How to Make Assignments Manageable: Break Them Down

By the DAS Team, directors of academic support, Empire State College

July 7, 2014

You know that feeling. It’s the pit in your stomach when you read the phrase “fifteen page research paper.” Or when your professor assigns a 400-page textbook. It’s when the mere sight of your to-do list is enough to make you cry.

But – it doesn’t have to be this way!

Imagine you’re sitting in front of a steaming hot pizza. No matter how hungry you are right now, you wouldn’t shove the whole pie in your mouth at once, would you? No, you’d take it one slice at a time—or, to be precise, one bite at a time.

Think of your college assignments in the same way: one bite at a time!

Breaking apart your assignments into smaller chunks is certain to make your life easier. Once you start doing it, it will seem so obvious that you’ll wonder why it never occurred to you before! Here are some tips to get you started.


1)  Start early.

Even if you’re a chronic procrastinator, starting early will give you the momentum you need to keep forging ahead. (Don’t underestimate the mental boost that even a small accomplishment will give you!) Whether it’s talking over your topic with your instructor, or just taking 30 minutes to map out your ideas, thinking about your paper well in advance of the deadline will reduce much of your anxiety about actually writing it.

2)  Work backward.

Write the deadline in bold on your calendar or daily planner. Then, work backward to estimate how long each step will take you.

Calendar sample

3)  Dissect the assignment.

How many sources will you need, if any? What citation format must you use? What does your instructor expect you to cover? Make sure you clearly understand the purpose of the assignment and your professor’s expectations. Ask questionsif anything is unclear or not explicitly stated! 

4)  Leave yourself a buffer. 

You never know what will happen. You could get sick. Your computer could crash. It’s better to be finished early than to work right down to the last minute. Plus, it leaves you time to have a writing coach or Smarthinking tutor look over your work and give you feedback!  


1)  You don’t have to do it all at once! 

If you sit down to read several chapters of a textbook at once, chances are you won’t remember what you read. It’s not a speed-reading contest! Break your reading into smaller chunks and spread it out.  

2)  Read smarter, not harder.

Read strategically. If there are chapter summaries, look at them first so you don’t have to dig around for the main points. Pay attention to concepts in bold. Ask yourself: do I need to read the entire book, or does my professor just want me to read sections – i.e., enough to complete the assignment connected with the reading? Read what you need. 

Take this advice and you should be breathing easier in no time! 

Other News

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Mentor David Starr-Glass, International Programs, Wins UMUC Provost’s Award, By David Starr-Glass, mentor, Prague Program, Center for International Programs

Applications Sought for ACT Scholarship; Due July 17, By Danielle Boardman, senior staff assistant for student services and academic support, Academic Affairs

Did You Know

Effective with the Fall 1 term, military undergraduates will receive a per credit grant for study. 

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Article Contributors

Cammie Baker-Clancy

Danielle Boardman

Kristina Delbridge

Directors of Academic Support

David Henahan

David Starr-Glass







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