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The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

How to understand academic feedback at university

Feedback is important. It gives you an opportunity to learn and improve in all areas of life. We look at the kind of feedback you will get at university and how to deal with it.

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When you start your life at university abroad, you’ll receive feedback from your professors and tutors. Feedback is intended to give you information about your work and is an indication of how well you have completed your assignment. We all like getting positive feedback, it's encouraging and motivating. Critical feedback can be difficult to receive. Let’s first look at the types of feedback you may receive, what it means, and how you can deal with it positively. 


What is good feedback? 

Good feedback should be:

  • clear

  • relevant

  • specific

  • given on time

  • constructive

  • easy to follow

  • encouraging

  • motivating

  • an opportunity to improve and to self-reflect


Feedback should not be all negative, confusing, demotivating, and it should not be personal. None of these negatives provide students with an opportunity to learn, develop and improve.


What are the types of feedback?

You may receive feedback in writing or an audio recording. For this article, let’s look at written feedback. This may include:


An overall comment at the end of the essay

This should include the areas of strength in the essay. This should be both in terms of answering the question given to you and in presenting your case clearly, logically and with few mistakes in spelling and grammar.  


You should always focus on any comments at the end of your essay, as this provides useful information on the areas you need to work on the most. It may also tell you what to work on specifically and what resources you should look at. 


Comments in the actual essay

Along with the overall comment, any feedback in the actual body of your essay highlights a particular area you will need to work on. The comments should explain what needs to be changed and why. 


If the comment doesn’t do this and you don’t understand why you’re being asked to make this change, you must arrange to speak to the tutor directly. Understanding why you need to change something is as important as changing it. Knowing why helps you to improve and self-reflect and hopefully avoid making the same mistake in the future. 


Questions in the essay

Sometimes your tutor will ask you to think about a question instead of telling you directly what to do. This can be frustrating as you may just want to know what you have to do instead of thinking about the subject any more than you already have done. 


However, questions are a form of indirect feedback. For example, if the tutor writes ‘What’s the main purpose of your essay?’ this is a very clear indication that your thesis statement and/or overall argument isn’t clear or that your claims don’t support your original thesis. When you go back to rewrite that section of your essay, make sure the changes you make answer the question in the comment. 


Other questions are things like:

  • What do you mean? 

  • How do you know this is true? This indicates that you need to show evidence for the point you’re making. You need to include more or better quality references and sources. 

  • How does this evidence support your claim? This tells you that the connection between the claim that you make and the evidence you have given is not clear.


How to deal with it

The purpose of feedback should always be to encourage and motivate but also to guide you in improving your writing. The first thing you should do when you receive feedback is to remember this point. It can be difficult to receive feedback as you’ve probably spent many days and a great deal of effort researching and writing the essay. 


Your initial reaction may be one of frustration or even anger. You may feel that the comments are unfair and completely wrong. If you try not to take it personally and instead focus on what you can learn from the feedback, these negative feelings will decrease. 


Try to understand your tutor’s point of view and if you don’t understand their comments or questions, arrange to meet so that you can ask about them. 


The University of Bath recommends that you make a record of your feedback. Perhaps create a spreadsheet with the comments you received for each assignment. Or you could copy the feedback into a table, use whatever method works for you.  


Update the information each time you receive feedback from later assignments. Each time you are given a new assignment to complete, use the record of feedback to see what your strengths and weaknesses are to avoid repeating the same mistakes. 


Try to approach feedback with a positive mindset and view it as an opportunity for growth and learning. It will be a skill that will help you at university and in your career in the future.



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