Top tips for tackling online assessments

Woman throwing books up in the air

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Even in a ‘normal year’, exam time is always a tricky period. You will often be juggling different exams, trying to revise, as well as meeting other deadlines. This year, it’s made even harder by Covid-19 and the need to take online assessments, rather than traditional exams. This may come in the form of a 24 hour take home exam or you may need to produce coursework under time constraints. Whatever you are facing in the next few weeks, we want you to know that you aren’t alone and we are here to help you through.

But how exactly can we help? Sadly, we can’t do the exam with you, or magically freeze time to give you more hours in the day, but we have a list of resources that will hopefully help you tackle the next few weeks with more of a sense of calm.

  1. Online Assessment guidance – put together by the Writing Development team, these pages will take you through how to revise for a 24 hour take home exam, what to do before hand, as well as running you through exam technique and how to tackle coursework under time restraints.
  2. Library Help – whether you have a question about an essential text or access to a database, Library Help is the place to go when you have a question. Contact us via chat, email, text, twitter, Facebook or alternatively search our Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) database.
  3. Subject guides – these guides, put together by your Liaison Librarians, are designed to save you time and energy by drawing together the main resources for your subject. They are a great starting point for your research and will help you access high quality information that’s needed for you to get those top marks.
  4. Skills guides – similar to the subject guides, our skills guides focus on how to find, evaluate and manage information. These are all essential skills which you will need during this assessment period, as well as throughout your degree.
  5. Book a one to one – both the Writing Development Team and the Liaison Librarians are available for an online one to one appointment. These appointments work best if you come with a specific issue to address. This will ensure that you get the most our of your time with us. You will need to book in advance.
  6. Additional support – it really is ok to ask for help. The pressures are real and can feel completely overwhelming. Do contact your module leader or supervisor if your struggling. You can also seek additional support from your NUSUStudent Wellbeing ServiceNightline and the University chaplaincy.

So good luck. Remember……pace yourself, access the help you need and believe that you can do this!

Top tips for accessing library resources off campus.

The Library subscribes to over 300 specialist subject databases, 50,000 journals and has access to over half a million e-books. When you are on campus or use a computer connected to the University network, e-book and e-journal providers will recognise you as a member of the University and allow you access to the resource. You will see the University logo on the page and if you are on things like Google Scholar, you will be given the option to “Find at Newcastle University”. This works because it recognises the IP address of the University.

It all works like magic and it is easy to think that it is all freely available. However, when you’re off campus, working from home or perhaps in a different library, you won’t be automatically recognised. This can cause you some difficulty accessing resources and you’ll probably find that you are locked out of the full-text and asked to pay large amounts for articles.

If you are working off campus, follow our tips to make sure that you are able to access all of the resources that you are entitled to as a member of Newcastle University.

#1 Access the resource from Library Search

If you perform a search in Library Search, you will be automatically prompted to log in to online resources with your University username and password, even when you are off campus. But did you know you can also search it to access whole journal titles and databases, such as Scopus and Web of Science? Access the database through Library Search and you will be prompted to login, to easily perform your search and download the full-text.

Library search filtered by database

#2 Access the resource from your Subject Guide

As we have access to so many databases and specialist resources, we’ve drawn together the best ones for your discipline on your Subject Guide. Clicking on the links in the Subject Guide will take you through a route that will prompt you to log in with your University username and password.

Subject guides journals and databases tab

#3 Access the e-journal in Browzine

Have you created your own journal shelf or downloaded the Browzine app? Browzine is a way of accessing e-journal titles for your subject, and to read the most recent articles, just like flicking through a magazine. As you set up your personal account using your University email address, Browzine will always recognise you as a member of the University and give you access to the full-text.

Browzine app and desktop homescreen

#4 Use Windows Virtual Desktop

Logging into WVD when you are off campus allows you to work within the University network. This may enable journal and database providers to automatically recognise you as a member of the University, just as it would work on campus.

