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The importance of feedback and how to use it

Feedback is a key steppingstone to improving our grades and polishing off our assignments. But, where do we begin making sense of it? How can we actually use the feedback we receive to keep building and honing our academic skills? In this article, we’ll discuss how you can effectively use feedback to address your strengths and weaknesses.

Making sense of feedback

Initially, it can be difficult to evaluate the feedback we’ve received from an objective standpoint. It’s easy to feel like our lecturers were perhaps being picky with our work. To build a clearer picture, and avoid brushing their feedback off, it’s a good idea to reach out to your lecturer to discuss it. Maybe hang around after class for a quick chat or see if they'd be up for a coffee or a quick call (in the time of remote working, a Zoom or Google Meets is easier than ever!) After that, you can dive a little deeper by comparing the feedback to your mark scheme and your own experience during the assignment.

Using your grade, go through the mark scheme to understand what you did well and what was perhaps lacking. Do the marking criteria descriptors align with your lecturer’s feedback? What could you have done to move up a grade? Next, think about what you struggled with during the assignment. Did you struggle to write in a critical manner? Or, were you limited on time and didn’t include enough evidence? If these things are reflected in the feedback, you know what you can work on and seek support for in the future.

Once you’ve collected all this additional information to make sense of your feedback, it can be good to take some time away. This can help us to come back later with an objective perspective. At least, you’ll have some reflections and more information to work with at a later date.

Keep track of your feedback

It’s important to keep a record of your feedback, and corresponding grades. You want to make sure you can maintain your strengths and also address your weaker points when completing future assignments. Depending on the format of feedback, you can keep a table of overall feedback with your grade and lecturer’s comments. Check out this guide for an example. However, if feedback tends to differ across assignments, it might be easier to keep a digital or physical folder with each assignment stored. Annotate your work with the feedback, your reflections and the grade. You could divide them by year, or type of assignment - essay, report, exam etc. As you track your feedback, you might notice common themes of where you excel or need to improve - keep note of these!

Use the feedback

Now, how do you use that feedback to improve? First, address those common themes that popped up in any criticism of your work. You can seek out online guides to improve your critical writing, or contact the learning services at your university for more guidance on accessing primary research. This step is best taken as early as possible, allowing you to develop the skills that will benefit you throughout your studies. Second, after covering those wider concerns, feedback can be used to polish off your assignments. Did your last essay lack structure? Did you miss out some key terminology in your report? You can go through and edit based on this feedback. Make sure to address positive feedback too: e.g., what helped you get that grade last time?

For exams, looking at previous years feedback can help you to stay on track. What did last year's cohort need to improve on? What did they do well? This can guide you to pay extra or less attention to certain skills and information. When practising exam questions, or planning revision, be sure to keep that feedback in mind. Aligning your approach with the mindset of the markers is a sure-fire way to improve exam technique and elevate your grade.

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