Planning & study strategies

Learn how to manage your assessments and study efficiently with planning and note taking strategies, and how to reduce stress and access support.

Learning outcomes

This topic will enable you to better understand study requirements and learn how to:


Good planning and study strategies can help you to manage overwhelm and beat study stress. A clear understanding of requirements, a realistic time management plan and strategies for managing and effectively using your study notes can be key to success. It is also important that you know where to find help and that you seek it early.

In this topic, the benefits of using session and weekly planners as a means of both managing time and developing an understanding of expectations are explained. Note taking and note making strategies are outlined and an overview of how to beat stress and access support is provided.

Understanding requirements

Spending time at the beginning of each session planning for your assessments and weekly tasks will be time well spent. A well-considered time management plan will enable you to work efficiently and to submit your assessments on time. Study strategies can also be beneficial in supporting you to locate, organise and access the information you will need to complete your assessments and prepare for exams.

Before creating a time management plan, you need first to understand your study commitments and assessment requirements for each unit you are enrolled in.

While we know that good time management can help get work in on time, the benefits of planning out a study schedule extend far beyond this. Going through the process of creating session and weekly planners can also help you to:

Preparing for assessments

Learn how to maximise your marks and complete assessments on time using an assessment preparation cycle. This topic focuses on the important first step of clearly understanding task instructions and rubrics and planning accordingly.

Learning outcomes

This topic assists you to understand how to:


Successfully completing your assessment tasks should be your main focus as you progress through your university studies. Assessment tasks are designed to assess your understanding of and ability to apply the key concepts taught in each unit and your ability to present your informed response in a way that is appropriate for university.

It is important to remember that while there are general expectations as to how you should present your response, it is the task instructions and marking rubric that dictate the specific requirements of the task and how exactly your marks will allocated. For this reason, clearly understanding your task instructions and rubric, and creating a plan specifically focused on addressing these task requirements is crucial to success.

This topic offers an assessment preparation cycle to help you conceptualise the steps required to successfully approach assessment tasks, outlines strategies to help you understand the task instructions and marking rubrics, and suggests steps to take to plan your response.

The Assessment Preparation Cycle

The following cycle outlines key steps required to successfully prepare assessment tasks. Each of these steps highlight key skills you will need to demonstrate as you prepare your informed response, and indicate the time that may be required to complete an assessment task. Ensure that you keep this in mind when using your session planner and plan your time accordingly. It is expected that you may need to cycle back through some steps as you prepare your assessment.

Searching strategies

To research effectively you need to develop skills in analysing the assessment question, identifying keywords and related synonyms as well as creating a workable search string for the library catalogue and databases.

Learning outcomes

This topic will guide you through the research process and help you understand:

  • how to maximise search results for assessment tasks
  • how to use keywords and synonyms within your search strategy
  • what are Boolean operators and how to use them
  • what is truncation, phrase searching and wildcards
  • how to create a search string using keywords, synonyms, Boolean operators, truncation, phrase searching and wildcards


To research effectively you need to develop skills in analysing the assessment question, identifying keywords and related synonyms as well as creating a workable search string for the library catalogue and databases.

As a starting point, look to your unit materials for information relevant to your assessment task. Remember that each assessment is testing your understanding of and ability to apply the concepts and key information from your unit content to address your task criteria. For this reason, it is important to start by ensuring you clearly understand these concepts as they are presented in your unit. Learn more about how to analyse your assessment tasks and how to define and use concepts in your writing.

This topic will go through the different tips and rules that you will need to follow to ensure you are maximizing your search results for assessment tasks.

The Research process

Keywords and synonyms

Identifying keywords and related synonyms (similar words) for each of your concepts or themes will ensure that your search retrieves as many relevant results as possible.

  • identify the main concepts (keywords)
  • determine alternative terms (synonyms) to capture how others might describe the same concept
  • consider possible word variations

Example: Alternative keywords and synonyms for Education

Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) connecting words

Boolean Operators connect keywords and synonyms together to create a search string. We can refer to these as our ‘connecting’ words. We write them in capitals to ensure the catalogue or database does not mistake them for keywords and searches for them.

Other search tips

Test your searching knowledge with this tutorial

Finding information

This topic will take you through the best places to search for your discipline area and provide searching demonstration videos to understand how the library catalogue and specific databases work.

Learning outcomes

This topic will guide you in how to source relevant information throughout your studies. It will help you to:


Now that you have completed Searching strategies and understand how to create a search string, the next step is understanding the best place for you to conduct a search. This step will often depend on what you are studying and what specifically you are looking for.

Some tasks allow you to reference material from your unit content (i.e., study guide and lecture notes), so be sure to check whether this is permitted. Look to your weekly readings (myReadings) as they are guaranteed to be relevant sources of information and may also lead you to other relevant sources (i.e., check their reference lists). You should also check your unit materials for links to additional recommended readings and other reliable sources of information. Remember that this is your starting point, and while you may find important and relevant information from within your unit content, you also will also need to search for your own information.

