30 of the author’s exact words) quote is enclosed in single inverted commas.
‘Complexity is also measured in terms of the knowledge an organisation needs to have about its
environment’ (Robbins 2000, p. 31).
In this example involving the same quote as above, the author’s surname is part of the sentence,
so it is not placed in brackets. The year of publication and page number are added in brackets
immediately after the author’s surname. Only the author’s exact words are enclosed in inverted
Robbins (2000, p. 31) states that complexity can also be ‘measured in terms of the knowledge an
organisation needs to have about its environment‘.
If there are more than three authors, list only the first, followed by ‘et al.’ – remembering that
authors must all be fully named in the reference list. For example, a quote from page 137 of a
book written in 2003 by Robbins, Bergman, Stagg and Coulter can be referenced as follows.
‘A dominant minority can frequently have an excessive influence on the final decision’
(Robbins et al. 2003, p. 137).
Robbins et al. (2003, p. 137) state that a ‘dominant minority can frequently have an
excessive influence on the final decision’.
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If sources (books, articles etc.) have up to and including three authors, then all surnames are
acknowledged each time they are written.
Mayne, Milne and Boyle (2004, p. 19) advise that the right ‘referencing and presentation
indicate a professional approach to essay writing’.
Or (note the use of ‘&’ – the ampersand)
‘Correct referencing and presentation indicate a professional approach to essay writing’
(Mayne, Milne & Boyle 2004, p. 19).
Indirect quotes in-text
Paraphrasing (or using indirect quotes in-text) means taking a direct quote from another author and
writing it in your own words. You must still acknowledge the original author’s surname and the date of
publication. Page numbers will more accurately locate the source. You don’t use inverted commas
when you paraphrase.
In a recent study, Jakob (2005) reviewed the importance of police notebooks.
Eye contact is an effective form of non-verbal communication (Browne 2006, p. 58).
If two or more works by different authors are cited at the same time, separate them with a
The implications for land degradation have been much debated (Malinowski & Miller 1995;
Thomson 1999).
If two or more works by the same author are cited at the same time, do not repeat the author’s
name. Separate the years of publication by a comma.
Subsequent investigation confirmed these results (Watson 1996, 1998).
If there are more than two works by the same author, published in the same year, add the letters
‘a’, ‘b’, etc. to the year to distinguish the works. Also add these letters to the year in your reference
list at the end of your work.
Public housing remains a neglected area (ACOSS 1997a, 1997b).
If the year of publication is not available, write ‘n.d.’ to indicate ‘no date’.
Recent advances have been made in this area (Bolton n.d.).
Information obtained by interview, telephone call, letter, email, personal conversations with
teachers etc. are called personal communications and should all be documented in-text only.
They are not included in your reference list.
When interviewed on 15 June 1995, Dr Peter D Jones confirmed that the stars are fading…
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End-text referencing
End-text referencing refers to the reference list and/or bibliography added to the end of your work. The
references listed here should identify your sources (e.g. book, journal article, audiotape, film, internet
site etc.) in sufficient detail (and according to the style required) so that others can identify it and look at
it themselves.
A reference list is a list of all the resources you actually referred to in your work.
A bibliography is a list of sources you did not actually refer to in your work but which were relevant to
your writing.
Most assessments will require you to provide either a reference list or a bibliography. Some will ask
you to provide both lists.
Reference lists and bibliographies should be on separate pages at the end of your work.
They should both be set out in alphabetical order, according to the author’s surname.
Each author’s surname (in a reference list) should have a matching in-text reference under the
same surname.
Please take careful note of any punctuation, upper and lower case letters, and italics. Take equal note
of the order in which the details of the reference appear.
For books
Book details are usually recorded in the following order.
1. name(s) of author(s), editor(s), compiler(s) or the institution responsible – use commas to
separate surnames and initials of first names
2. year of publication, then a comma
3. title of publication and subtitle (if any) – all titles must be italicized (or underlined if handwritten) –
then a comma
4. series title and individual volume (if any) – then a comma
5. edition, if other than the first – then a comma
6. publisher – then a comma
7. place of publication – then a comma
8. page number(s) – finish with a full-stop.
Here are some specific examples.
Books with one author
Berkman, RI 1994, Find it fast: How to uncover expert information on any subject, Harper
Perennial, New York.
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Using the numbering above to explain, here’s how this reference was put together…
1. Berkman, RI (author’s surname and initials of first names, separated by a comma)
2. 1994 is the year of publication – followed by a comma
3. Find it fast: How to uncover expert information on any subject – this is the title and subtitle – in
italics and followed by a comma
4. There is no series title or individual volume
5. It is a first edition
6. Harper Perennial is the publisher – followed by a comma
7. New York is the place of publication – finished with a full-stop
8. There are no specific page numbers applicable in this example
Books with two or more authors
Cengel, YA & Boles, MA 1994, Thermodynamics: An engineering approach, 2nd edn,
McGraw Hill, London.
Cheek, J, Doskatsch, I, Hill, P & Walsh, L 1995, Finding out: Information literacy for the 21st
century, Macmillan Education, South Melbourne.
Books with editors
Pike, ER & Sarkar, S (eds) 1986, Frontiers in quantum optics, Adam Hilger, Bristol.
Jackson, JA (ed) 1997, Glossary of geology, American Geological Institute, Chicago.
Books sponsored by an institution, corporation or other organisation
Institution of Engineers Australia 2994, Code of ethics, Institution of Engineers Australia,
Editions of books
Jakob, K 1991, A guide to police writing, 2nd edn, Carswell, Canada.
