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!

Spotlight on IHS Markit Databases

I bet you didn’t know that we have a whole range of databases that we subscribe to from IHS. These databases give a range of information that would be useful for students studying a range of subjects, particularly Architecture, Geography and Engineering.

Screenshot of IHS databases.

You have access to:

Access

The easiest way is via Library Search – either search for one of these databases by name or search for ‘IHS’ and refine by databases. Once you click on one of the databases, you can then access all of the others from the IHS Markit dashboard:

Screenshot of Library Help, showing how search for IHS databases.

Help

For help on how to use some of these databases, when in IHS Markit, look at the Help tab at the top of the dashboard:

Screenshot of IHS Markit dashboard, highlighting the Help tab.

If you have any other questions about IHS Markit, please contact the Library Liaison team via Library Help.

Winter Craft-along Online: Part 3

Our final Winter craft blog sees us making pom-poms with a fork and how to make tree ornaments with twigs. We are also showcasing some wonderful crafts that our Library team have been working on recently.

Fork pom poms

This is all new to me… pom poms… using a fork!? What crafting wizardry is this? This video clearly shows you how you can make super quick pom poms, and all you need is wool, a fork and scissors. Like magic!

So what can you make with your pom poms? Well, whatever you like really.

How about use white wool and make two pom poms, tie together and make a snowman? Use brown wool and make into reindeers or multicoloured wool and make pom pom garlands for your tree. Have a look on Pinterest for more inspiration.

Twig stars

Time to go out and get some fresh air for this one. All you need is small twigs, strong tape or glue (hot glue gun is perfect, but only if you have one), and twine/string. These stars can be used as decorations or, as seen in the video, as parcel toppers. Gorgeous!

Crafty librarians

There are so many talented members of staff in our Library, so I wanted to share with you a mere tasting of the crafts that are being created this year:

Share the Joy

We would love to see your crafts, so why don’t you share a photo and tag us in Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and use the hashtag #NULWinterCrafts2020.

I hope you have enjoyed our Winter Craft-along online blogs – Part 1 and Part 2 – and have found a pocket of time in your busy days to make something Wintery and Christmassy. I also hope it has inspired you to go out and discover other arts and crafts that you could make… because, remember, crafting is not just for Christmas 🙂

Winter Craft-along Online: Part 2

Winter Craft-along Online banner

As promised, here is our next instalment of Winter crafts – so glue guns at the ready for some more crafting antics.

As in our previous blog, we are embracing all things sustainable, and challenging you to make your crafts using materials found around the house. This time you will need an old jam jar, a pair of socks and some fruit!

Glass jar lanterns

For this one you will need an old, clean glass jar and some cheap PVA glue (the video says to use Mod Podge, but cheap PVA glue works just as good), tissue paper to decorate your jar and a tea light (real or battery operated). The video shows Christmas trees and snowflakes, but let your imagination run crazy – you could do a snowman, father Christmas, a snowy scene or a nativity. Really easy, but looks so effective, and who doesn’t love tea light lanterns when the nights are dark and cold.

No-sew snowmen

This is where your old (clean!) sock can be turned into a jolly snowman. For this you will need one white sock, some elastic bands or Loom bands, uncooked rice, 4-5 buttons (I bet you have some random buttons kicking about the house?), PVA glue, a bit of scrap ribbon or some wool for his scarf and then some more wool if you would like to make him a pom-pom for his hat. I am definitely going to have a go at making this – so easy, but looks so good.

Dried fruit garlands

I’ve been meaning to have a go at making these for ages, not only do they look good, but I bet it makes your house smell amazing! For this one you will need some citrus fruit – this can be oranges, limes, lemons, or even grapefruit – maybe you have some sitting in your fruit bowl that have seen better days and could be given a new lease of life? You can also use cloves and press them into the slices before you pop them in the oven, to make them smell so good. In the video is says the temperature in Fahrenheit – all of the blog and instructions I have read it just says to set your oven at the lowest temperature available on your oven. Cook low and slow and make sure you turn them over half-way through. You will also need string or twine to string them up. I have seen them on Christmas wreaths and as Christmas tree decoration – have a play and see what you can make with them.

Share the Joy

We would love to see your crafts, so why don’t you share a photo and tag us in Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and use the hashtag #NULWinterCrafts2020.

Look out for our final blog with a couple more crafts for you to try and inspiration from our Library staff.

