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On course for coursework

Coursework assignments are designed to mirror the everyday work of advisers and create a case study scenario. The ifs pioneered this approach for its DipFA qualification and this is a guide to the right approach

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In this month’s Tutor’s Corner, we take a look at how to approach coursework assignments, which are a common assessment method that allow students the flexibility to prepare detailed reports and essays at their own pace, without the pressure of an exam setting.

A coursework assignment forms part of the second unit of the ifs School of Finance’s DipFA, where it represents 30 per cent of the overall unit.

The assignment is given in advance, allowing students just under four months to complete and submit via email.

The assignment is designed to relate closely to the everyday activity of the adviser and focuses on a case study/client scenario.

The ifs pioneered the case study approach for adviser qualifications with the DipFA, so all the assessment methods have a heavy focus on client scenarios.

You need to be fully committed to the process. There will be setbacks, new demands on your time or you may have trouble getting motivated

We believe it tests both advanced knowledge and the development of the core behavioural skills of communication and research, skills that are vital for giving effective advice to the consumer.

We will look at further case studies and model answers as we progress through the series.

Looking at the question
It is a good idea to look at your assignment question as early as possible. If you are aware of what the question requires, then you can pay particular attenYou need to be fully committed to the process. There will be setbacks, new demands on your time or you may have trouble getting motivatedtion to those areas of the syllabus that are being assessed as you go through the course. You can also make notes of any additional resources that may be useful for researching the assignment.

You must give yourself plenty of preparation time for coursework, so be realistic and plan ahead. You also need to ensure that you fully understand all the requirements for the assignment such as word count and format.

As with all coursework assignments, it is important to check the coursework guidance for further information on submission procedures and ask your tutor well in advance if anything is unclear.

Planning your time
Time is a critical factor and to be successful you need to be fully committed to the process. There will always be some set-backs, new demands on your time or periods when you may have trouble getting motivated. Sometimes, we respond best to pressure, which may need to be self-imposed. Plan your timetable – how long do you have? Work out your commitments and allow sufficient time to complete all your work.

Set yourself realistic targets and stick to them.

Keep referring back to the question and ask yourself, what does the question require? You should ensure that you cover every aspect of the question so spend some time looking at the key parts of the question and the instruction words.

Outlining the ideas you would like to include can be useful in the early planning stages. This gives you a structure that you can add to as you carry out your research and find out more about the relevant issues.

Carrying out research
You should draw on a wide range of resources as you prepare your answer. You are likely to come across examples in your everyday work that can also be useful research for the assignment. As well as the AFA (Advanced Financial Advice) resources, you should research wider reading, including textbooks, journals and websites as appropriate. Remember to reference appropriately should you use these sources.

The internet gives unlimited information on almost anything. The key is finding up-to-date information that is factually correct and relevant and this means developing your information gathering skills. It can be difficult to find useful sources to begin with but you will quickly learn that many sites are just not worth exploring. With practice, you will learn to look at the sites with an educational aspect rather than those that are commercially driven. The ifs KnowledgeBank is a good place to start, in particular, the DipFA recommended reading pages, which provide links to e-books, articles, journals, reports and websites to support your studies and coursework preparation.

Using argument and structure
There are many different writing styles but you will be asked to write in a professional style. This means linking to real-life work situations where you have to pick out salient facts, raise issues, analyse situations, review problems, link theory with practice and so on. This also means developing an argument or expressing a view and sometimes a counter view to add breadth and depth to your arguments.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and have an open view of your arguments as this will enable you to be critical in your judgements and give you more options that you can go on to develop.

Being clear and concise
It is very important to give your assignment structure by organising it into a sequence of headings and paragraphs with a logical flow.

We should all attempt to make our prose flow so that the reader can fully understand what we are saying and the points we are trying to make. Using “link words” and “signposting” certain phrases can carry the meaning from sentence to sentence.

Like every good essay, your assignment should have an argument running through it, from the title to the conclusion. The conclusion should answer the question. All arguments should be presented in a logical fashion and be easy for the reader to follow. In some cases, using diagrams can explain the things you are trying to illustrate in a much simpler way.

Begin drafting your answer
Now you are ready to start thinking about putting all your material together. This means going through all your work and pulling together your ideas. You will probably have done some of this already when you were developing your thoughts.

A good starting point is developing your framework around what you want to cover and deciding on the things you want to reject. This might come out of your assignment plan, which will have the report headings of the things you want to cover.

At this stage, it is better to keep the structure as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Once the shape starts to emerge, you will find that the rest follows more easily.

Review and finalise the assignment
Within higher education institutions, books and articles are reviewed before publication – to ensure they are of sufficient quality. While the assignments you are expected to produce do not have to follow the same exacting process, taking a break and reading it through it after a few days when your mind is refreshed can help improve your work. You could also ask others to read your assignment as they may spot things you have missed.

When you have completed your draft assignment, print a copy and leave it for a while. Some people can take a short break before they read through it again while others might want to think about other things and review the work the following day.

When reviewing your assignment, you should check that you have conveyed all the key points from your plan and you have backed your views up with evidence. You should also refer back to the question and check that you have covered all aspects.

Check all references are accurate and the layout looks professional. Use headings and bullet points and think in terms of how the
reader/marker will view your work

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