#5 Check the screen for the University logo

We get a lot of enquiries from staff and students who aren’t sure if we have a subscription to a journal or an electronic version of a book. This is sometimes because they are not logged in or have found a reference through a search engine such as Google Scholar. If you are on the website of a journal or a database, the quickest way to check if you are logged in, is to look around the screen to see if you can spot the University logo or name. This is often at the top right or below the search boxes on the homepage of a database or journal/ e-book platform.

A screen shot showing the log in section of Scopus and Web of Science

Still not working …

There are times when you’ll have done everything right and you are still not recognised as being able to access the resource. In this case, it is always worth trying to log in again within the platform. Look to the top right of the screen for a link that says institutional log in, sign in via your University or it might mention something called Shibboleth. This will allow you to log in with your University username and password.

If you’re in any doubt, you can always chat with us online 24/7 or send us an enquiry via Library Help. We’ll probably ask you to send us a picture of what you can see on screen, as this will help us spot any problems.

Snowball your way to success by using EndNote

What is EndNote?

The official blurb on EndNote is that it is “…the industry standard software tool for publishing and managing bibliographies, citations and references.”

Have you drifted off yet? Don’t – read on!

EndNote takes a little getting used to and we recommend you familiarise yourself with it at the start of your research process. But as Library Staff, we wouldn’t spend a significant amount of time demonstrating and training our academic staff and students on what EndNote is, and how to use it, if we didn’t think it was valuable. It will save you a huge amount of time in terms of writing up your assignments.

Essentially, you can use EndNote to create and organise a personal library of resources relevant to your research. You can import references from Library Search, and a huge range of databases such as ScopusWeb of ScienceIEEE Xplore and Business Source Complete. You can ask EndNote to locate the full-text PDFs of the resources you are going to use in your research, and you can annotate them as you wish too. Did you know you can instruct Google Scholar to import references into EndNote? No? Try it. Finally, if you already have materials stored in your home folder (H:\) then you can attach them to a manually-created reference within EndNote, bringing all your research together in one place.

In addition to organising your references (and this is the clever bit) you can then get EndNote to ‘talk’ to your word processing software, e.g. Microsoft Word, and insert the citations into your work for you in your chosen referencing style, e.g. Harvard at Newcastle, Vancouver, APA or MLA. If you don’t want to do that, then EndNote will also allow you to create an independent bibliography of your references, saving you an awful lot of typing.

Teach Yourself EndNote

Intrigued? You should be. Enrol on our Teach Yourself EndNote module on Canvas to become proficient in using EndNote. It might make your life easier down the line.

You can also take a look at our EndNote Guide. It contains all the introductory information you need, step-by-step workbooks to train yourself on the use of EndNote (the Desktop and Online versions), videos, useful FAQs, and contacts for help, should you need it.

Finally, Newcastle University provides support for EndNote but it is not compulsory to use. You may prefer MendeleyZoteroRefWorks or another piece of bibliographic management software. That’s fine, whatever makes your referencing lives easier. Go on, give them a try.

Sleigh Your References By Managing Your Information

1. Pin your favourites in Library Search 

The amount of information we gather and read on a daily basis can be really overwhelming. If you are reading for seminars, essays and dissertations, you can quickly lose track of the websites you visited, articles you downloaded and books you’ve read. But there are some quick and easy ways to manage the information you find, to be a little more organised and helping you reference it further down the line.

Click on the pin icon for the records of any items that interest you as you go, and add all of the books, ebooks and articles you use for your work to your Library Search favourites. You can tag items with a label for the theme you are researching or even a module code or assignment, to help you group them together and find them when you come to do your referencing.

2. Use the cite button

In Library Search and subject databases such as EBSCO and ProQuest, as well as Google Scholar, you will find the option to copy or download a simple reference. This can then be copied and pasted into a work document to form the start of your reference list. With a little tidying up, you will have the basic information you need to compile a reference and save yourself the time of recording the full details manually.