This topic will take you through the best places to search for your subject area and provide searching demonstration videos to understand how the library catalogue and specific databases work.

Sources commonly used in assignments


This topic introduces you to effective reading strategies including note-taking from reading, how to evaluate sources and how to use a synthesis grid to organise key information from your readings.

Learning outcomes

In this topic you will learn how to:


University study requires considerable amounts of reading and engaging with a variety of sources. It is vital to learn and practise reading strategies that are effective and efficient. Reading for your assignments requires a range of different techniques: speed reading, intensive reading and lateral reading. As you read, you will also need to evaluate the source and the information. Taking useful notes from your readings is a crucial skill to develop as part of the overall process of responding in an informed way to your various assessment tasks.

Speed reading

You will not have time to read every source you find in-depth, so employing speed reading strategies will help you study more efficiently. Speed reading is the stage at which you establish that the source you have found is suitable and relevant for your assignment. You need to ask yourself whether the source meets the requirements included in your assessment task information. 

To do this, use skimming and scanning techniques.

Click the hotspots on the image of a journal article below for some tips to help you with your speed reading.

See further tips under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Intensive reading

To read intensively means to read carefully, ensuring understanding of important information and the author’s argument. Unlike speed reading, when you are reading intensively, you should carefully read the source in its entirety to ensure that you get the whole picture. If the source is particularly long, identify major relevant sections by scanning and read these in detail. At this stage, you would take notes from the text, as your speed reading has established its relevance and appropriateness. 

As you read, you should be actively thinking about what you are reading, keeping your task information, assignment question and key concepts related to your topic at the forefront of your mind. 

Critical Reading

One strategy for intensive reading is critical reading. You critically evaluate and analyse a text as you read and after reading to compose an informed response to an assessment task. Critical reading requires you to be discerning, separating parts from the whole, and considering a text in terms of its content and context. Ahmad (2019, p. 60) describes the process as follows:

To be a critical reader means to read critically while as well as after reading (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012) in order to synthesise, analyze, and evaluate what is read (Van Blerkom, 2012b). In contrast to literal and mechanic reading whose aim is to obtain knowledge (Ateş, 2013), critical reading is to develop an analytical (Van Blerkom, 2012a) neutral comprehension of the text (Mayfield, 2014). It involves: distinguishing fact, opinion, and belief; questioning the author’s intentions, argument, and word choice (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012); and finding the conclusions based on the evidence the writer put forth (Abu Shihab, 2011). Therefore, it requires readers to comprehend not only the content of the text they are reading but also the context in which it was produced (Comber & Nixon, 2011). In brief, critical readers read beyond what was written to how and why it was written (Rog, 2012).

Watch this short video for essential tips on critical reading:

See further tips for reading critically under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Evaluating sources

A key consideration when deciding whether to include a source in your assignment is whether the author and the information are credible. As you critically read a text, ask yourself the following questions:

At the minimum, when you are assessing a source, you should check for the following: 

  • Authority: 
    Is the author qualified to be writing on a topic? Do they have relevant qualifications? Do they work in a relevant field? Have they published other articles on the topic? If the author is an organisation, is it recognised and trustworthy? Do they have an ulterior motive for presenting the information, particularly a financial or political motive?
  • Purpose: 
    Why was the content created? Is its goal to inform, by presenting an objective and evidence-based account of the topic? To persuade, by presenting a biased or one-sided account of the topic? Is the information trying to sell you a product?  
  • Evidence: 
    If claims are being made, is there evidence to support them, either references or links to further information? If the author is using references, are they from authors who are qualified to write on the topic? Can you find corroboration for the points being made elsewhere on the Internet?

If you’re assessing a source for an assignment, make sure that it meets the minimum requirements for inclusion. Has it been published within an acceptable date range? Is it an acceptable format? Make sure to follow all of your assessment task instructions.

Try the CRAAP Test!

See further tips for evaluating sources and how to read a journal article under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Fact checking & lateral thinking

When you encounter new information, it may be necessary to look beyond the source to confirm any claims made. This is particularly true if you are looking at online information that has not been through a quality check process prior to publication or if the information has been produced by an organisation you are not familiar with.

The best way to establish the credibility of online information is through a process called lateral reading.  When reading laterally, instead of reading the page’s content from start to finish, you read across, checking information as it’s presented to you. You do this by opening new tabs in your browser and performing searches outside of the page you are reading, checking the ‘facts’ as you go. This includes:

  • searching for more information about the author or organisation who has created the information  
  • searching to confirm any statistics or figures that might be presented

To learn more about the lateral reading approach, watch this short video created by the Stanford History Education group:

Our Digital Skills topic Fake news also explores how to determine the credibility of the information you read.

