How would it benefit me to...
...understand what feedback is for?
Feedback at university can come in various different styles. It may be direct, personal, written comments on a piece of work you’ve submitted; it may be a verbal critique in a one-to-one or a small group situation; it may be general observations made by a member of staff about the overall standard of work submitted by an entire class. The grade you get for a piece of work can even be considered the simplest form of feedback.
Feedback can also come from various sources. There may be one marker responsible for essays from a whole class; there may be a team of markers all working to the same marking scheme when the number of submissions is very large; exam papers with multiple questions may be taken apart and marked by the academic staff who set each question, so feedback will be from multiple sources; feedback may even come from other students in the same position as yourself, or from students in higher years who may be running Peer Assisted Learning sessions.
Regardless of the style of feedback or from where it comes, the most important thing is that you recognise that it is there to help you improve. If you’ve just come from school or college you might be used to a system where feedback is given fairly regularly by a class teacher that you see every day, maybe on a draft of an essay which you get to rewrite before you hand in a final version. Coming to university can present a bit of a challenge where you don’t get so many opportunities to re-do the same piece of work, but you should definitely use each piece of feedback to help you improve your next assignment. Good feedback will tell you where you’ve made mistakes and where you need to invest more time, as well as what you’ve done well to get the mark you were awarded.
If you need more clarification on a piece of feedback it may be a good idea to contact your course co-ordinator. Often the markers don’t have the time to write a detailed analysis for every student, but academic staff are usually happy to meet with students who are keen to improve their work.
One important point to note is that feedback is not there to make you feel bad. Having said this, you should be prepared to see comments about weaknesses in your work. These are often far more valuable than comments on what you did well, as they show you where your opportunities might be to advance to higher grades. For more information on interpreting typical feedback comments, see the blue postcard entitled “How would it benefit me to… use feedback from one assessment task in later assignments?”
... engage in peer review and assessment?
Peer review and peer assessment are becoming more and more commonplace in university. Both of these activities provide you with an opportunity to think about assessment from more than one perspective, and this in turn can help you to understand what a marker might be looking for in your work. Seeing a piece of work, and the criteria for grading it, shows you how marks are distributed and what for and this information is useful for you to consider in relation to your own work both for the piece being assessed and for future work too.
Peer review and peer assessment also allow you to see work of a similar standard to your own. Exemplars written by your lecturers or journal articles give you a great standard to aim for, but they can be a little intimidating, and work written by your peers is more likely to show a similar understanding to you and so can be really useful. This is particularly true because seeing your peers work can give you examples of how to express concepts or lay out work in ways that allow you to understand something that was confusing before.
Reviewing and assessing your peers’ work can be useful because it allows you to see where you sit academically within your cohort. It might show you that you are doing really well, or it might make clear to you that you need to do some more work to achieve the level of your peers. This information can allow you to change your study habits so that you can get the best from yourself and the best grade from your assessed work.
The feedback you receive from your peers in peer review and assessment is also likely to be fast. Occasionally you can wait a long time for feedback on your work, particularly if you are part of a large class waiting for useful feedback comments, not just a grade. The systems of peer feedback typically mean you will receive useful comments ion your work in a much shorter time frame which allows you to make changes to the way you work earlier than you might otherwise.
Finally, reviewing your peers’ work, having them review yours, and having that process repeated throughout your class can create a community of learners who support each other in learning and understanding and perhaps beyond the lecture theatre too. It is also worth remembering that peer review is a skill you will need in the workplace, whether that’s working with colleagues on joint projects or as an academic reviewing papers prior to publication. Either way, giving your peers feedback now can allow you to practice this vital skill.
... engage in self-assessment?
Self assessment comes in a number of forms. At its simplest, self assessment means reading through the work you are going to submit (be that hand-in, or even in an exam) with a critical eye, before you submit it, looking for errors in content, omissions, problems with structure, coherence in your argument, and for errors in spelling and grammar. A more sophisticated version of this type of self assessment is to do the same thing, but consider your work in relation to the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and/or the marking criteria for the piece of work, to make sure you have covered all of the information you are likely to be assessed on. This type of self-assessment should help you to improve your grade on the submitted work and, with practice, should help you improve your grades in the longer term as you become more accustomed to considering marking criteria and ILOs when you plan and write pieces of work.