Chapter or part of book
Bernstein, D 1985, ‘Transportation planning’, in The civil engineering handbook, CRC Press,
Boca Raton.
the title of the book chapter is enclosed in single inverted commas
the title of the book chapter and the title of the book are separated by a comma, then the word ‘in’
Chapter or part of an edited book
Palmer, M 1992, ‘Controlling corruption’, in Policing Australia: Old issues new perspectives,
eds P Moir & H Eijkman, Macmillan, Melbourne.
No author or editor
Kempe’s engineers’ year book 1992, Morgan-Grampian, London.
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Article details are usually recorded in the following order.
1. name(s) of author(s), editor(s), compiler(s) or the institution responsible – use commas to
separate surnames and initials of first names
2. year of publication, then a comma
3. title of article (in single quotation marks), then a comma
4. title of periodical (italicized or underlined if handwritten), then a comma
5. volume number (written as ‘vol.’), then a comma
6. issue number (written as ‘no.’), then a comma
7. page numbers, then a full-stop.
Here are some specific examples.
Journal article
Huffman, LM 1996, ‘Processing whey protein for use as a food ingredient’, Food Technology,
vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 49-52.
Using the numbering above to explain, here’s how this reference was put together …
1. Huffman, LM (author’s surname and initials of first names, separated by a comma)
2. 1996 is the year of publication, followed by a comma
3. ‘Processing whey protein for use as a food ingredient’ is the title of the article, followed by a
4. Food Technology is the name of the periodical (journal in this case). Note that first letters in all
main words in periodical titles are upper case (this is not the same for books!).
5. vol. 50 is the volume number, followed by a comma. Note that there is a space between the word
‘vol.’ and the number ‘50’.
6. no. 2 is the issue number, followed by a comma. Note that there is a space between the word
‘no.’ and the number ‘2’.
7. pp. 49-52 are the page numbers. Note the full-stop and space. There is no space in ’49-52’
Newspaper article
Simpson, L 1997, ‘Tasmania railway goes private’, Australian Financial Review, 13 October,
p. 10.
In this example, the date (13 October) replaces the volume and issue numbers (steps 5 and 6 above).
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For a standard
Details of standards are usually recorded in the following way.
1. name of corporate body issuing the standard
2. year of publication, then a comma
3. title of standard (in italics or underlined if handwritten), then a comma
4. number of standard including the identifier of the issuing country or body, then a comma
5. publisher of the standard, then a comma
6. place of publication, then a full-stop
International Organisation for Standardisation 1982, Steels – Classification – Part 1:
Classification of steels into unalloyed and alloy steels based on chemical composition, ISO
4948-1:1982, International Organisation for Standardisation, Geneva.
For a patent
Details of patents are usually recorded in the following way.
1. name(s) of inventor(s) – use commas to separate surnames and initials of first names
2. date of issue, then a comma
3. title of patent (in italics or underlined if handwritten), then a comma
4. number of patent including country of issue, then a full-stop
Cookson, AH 1985, Particle trap for compressed gas insulated transmission systems, US
Patent 4554399.
For a map
Details of maps are usually recorded in the following way.
1. issuing body
2. date, then a comma
3. title of map (in italics or underlined if handwritten), then a comma
4. series, details of which are separated by commas
5. publisher, then a comma
6. place of publication, then a full-stop
Department of Mines and Energy Queensland 1996, Dotswood, Australia 1:100 000
Geological Series, Sheet 8158, Department of Mines and Energy Australia, Brisbane.
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Electronic resources
Electronic resources range from video recordings to DVDs to the internet. The basic forms of recording
these details are as for printed materials.
1. name(s) of author(s), editor(s), compiler(s) or the institution responsible – use commas to
separate surnames and initials of first names
2. year of publication, then a comma. Note that if you cannot establish a year of publication, use
‘n.d.’ (no date.
3. title of publication and subtitle (if any) – all titles must be italicized (or underlined if handwritten) –
then a comma
4. edition, if other than the first – then a comma
5. type of medium, if necessary, then a comma
6. date item reviewed, then a comma (for web pages); publisher and place of publication for other
7. name or internet site address (if applicable). This last detail goes on a separate line, and is
followed by a full stop
Weibel, S 1995, ‘Metadata: The foundations of resource description’, D-lib Magazine, viewed
7 January 1997,
ASTEC 1994, The networked nation, Australian Science, Technology and Engineering
Council, Canberra, viewed 7 May 1997,
Get the facts (and get them organised) 1990, video recording, Appleseed Productions,
Williamstown, Victoria.
Dr Brain thinking games 1998, CD-ROM, Knowledge Adventure Inc, California.
In the last two examples above, the media used (see Step 5) are ‘video recording’ and ‘CDROM’.
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A very special thank you goes to Charles Sturt University for its kind permission in allowing us to use
the excellent material developed by the staff from its Division of Student Services.
Aston, M 2005, Study smart: A guide to successful study at TAFE, Reedy Books, Epping, NSW.
businessballs.com 2006, Kolb learning styles, accessed 11 December 2006,
Division of Student Services 2004, Putting it together: A guide to learning at CSU, Charles Sturt
Dunn, R & Dunn, K 1993, Teaching secondary students through their individual learning styles, Allyn &
Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.
Li, X & Crane, N 1993, Electronic style: A guide to writing electronic information, Meckler, Westport.
Snooks & Co 2002, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, John Wiley, Canberra.
Swan TAFE n.d., Welcome to Swan TAFE, viewed November 2006,
Swan TAFE n.d., Swan TAFE – Libraries, viewed November 2006,
Wodonga Institute of TAFE 2006, Assessment (including appeal and examination) procedure, system
procedure DP025, version no. 6.
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