Writing at university

To write in an academic style appropriate for university, you need to be able to draw on evidence to present an informed response, demonstrate an understanding of the key features of academic writing, structure your writing appropriately and use academic language and writing conventions. This topic shows you how.

Learning outcomes

In this topic you will learn about making an informed response in writing for assessment tasks, including how to:


Students are required to meet certain expectations when it comes to writing in an academic style appropriate for university. This can seem like a daunting task, but the good news is, an awareness of what the expectations are, paired with strategies for fulfilling these expectations, can make it much easier to develop good academic writing skills and approach assessment tasks with confidence.  

It is important to always keep in mind that your assessment task descriptions and marking rubrics outline specific task expectations and should always be referred to first. For help understanding task descriptions and marking rubrics see Preparing for assessments. Some units also provide unit writing guides which should also be followed carefully.  

This topic explains the need for an informed response, outlines the key features of an academic writing style, highlights the importance of a well-structured response and outlines basic academic writing conventions and language use.  

The need for an informed response  

The first and most important thing to remember when writing at university is that an academic writing style always requires an informed response. This means that you need to demonstrate critical thinking when formulating your response, and ensure that your ideas and arguments are supported by evidence.  


The term evidence refers to facts, information, ideas, theories and concepts that are considered valid and reliable within an academic context. To learn more about locating evidence see Finding information. When writing at university, it is essential that you demonstrate an evidence based writing style by using citations to indicate that the information you present is supported by evidence and to acknowledge the source of that evidence. See Citing evidence & referencing and the guides on Evidence-rich writing under Writing at University on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page to learn more.

Critical thinking  

You will often come across the terms critical thinking, critical reading , critical analysis and critical judgement as you progress through your studies. In an academic context, being critical means evaluating or weighing up ideas and information to determine how reliable and useful it is.  In order to demonstrate critical thinking, you are required to collect, evaluate, organise and logically present relevant evidence that appropriately supports the points you are making as you formulate your informed response. See the detailed information in the pages below and Writing at University on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page to learn more.  

Key features of academic writing  

It is important that the content of your informed response is organised and presented appropriately.  An understanding of the following key features of an academic writing style, which can be thought of as “big picture” considerations, is crucial in achieving this.   

Approaching different assessment tasks

Academic writing can take many forms, each presented in its own way. This topic introduces you to different types of assessments.

Learning outcomes

This topic will help you to learn general formatting requirements and how to respond to specific assessment tasks, including:


Assessment tasks at university can take many forms. Each task has unique requirements and is presented in its own way. Unit materials, including task information and marking rubrics, are your essential guides to what is needed for particular tasks. However, several standard formats or typical structures can serve as a foundation for your learning and responding to specific assessment tasks.

Navigate through the relevant sections below to find out more about general formatting of written assessments and how to approach annotated bibliographies, essays, reports, case studies, reflective writing and other types of assessments.

formatting written assessments

APA 7th and Harvard are two commonly used referencing styles at SCU. As well as indicating the detailed format for citing a source in text and providing a complete reference in a reference list, different styles also determine the general format of your written assessments. Everything from margins, line spacing, fonts, text alignment and paragraphing to titles, subtitles, seriation, headers, footers and page numbering are dictated by the style you are using. A particular style may also include requirements for title pages, abstracts or executive summaries, tables of contents, and tables or figures.

It is helpful to become familiar with and apply a general formatting style consistently. Confidence in setting up your document for an assessment task in a particular style will save you time, assist with organising your written response and provide your reader or marker with a satisfying reading experience. Consistent formatting identifies the writer, the specific assignment and unit of study. It also creates space and organises your text in ways that support the coherence of your response to the task. Your reader or marker will be able to navigate your writing and map your response to the marking rubric with ease. This is significant as marks are usually assigned to formatting or presentation.     

APA 7th is standardised according to the style manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). This manual is used to develop the APA 7th Referencing Guide made available to you by the SCU Library. Use the SCU APA Referencing Guide for specific examples of in text citation and complete references for different types of sources. For general formatting, see Paper Format provided by the APA. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) also includes detail on general formatting for APA as well as examples and a sample APA paper with annotations.

There is no universal standard for Harvard style. At Southern Cross University, a new SCU Harvard Referencing Guide has been introduced by the SCU Library (June 2022). It is based on the Australian Government style manual. There are many style changes that have been incorporated into this guide. Take the time to become familiar with these changes. This comparative summary document of the main changes may be helpful initially. The pre-June 2022 SCU Harvard Referencing Guide remains accessible until 31 October 2022. Check your task information or with your unit assessor or lecturer for which version of the SCU Harvard Referencing Guide you should be using. The SCU Harvard Referencing Guide provides specific examples of in text citation and complete references for different types of sources. For general formatting, click on the headings under Harvard Mini Style Guide below for more information.