Winter Craft-along Online: Part 1

For a few years now the Library has hosted Crafts at Christmas – a wonderful event that brings together staff and students into our Libraries for a time to unwind and focus our creative energies on some Winter crafts. Sadly this year we are unable to host our usual event, so instead we have created a series a blogs highlighting some excellent, but very simple, crafts that you can do in the comfort of you own home.

Our sustainability challenge

This time of year can be not only expensive but full of waste. So our challenge to you is to make these Winter crafts from as many materials that you have lying around the house as possible, such as old wrapping paper, last year’s Christmas cards, or old balls of wool lying around etc.. You’ll be amazed what beautiful crafts you can make out of the stuff you normally recycle or throw away.

3D paper snowflake

Last year I made these stunning 3D paper snowflakes out of the paper packing you get in your Amazon delivery! We make these snowflakes every year in our Crafts at Christmas events – they look really complicated, but are really easy. Why don’t you give them a go. All you need is paper, scissors, a stapler and sticky-tape…

Origami paper box

Another really simple paper craft, but instead of buying origami paper why don’t you make them out of old wrapping paper or even old, thin Christmas cards. These wee boxes are great for holding sweet treats for a loved one.

Recycled paperback folded Christmas tree

This is another super easy and very effective paper craft that you can do using an old book or magazine or catalogue. You don’t need any other materials other than the pages of the book, but you can decorate the tree afterwards if you like (I made origami lucky stars for the top of my tree):

Paper ball decorations

These are so pretty and all you need is string, glue and paper – we suggest using magazines and leaflets that you have had through the front door. Takeaway menus are great for it!

Share the Joy

We would love to see your crafts, so why don’t you share a photo and tag us in Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and use the hashtag #NULWinterCrafts2020.

Look out for Part 2 and Part 3 with even more crafts for you to try.

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.

Finding Information: The key to your search

Keys hanging on hooks on a piece of wood.

When it comes to finding academic information, there are a few things you need to think about before you start your search, such as where to actually look for information and the types of information you want to find in your search.  Another thing that is worth taking the time to think carefully about is keywords.

Keywords, sometimes called subject terms, are simple words and phrases that describe information; you can see them in the item record on Library Search and in Subject Databases.

An example of keywords from an article on Library Search
An example of keywords from an article on Library Search

The results that your search returns are based on this information – if your keywords match an item’s keywords, that item will appear in your results.

To get the best results, then, you’ll need to develop a balanced list of targeted keywords – these keywords may come from your essay title or research question, from your subject knowledge or wider reading – you can even borrow them from the subject terms you find on relevant articles!

As ideas and topics can be expressed in different ways you’ll also need to think about synonyms and terms related to your keywords to make sure you can find all of the relevant information.

To find out more about keywords, synonyms and searching take a look at this short video:

There are some useful tricks you can use with your keywords to save you time when you search, take a look at our Advanced Searching Guide to learn about Boolean, wildcards and truncation!

Finding Information: Types of Information

Light bulbs

In our previous blog we explored how looking for information in the right place can help save you time and effort.  However, sometimes, the right place to look can depend on what type of information you’re looking for.

While you’re probably familiar with books and you may have been introduced to journal articles, these are just two of the types of academic information available to you.  Depending on your research question or essay title you might also find it useful to explore, for example, conference proceedings, maps, company information or newspapers

Each type of information has its particular use; books provide an in-depth overview of a topic; journal articles are more specialised and focus in-depth on a particular area of a topic, and newspapers give you a useful perspective on events.  While Library Search can help you find a large range of information types, some types of information are only available in special databases or archives.  Before you start your search, it’s therefore important that you decide what types of information you will need to complete your assignment most effectively.  You can find out more about different information types on our Finding Information Guide and in the video below:

When you know which types of information you need for your assignment or project take a look at our Resource Guides, which provide useful links and guides to appropriate sources.

Finding Information: Knowing Where to Look

Photograph of several closed doors, one painted yellow the others painted white.

When you’re looking for information to help you write your essays, assignments or projects it can be tempting to turn to the source of information you use every day – Google.  While Google can be useful in some ways (such as finding company websites or journal author’s profiles), it wasn’t exclusively designed to help you find good quality, academic information that is reliable and relevant.  This means you’ll likely have to spend more of your time wading through huge amounts of information and fact-checking resources for accuracy.

Thankfully, Google isn’t your only option – there are a number of different places to look that have been created with the aim of providing you with the information that you need, such as your reading lists, Library Search, and key Subject Databases.

Take a look at this video to find out more about how these sources can help you:

For more help on finding information, take a look at our Finding Information Guide.