But be warned – these references are never perfect! They often include information that you don’t need or have missing punctuation and formatting, so you will need to give them a quick tidy up. Use referencing guidance such as Cite Them Right to help you spot any errors.

3. Use your search history and save searches

How often have you found the perfect article, clicked onto a different page or moved onto a different task, only to forget what it was called. Or found a load of useful articles but then forgotten how you filtered your results to find them?

This is where your search history an be really useful. If you log into Library Search, you can view your search history and save any useful searches by clicking on the save query pin icon.

You will find the option to save your searches in most of the subject databases too. To do this, you will often need to register for a personal account on the platform. Once you have saved your search, you can also do more advanced things, such as set up an alert that emails you whenever new articles are added to the database that match your search criteria.

4. Use a reference management tool 

Reference management tools allow you to build and maintain your own library of references. You can enter reference information manually or you can import them directly from Library Search, Google Scholar and subject databases. You cbioan also upload the full-text pdfs, images or notes to the reference, so that everything is kept safely in one place. When you begin to write, the software will allow you to “cite while you write”, adding your in-text citation and building your reference list for you.

The University has a subscription for EndNote which is available in all University clusters, via RAS and as EndNote Online. You’ll find information about how to get started with EndNote on our EndNote guide. 

Watch our short video about referencing https://youtu.be/bug1zm3dVPY

Skate your way around the Harvard Style

Harvard at Newcastle is the most frequently used referencing style and if your school does not have a preferred style, it is the the one that we would recommend. This is because there is the most comprehensive guidance available for Harvard and it is a style that can manage referencing all types of information. Whether you are referencing a book, news article, Instagram or market research, the Harvard at Newcastle style has got you covered.

There are many variations of Harvard but the one used at Newcastle can be found in Cite Them Right. Harvard uses an in-text citation (Millican, 2018, p.12) inserted in the text, coupled with a reference list at the end of the document, which provides the key. Cite Them Right  is available as a published book to borrow from the library and Cite Them Right Online provides the same comprehensive guidance in a searchable interface that can be accessed anywhere online. It includes guidance about how to reference just about every type of information you can think of, including the more tricky online sources such as social media.

You will find the Harvard at Newcastle style in EndNote on campus PCs and through the RAS, and are able to download the style from our EndNote guide if you are using it locally on your own device. We’ve also included some useful tips and advice about getting to grips with Harvard on our referencing guide.

Follow our tips and you won’t slip up with Harvard!

Referencing top tips: the basic elements

Decorating a Christmas Tree is serious business and so is putting together a reference. You do not simply decorate it with colourful flourishes. Each bauble, candy cane and string of tinsel has a rightful place and you need to know what that is in order to obtain the correct result.

For referencing, you need to know the basic elements and then you will be able to mix them up into any style that you need.

Reading Lists: Make the most of your Library’s Resources

Are you at the beginning of your student journey? Do you maybe not know where to start reading for an elaborate assignment?

Or maybe you have been studying for a while? Did you get used to browsing our shelves and now things are changing? Do you need to go back to the basics?

Either way, you may think that you could use some guidance on how best to use your module Reading List and even go beyond these recommendations and explore the wider resource that the Library provides.

Seek no further! Please have a look at the Thinglink we have put together for this exact purpose!

Spruce up your referencing: When is a website not a website?

Photo by Dominik Dombrowski on Unsplash

We have all heard it said that languages spoken in northern arctic regions have considerably more words for snow than those spoken in southern climates. When dealing with something in detail every day it is often helpful to categorise and clarify its nuances.

A common mistake made in academic referencing is grouping all sources found online under the overarching category of a website. However, your aim should be to reference the information you have in front of you rather than where it was sourced. Grouping all items found online as a website would be the equivalent to referencing a book only by the publisher details, rather than the author and title. Or, by referring to both a snowball and a snowflake as simply snow.

For example, a government publication found online would be referenced like this in Chicago:

United Kingdom. Department for Education. Cloud computing: how schools can move services to the cloud. London: The Stationary Office, 2016. Accessed: November 4, 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cloud-computing-how-schools-can-move-services-to-the-cloud. 

