The best way to improve your assignments is by taking on board the feedback that you receive from your tutors. This may be formative (feedback that acts as a learning aid, rather than an official assessment) or summative (feedback on an assessed piece of work, often at the end of a module). Both types are essential to your academic progress.
It can be difficult to receive criticism of work that you have put a lot of time into. You may feel surprised, deflated or even angry. But feedback is an integral part of learning. It can help you to produce the best work you can.
No assignment is ever perfect, so your tutors will always highlight ways to improve. Implementing their suggestions, and building them into a personal action plan, is key to success.
You may receive feedback in different formats, and varying levels of detail.
Sometimes it may come in the form of a summary or grid at the end of your essay; other times there will be annotations on the assignment itself; sometimes a tutor may give collective feedback to a whole cohort.
The trick is learning how to link any comments back to your work – and, more importantly, identifying things you could change about your approach in order to address the areas highlighted by the feedback. Making feedback transferable to your other assignments is so important.
Tips for handling feedback
‘There is so much I need to improve!’
Sometimes feedback can be overwhelming or feel excessively critical. This is because the marker is trying to push you to do the absolute best you can.
Remember that academics also review their colleagues’ journal articles and papers to help get them to a publishable standard, so they are used to scrutinising the rigour, accuracy and writing style of academic work. Be glad that they are applying the same level of scrutiny to yours! Make a list of recurring comments and prioritise the most important to start working on.
‘I don’t know what I need to improve’
Occasionally, you may get a disappointing mark but all of the feedback on your essay may appear quite positive. This can leave you unsure of how to improve. It could be that the marker simply wants more of what you are doing – more depth, more analysis, more development of ideas.
Look at the parts the marker liked and consider if you could have taken them a step further.
‘I understand the feedback but don’t know how to implement it’
You may have received a lot of feedback but are struggling to convert that into actual, practical changes you can make. This is often because you are too close to your own work. The Academic Skills Centre or other support services may be able to help. Discussing your work with somebody impartial can help you to see it more objectively. The following pages of this Guide also suggest some techniques.
It can be helpful to sort all of your pieces of feedback into categories, to provide a clearer focus when trying to improve.
You could look at your marker’s comments and map them to different aspects of the marking criteria. Alternatively, create your own categories based on areas for improvement. These might be: