Just in time for back to school, here are some tips for doing better on your linguistics assignments from someone who’s marked a few hundred of them over the years.
1. Read the question. The easiest mistake to fix: if the question says circle the error and fix it, make sure you do both, or if the question asks for three examples, make sure you give three and not two or four. If the question asks for a transcription, don’t give a translation, and so on. Before you pass something in, read it over to make sure the question and the answer match.
2. Use only the necessary words. In grade school, you may have been asked to answer in complete sentences. That doesn’t really matter anymore: what matters is that you show that you understand the material. Linguistics problem sets aren’t essay questions, so a short phrase may be totally sufficient.
3. Use the technical words that you’ve been learning (but don’t use the other ones you found on Wikipedia). Part of what you’re being tested on is your ability to use technical vocabulary, so you should say “transitive verb” instead of “an action word that has both a person who did the thing and a person who the thing is done to”.
Bringing this post back for another year. If you think you’re already pretty good at linguistics, perhaps you’d like the satirical followup: Tips for doing worse in your intro linguistics course.
Also a reminder that I tag by subfield, so you can find potentially useful resource posts in the phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, etc. tags. IPA, protolinguist, and intro linguistics are also good tags for resources. Be warned though that different introductory courses use different simplifications, so when in doubt, go with your professor, TA, and/or textbook.