Kinds of Assignments You Will Write

Most college writing consists of assignments tailored to help you think about the subjects you are learning, learn about and explore new subjects, discover what your ideas are, and demonstrate what you have learned. In other words, your assignments are opportunities for you to pose probing questions that your writing will answer. In learning to pose the questions and answer them, you will discover how writing serves as a thinking tool.

Many students think of writing as what they produce after they have thought through the assignment or the question at hand. If they study the material, students usually don't have much difficulty writing about the content of their courses. Student writing problems most often originate from misunderstanding the ways in which writing can be used to think through a problem, task, or question. By understanding that you can use writing to explore and discover ideas for your assignments, you can generate ideas, discover what you think about your topic, explore approaches to it, and demonstrate critical thinking about it, all of which constitute what your teacher hopes to accomplish in assigning writing tasks.

Assignments usually embody certain learning objectives called cognitive objectives. Table 3.1 shows cognitive objectives in relation to the types of assignments you may receive. Just knowing which learning objective is intended for an assignment can steer you in the right direction.

Table 3.1
Assignment Expectations and Cognitive Objectives

Assignment uses the following directive wording: When your teacher expects you to do the following: Cognitive
Define, label, list, name, repeat, order, arrange, memorize Memorize, recall, or present information Knowledge
Describe, indicate, restate, explain, review, summarize, classify Interpret information in your own words Comprehension
Apply, illustrate, prepare, solve, use, sketch, operate, practice, calculate Apply knowledge to new situations Application
Analyze, categorize, compare, test, distinguish, examine, contrast Break down knowledge into parts and show relationships among them Analysis
Arrange, compose, formulate, organize, plan, assemble, construct Bring together parts of knowledge to form a whole; build relationships for new situations Synthesis
Appraise, evaluate, conclude, judge, predict, compare, score Make judgments based on criteria; support or confirm preferences; be persuasive Evaluation
Use supporting examples, cite passages from the text, paraphrase, summarize Quote or paraphrase to support what you have written; be persuasive Support by allusion/
Provide corroborating evidence, reference other works, research, cite examples from case studies Use outside research to support your thesis or hypothesis; be persuasive Support by research

In the first three levels of cognitive objectives, you are expected to demonstrate your knowledge and mastery of course information. You show that you remember facts and can recall them (knowledge recall), understand the information and can interpret and present it in your own words (comprehension), and apply what you are learning to new situations (application). The remaining cognitive objectives—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation—are more complex and represent the kinds of learning objectives fostered in the college experience. The last two mentioned in the table—supporting by allusion or example and supporting by research—describe using evidence to explain or strengthen your arguments.

Cognitive objectives are the learning objectives built into each assignment, including knowledge recall, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and support by allusion, example, or research.

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