A second type of self assessment is critically reviewing your work once it has been marked and returned to you. By reading through and considering the piece objectively and critically you can consider what you could have done differently to gain a better grade. Again a more sophisticated version of this type of self-assessment is to look back over your marked work with the marking criteria and/or ILOs beside it so that you can see where you have not demonstrated what the marker was looking for. In all of these cases, both before and after submission, you might also consider critically reviewing your work in relation to exemplars in your field. These exemplars might include pieces of similar work by previous students, chapters in text books, Masters and PhD theses or journal articles. All of these examples should give you ideas about the standard you should aim for and can help you to see how a piece of work might be structured, the language you might need to use
A final type of self-assessment is to consider where your strengths and weaknesses are in your subject-specific knowledge and understanding and/or in your approach to study. If you are able to identify weaknesses in your knowledge then you can target the areas and topics you need to study further. This will ensure that you are better prepared for coming assessment, and also that you are more comfortable and confident in your chosen field. If you can identify where your approach to study is letting you down you can make changes to fix it. These changes will improve your ability to learn and target any areas of your knowledge and understanding that you feel are weak. Taking responsibility for your own learning in this way will also become easier with practice and identifying your learning need is a skill that will be useful beyond university life.
... read feedback on my assessed work?
Reading feedback on your assessed work should enable you to understand the mistakes you made, or the things you omitted from that piece of work. Although that piece of work is completed, the information you gain from the feedback can help you in a number of ways.
Firstly it will tell you something about your strengths and weaknesses in your understanding and expression about a particular topic, whether that is in essay form, problem solving or something else. You can use this information to consolidate your strengths and improve on your weaknesses either through additional or different study techniques, or by asking for clarification from the member of staff or for support from one of the student support services.
Secondly, if you think about the feedback a little more generally you can begin to consider how you might tackle another piece of work, whether or not it is on the same topic. For example, if the feedback says something about structure you can apply this to the next piece of work you write with the same, or similar, structure.
Finally feedback on one piece of assessment can help you consider how well you are achieving the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for your course, or how well you are performing. If you discover you are not performing as well as you had hoped you can use the information given to you in the feedback to concentrate your effort to improve the standard of your work in relation to specific ILOs.
If you have the option to choose whether or not to receive feedback we would suggest you always say yes please. And if at all possible we would suggest you ask for feedback on specific areas of your work that you know would be useful to you.
... use feedback from one assessment task in later assignments?
The most common type of assessment used at university is what we call ‘summative’ – that means it is performed at the end of a teaching period and the grade you get will count towards your final mark for a course. Occasionally you will come across ‘formative’ assessment – this means it will be marked but won’t be taken into consideration when your final grades are being calculated. Its purpose is to help you get practice at the type of work you’ll need to complete in summative assessment, and for whoever is marking your work to give you some feedback while you still have time to act on it. Typical examples of formative assessment include mock exams, class tests and smaller pieces of coursework.
At university, in contrast to school or college, you won’t often get the chance to re-draft an assessment after it has been looked at by a member of staff. The crucial thing to remember is that even though you may never be set the same task again, the feedback you get can, and should, be applied to anything else you do in the future. You should try to interpret what the feedback tells you about your skills generally – what you’re good at and what types of things you need to practice more – rather on the details of one particular assignment because the chances are you’ll never have to complete that task again.
Here is an example of how you might take feedback from one essay and apply it to a different assignment:
There are three different pieces of feedback from the marker:
“How does this impinge on your findings?”
This is clearly a question that was going through the marker’s mind after reading whatever you had written. The implication here would be that you might have a tendency to report basic facts without showing the relevance to your main hypothesis.
“This might make a decent basis for the INTRODUCTION.”
Bear in mind this sort of structural advice when you’re planning your next essay. It underlines the importance of setting out a clear map before you begin, so that you avoid confusing your reader.
“Speculation is fine – but only in the context of your findings!”
