How to Succeed in College Assignments: 5 Tips

Want the secret to succeeding in college assignments? The short answer is following the instructions. The long answer is detailed in this article. 

Want the secret for succeeding in your college assignments? The vast majority of college professors want you to succeed in their classes and most of those professors provide explicit instructions for what they seek in their class assignments. 

In my classes, not only do I provide detailed information about each assignment, but I also include a grading rubric that further explains exactly how the assignment will be graded. Even with these elements, I still have students who do not complete the assignments accurately. 

Thus, for all students, but especially new and/or struggling students, here are some basic tips for how to succeed in your college assignments.

 Five Tips for Succeeding in College Assignments

 1. Read the assignment instructions carefully. I am baffled by how many students do not include the required sources or follow the word count/page count requirements. The first thing you should do when tackling an assignment is to review each of the required elements; if you have to, write in the margins or in your notes the exact elements your professor expects. Some professors also list recommended (but not required) elements, and if you can include those, all the better. 

2. Break down the assignment into smaller pieces. Even some of the shortest assignments have multiple elements, so if you get easily overwhelmed (or simply tend to forget or neglect elements), break down the work into smaller pieces or work elements or steps... for example, researching, organizing, writing, editing, proofreading. 

3. Plan your assignment -- and if necessary, use an outline. Almost all college work requires an introduction to the topic, followed by evidence supporting your argument/view, and closing with a conclusion. It's the middle part -- the evidence supporting your argument that might need more organizing, depending on the length. A simplistic example: Introduction, Topic 1, Topic 2, Topic 3, Conclusion.

Make sure you follow the guidelines for the proper references -- and make sure you use them to support your thesis. Evidence and citations are essential to success. 

4. Follow the required writing and formatting styles. My college courses require students to use APA Style, but other disciplines require other styles. It is YOUR responsibility to learn how to properly format your assignment in terms of the style required. Most college writing centers have helpful guides. Also note that in most formal assignments, the requirement is to write in the third person. (Learn more about writing in the third person, versus first and second person, here.) 

5. Always leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading. I can't speak for all professors, but what drives me crazy is finding numerous misspellings, typos, and poor grammar in student papers. Try to complete assignments at least a day ahead of the deadlines so you can spend the final day editing AND revising your assignment -- making sure you have successfully done steps 1 through 4.

Even better, ask a friend/roommate/significant other to proofread your paper. You might also consider the free version of Grammarly, which checks for misspellings and grammatical errors. 

Final Thoughts on College Assignments

When in doubt, contact your professor. Do not complete any assignment that you feel is too vague or that you do not understand. Call, email, or stop by and chat with your professor to help you feel more comfortable with the parameters of the assignment. 

Finally, once you get your first assignment back -- and before you complete another one -- read the professor's detailed comments and make the changes s/he suggests to improve your performance. Once again, if you do not understand any of your professor's comments, ask him/her about them. (For online students, make sure you download your assignment with the professor's annotated comments.) 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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Dr. Randall Hansen is an advocate, educator, mentor, ethicist, and thought-leader... helping the world heal from past trauma. He is founder and CEO of, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including

He has been a college professor for about three decades.

He is the author of the groundbreaking Triumph Over Trauma: Psychedelic Medicines are Helping People Heal Their Trauma, Change Their Lives, and Grow Their Spirituality and the well-received HEAL! Wholeistic Practices to Help Clear Your Trauma, Heal Yourself, and Live Your Best Life.

Dr. Hansen's focus and advocacy center around true healing ... healing that results in being able to live an authentic life filled with peace, joy, love. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, You can also check out Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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