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SPARK: Setting Priorities

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

Setting Priorities

Most university students find themselves facing tight deadlines and may find they need more time for an assignment than they originally set aside in their schedule. Ideally, if this happens to you, you will have enough flexibility in your schedule to add more assignment writing times. If that is not feasible, you need to set some priorities:
  • review the demands of the assignment
  • consider where you are in the writing process and how much time you have left
  • determine the most important assignment tasks you have left to do and give them priority in your schedule

Setting and resetting priorities helps you allot your time to ensure that the most important aspects of the task receive sufficient attention.

Review the sections below to learn more about setting priorities.

Efficient Use of Time

Make a realistic assessment of how you can be more efficient.

  • It is generally easier to revise than generate. So start writing early in the process and plan to revise and perfect the prose, bibliography, citations, etc. later.
  • Understand the parameters around the type and amount of research materials required. Know when to stop gathering material and focus on writing.
  • Use the SQ4R method to skim quickly and get the main points out of your reading (see the Effective Reading Strategies module).
  • If you’re going to take notes, use them as a form of pre-writing that you can later cut and paste directly into your paper. This means that you will write your notes in your own words as you think you would like them to appear in the paper (see the Gathering & Noting Ideas module).
  • Don’t spend time worrying about perfect introductions and segues; if you planned properly, you will have time later on to reflect and correct (see the Revising Your Arguments module).

Your Weekly Schedule

Make a realistic assessment of the importance of the items present in your current schedule. Are there activities that could be skipped or reduced at particularly busy times such as work commitments, social engagements or TV or online time? Use these freed-up timeslots for additional work on your assignments.

Your Strengths and Limitations

Make a realistic assessment of your own strengths and limitations. If the topic hasn’t yet been determined, is there one about which you already know a fair bit and/or one for which you know exactly where to find great resources?

Ask yourself which aspects of the process you can do efficiently and which aspects require more time and energy. Do you need to put more effort into:

  • taking good notes?
  • grasping ideas from your reading?
  • critically evaluating your writing?
  • editing your writing?

Aspects of the Assignment

Make a realistic assessment of the demands of the assignment.

  • How will marks be assigned to the various components of the assignment?
  • Could the research for this paper be narrowed somewhat?  
  • Could you write to express the main points without focusing too much on the flow or style? Or is this an assignment for which flow and style are emphasized?
  • What penalties exist for late submissions? For example, are you better off handing in an unpolished paper on time rather than taking a penalty for submitting a polished paper after the deadline? Should you show your professor your current work and discuss a possible extension?