The reader suggests here that the writer has made a leap of logic without presenting enough evidence to support whatever argument they had just made.
These three feedback examples illustrate how specific comments from a marker can actually be useful in highlighting more general areas for improvement in your academic style. Try to identify the general point in any comments you get in future (and past, if you have them) assessments.
... engage in group work?
For most students, studying will start with reading over notes made during a lecture and embellishing them with information learned from textbooks and other sources like textbooks and research articles. This is necessary because unless you have done the basic groundwork it is difficult to move to more abstract and challenging methods of revision.
The next step in the study process might be to test yourself by writing down as many key words on a topic as you can remember without looking at your notes, or to build a quick disposable mindmap to show yourself how much you’ve learned. This self-testing phase is good practise for what you’ll do in your assessments and will help to cement knowledge and ideas in your mind.
Arguably the best method of learning something, however, is to try to teach it to someone else. After all, you can’t teach someone a subject well if you have gaps in your understanding. Once you’ve explained a topic to other people you’ll be able to get feedback on the parts that you explained well, as well as the parts that you didn’t make so clear or that you got plain wrong, and then you can have an intellectual argument about who is right or, at least, what your different opinions on the subject might be. All of these things will help you improve your knowledge and understanding of a subject.
Research suggests that those students who become confused perform better in assessments than those who seem to go through the course with ease, supporting the idea that if you have to engage deeply with common misconceptions and different interpretations of your subject then you’ll avoid believing those misconceptions yourself. Engaging in group work and discussions is the best way to achieve this.
If you can find a small group of other students, or even just one other person, try choosing a topic in advance and dividing it into small chunks. That way you can each do a short presentation or explanation about a unique aspect so that you don’t get bored listening to the same thing again and again. If you don’t want to get together in person, use the discussion forum on your class Moodle page to start a conversation. It’s group work even if you’re doing it from the comfort of your own couch.
Whichever way you choose to do it, try to remember the feedback you got from your peers. Whether that might be in the form of formal feedback on how well you explained your topic, or just the ideas you got from discussions, let it direct your further study so that you don’t spend lots of time going over material that you already understand well.
... use feedback to help me plan my studies?
One of the biggest questions students ask, particularly in the earlier years of their studies, is about how long they should spend studying each of the different topics and courses they’ve been taught. You might already have an idea about this based on how comfortable you feel with the topic from previous education, or how well the lecturer managed to engage your attention during the lectures, but perhaps you’re just not sure how much of the information is necessary or which parts everyone else in the class is focussing on. Your first few assessments will help you decide whether you’re working at the right level and, if not, give you an indication of how to plan your studies to make sure you reach it.
Consider the most basic type of feedback: a grade on your performance. The University’s guide to the code of assessment has a written description of what students must demonstrate in order to achieve any given grade. The grades are arranged on a 22-point scale from A1 at the top down to G2 at the bottom. The scale includes descriptions of what you have achieved in relation to intended learning outcomes as well as your use of supporting evidence and whether you’ve used that evidence to draw conclusions or whether you’ve simply relayed what other people have said without applying any sort of critical thought to it. You can use these two dimensions of the guide to decide whether to go back to your intended learning outcomes, which are published in your course information document / handbook, and whether you’d also like to spend time practicing building supporting evidence into your answers.
If you’re in a suitably small class where the marker has been able to write individual constructive comments on your assessments, take the opportunity to analyse what your underlying fault was in each case rather than focussing on the detail of that particular example. If you find that you have been told that you haven’t referenced properly, plan some time to familiarise yourself with the referencing conventions of your subject (this is probably explained in your Course / Programme Information Document / Handbook, and also perhaps somewhere on your course’s Moodle). If you have been advised to apply more critical thinking to a piece of information that you have quoted, perhaps you could plan to look at review articles in your subject to see how the professional s in your field do it – these articles are usually fairly comprehensive descriptions of the current state of thinking in a particular field of research and the authors of the review will have compared and contrasted results from many different individual primary sources. You could plan to study the sort of language these professionals use to describe shortcomings and contradictions in their subject, and apply this style to your own writing.