An electronic journal article might appear like this in APA:

Gillum, J. (2012). Dyscalculia: Issues for practice in education psychology.  Educational Psychology in Practice, 28(3), 287-297. doi:10.1080/02667363.2012.684344

While a video posted on the Tate website would look something like this in Harvard:

TateShots (2016) Grayson Perry: think like an artist. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/talk/what-makes-artist-grayson-perry-conversation-sarah-thornton (Accessed: 11 November 2019). 

Identifying the type of information you are using, as well as the source, is an essential evaluation skill which helps in developing a greater critical approach to information. In many cases you will be unconsciously using your judgment to assess the value of information for your purpose. So when you are using any source of information, ask yourself what it is you are looking at, what details are recorded about it, and whether it measures up as a quality piece of information. You’ll find more guidance about evaluating information on our Evaluating Information guide.

Finding Information: Troubleshooting your search results

Photograph of tools, including a hammer, spanner and measuring tape, laid out on a table

You’ve ran your information search and looked at your results with a critical eye only to find that they’re not quite working for you – what can you do now?

In this blog we’ll be looking at the top three problems encountered when searching for information and how to improve your search to get the results you need:

Finding too much

If your search has brought back thousands of results and you’re getting overwhelmed with the options:

Search a more specialised resource

Using a subject-specific database will help narrow the focus of your search to your particular areas of interest.  Take a look at your Subject Guide to find databases and eBook collections tailored to your subject area.

Apply limits

Make use of the ‘refine’ options usually found on the left-hand side of Library Search or your subject database.  Limit your results by date, subject area or information type.  Remember, you may need to justify your limits to your supervisor so think carefully about your choices. 

Combine search terms with ‘AND’

AND is a Boolean operator, a term you can use to have more control over your search. If you want to find information that must contain two different keywords (or phrases), place a capitalised AND operator between them. Your search engine or subject database will only find information that features both, narrowing your results. The more search terms you combine with AND, the narrower your search will be.

Finding too little

If your search has brought back a handful of useful articles but you need a wider range of results:

Combine terms with ‘OR’

OR is another Boolean operator that helps you to control your search more effectively.  Use OR with your search terms that have synonyms or related terms. Your search engine or subject database will find information that features either word or phrase, significantly broadening your results.

Try controlled vocabulary

If you’re not getting enough results, it may be that your search terms or keywords aren’t quite working for you.  Controlled vocabulary are a standardised list of words and phrases used on some databases to ensure that searches retrieve all relevant results, even when authors use different terms. Examples of databases that use this technique include ERIC, PsycInfo, CAB abstracts, Compendex and Medline. If these apply to you and your discipline, you’ll find out how to use them on your Subject Guide.

360 Searching

If you’ve found some useful articles, one simple way to find more relevant material is to take a look at the references used by the authors.  This will lead you to find older material that was published before your original article which may also be useful.  Library Search and some subject databases including Google Scholar and Scopus also allow you to see who has cited the articles you have found in their work (look for the ‘cited by link’).  This is called citation searching and allows you to find more up-to-date analysis of your topic.  By looking back at the references and forward at the citations, you get a 360 degree view of the research.

Finding nothing useful?

If your search has brought back results that aren’t relevant to your research question or you are finding it difficult to find the right search terms or databases to use, you might find it helpful to book a one-to-one appointment with your Liaison Librarian.

You can also find more help and advice on our Finding Information Guide.

Can’t find the book you need?

There will be times when you simply can’t find the book or eBook you need. So what then? First rule of thumb, is don’t panic. From the book already being out on loan, to us not having a copy of it in stock, there are lots of different avenues that you can pursue. Our ‘Can’t find your library resources?‘ webpage is a great place to start.

After that, you may need to think more creatively and flexibly. Watch the video below for our top tips to thinking outside the box to finding what you need.