See also the Student Learning Zone’s Quick Guides on APA7th and Harvard formatting under Writing at University.

Harvard mini style guide

Citing evidence & referencing

Learn how to correctly use sources as evidence, integrate sources within your writing and understand the basic elements of referencing.

Learning outcomes

This topic will help you learn the basics of correctly and effectively using sources in assessments, including how to:


For your University assessments, you are required to identify reputable information sources (evidence) that support your ideas and arguments, acknowledge those sources, and include the correct referencing formats for them.

This means correctly and effectively citing the work of others, in the form of paraphrases, summaries or quotes in your text, and including a list of references at the end of your document.

This topic offers key information and easy strategies that will help you to correctly and effectively use information from others’ sources in your writing. Always carefully check assessment requirements.

Southern Cross University students must complete the mandatory Academic Integrity Module within their first session, term or study period. Set yourself up for study success by completing the module early.

Correctly and effectively using sources

It is important to understand the difference between correct and effective source use in assessments. Given you need to use sources in all assessments, understanding this distinction will set you up for study success.

  • Correctly using sources entails practising academic integrity, and is the minimum requirement you need to meet in all assessments.
  • Effectively using sources will improve the quality of your informed responses, and your grades.

Your first priority must always be correctly using paraphrases, quotes and referencing so that you practise academic integrity. It is a simple way to clearly acknowledge every time you use information, words, or images from outside sources.

Effectively using these sources is the next step that will improve the quality of your assessments and your grades. It involves turning sources into evidence that illustrates, elaborates, and supports your response to the task.

Evidence takes different forms depending on the subject and the task. Common types of evidence include: definitions, expert opinion, statistics, figures, examples, experiment results, and research findings. Sources used as evidence need to credible, current, and reliable. The Writing at university topic further explains evidence.

Essential referencing information

The Library’s referencing guides provide comprehensive help with formatting citations and references for different sources. There are four different types of referencing styles used at Southern Cross University, they are:

Note: a new SCU Harvard Referencing Guide has been introduced by the SCU Library (June 2022). It is based on the Australian Government style manual. There are many style changes that have been incorporated into this guide. Take the time to become familiar with these changes. This comparative summary document of the main changes may be helpful initially. The pre-June 2022 SCU Harvard Referencing Guide remains accessible until 31 October 2022. Check your task information or with your unit assessor or lecturer for which version of the SCU Harvard Referencing Guide you should be using.

APA 7th and Harvard use author date referencing and AGLC4 and Chicago use footnotes and bibliography. To find out what referencing style you should be using, check your study guide or ask your unit assessor.

Take the short interactive modules below to better understand the Harvard and APA 7th referencing styles.

To understand the Harvard and APA referencing styles in more detail, and how to reference commonly used sources, watch the referencing How to videos from the Learning Zone.

Editing & preparing to submit

Editing is an important part of the writing process, and leaving enough time to edit and proofread your work can help you achieve better results.

Learning outcomes

This topic helps you learn how to refine and present your work to best advantage by:

  • understanding how to apply multiple editing phases
  • using Grammarly and Turnitin as editing tools
  • using marker feedback to improve your work

Editing and proofreading your assignment

Editing and proofreading strategies

Editing is an important part of the writing process and leaving enough time to edit and proofread your work can help you achieve better results. Using editing and proofreading strategies can maximise marks by minimising errors and ensures that marking rubric criteria and task instructions have been directly addressed.

Keep these tips in mind before you start editing your work.

  • Once you finish your final draft, take a break before you start editing. Fresh eyes can help with identifying and correcting errors.
  • Remember that editing takes time. Try not to rush your editing, you may miss errors and inconsistencies. Allow enough time to submit your draft through Turnitin for feedback.
  • If you can, get someone else to read your work back to you, or try reading your work aloud. This can help identify any structure/consistency issues.
  • Stick to the word limit as you may lose marks if you go too far over or under. Check whether you have a 10% allowance and remember that not enough words usually means not enough information so go back to your task instructions to identity what may be missing.

Using Grammarly to edit your work

Grammarly identifies potential issues with spelling, grammar, punctuation, readability and vocabulary and suggests corrections to help you edit your written work. However, it is up to you to determine whether the Grammarly suggestions are appropriate and identify any other issues Grammarly may have missed. Always edit your assignment according to your assessment task instructions and marking rubric, as well as your own knowledge of academic writing expectations.

To access, install and understand Grammarly, check out the Technology Services Grammarly help page and work through the necessary steps and knowledge base articles.

The Grammarly Quick Guide from The Student Learning Zone has 10 handy steps to improve your editing skills with Grammarly. Keep it handy when it comes time to edit.

You can also work your way through the following activities to test your understanding of this part of the assignment process.