Understand your strengths and weaknesses
When you get your assignments back from your tutor, you will probably initially focus on the grade you have received.
However, your tutor will have given you useful and well thought-out feedback, with the purpose of a) helping you understand the grade and b) providing you with ideas for how to improve in future assignments. It is important that you make good use of this feedback to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to do to improve on your grade.
There are three key things you need to do in order to maximise the usefulness of your tutor feedback:
- Understand the feedback: look at all the feedback provided (sometimes there are comments on your script as well as the overall comments), and read it carefully to ensure you understand each comment.
- Log your feedback: create a system of storing your feedback that is easily accessible.
- Use your feedback in future assignments: refer to your feedback in preparation for new assignments, and use it as a checklist.
Understand the feedback
Tutors will have different ways of giving you feedback. Some will provide a written summary of your key strengths and weaknesses, and some will provide oral recorded feedback. You may also receive focused, itemised feedback on the script of your work.
Tutors will provide both positive and critical feedback. Generally, the positive feedback is easy to understand, but sometimes the critical feedback can be unclear or can use terminology that is not easy to understand. Some common critical comments are listed below with a glossary to explain what is meant, and suggestions for how to improve as a result of this feedback.
Glossary of terms
|Feedback comment||Meaning||What you can do about it|
|Weak analysis / Analysis is superficial||You have not shown sufficient understanding of complex concepts. Analysis of a problem or of data involves contextualisation, description of evidence and what the evidence means. It needs to show depth of scrutiny to explain reasons and causes for the evidence.||1. Question what aspect of analysis was weak. 2. Read your work carefully and understand what the tutor meant. 3. Ask yourself what you could add to it that would improve it.|
|Lack of criticality / Not critical enough / Too descriptive||Demonstrating criticality involves analysis (see above) and evaluation. Good academic work includes assessment of the value of research methods, findings, conclusions, as well as an evaluation of assumptions, beliefs and concepts. In other words, you are showing you have questioned what others say and assessed the validity and appropriacy of their ideas and conclusions.||When you write about your own research or that of others, make sure you include comments that show your own evaluation of their points, or of a theory. For example, it is descriptive if you say: Brown and Nightingale (2020) state that more people are buying non-branded goods than three years ago. You would be demonstrating criticality if you added your own evaluative comment like this: Brown and Nightingale’s (2020) findings that more people are buying non-branded goods than three years ago is relevant, but their study was restricted to a small sample (150) of university students, and therefore may not be generalisable to different populations.|
|More engagement with core literature needed||Core literature is the key here. There are some writers that are essential reading for particular topics. Even if you have read widely and used a great number of sources, your assignment will be weaker for not including the top names in the field and will show that your research skills are not as good as they could be||Ensure that you use your reading lists as an initial guide in your reading and research. Your tutors will probably have provided a list of core texts. If this is not available, it is important to look at your lecture notes to see who is referenced by your lecturers and named as a ‘key player’. These sources should always be your starting point.|
|The writing does not flow well / Signposting can be improved||Your ideas need to be organised into a logical order, so that you can build a well-reasoned argument or provide chronological or appropriately-staged background to theories. You need to make explicit links between sections, as well as between individual paragraphs.||For sections, ensure you explain the purpose of the section, and for paragraphs ensure you start with a ‘topic sentence’ that sets out the idea being discussed in the paragraph. Using clear signposting words too, such as ‘Thus’, ‘However’, ‘Moreover’, help to guide your reader. By explaining the purpose of your sections to your reader, you create an outline of the essay and it allows you to organise your arguments better.|
|Too much 'breadth' and not enough 'depth'||You have tried to fit too much in, and have therefore been unable to probe sufficiently to create appropriate depth.||If you know you are going to struggle to cover everything as well as demonstrate a critical and well thought-out argument or analysis, you need to consider priorities. You should create an outline of your ideas, and use this to see which points are essential for your reasoned response to the task. It is sometimes possible to state what you will focus on and why, thereby pre-empting a comment about missing information.|
|Greater attention to grammar and punctuation is needed / poor grammar||You are making slips with grammatical accuracy and use of punctuation, and you may have ‘typos’ or unfinished sentences etc.||The answer to this is to allow enough time for detailed proof reading. You need some time away from your work before you proof read, or you will not notice the mistakes. If you are not sure about punctuation, read your work aloud and use your pauses to inform you of where to put commas or full stops.|
|A more academic tone is needed / not written in a scholarly way||Your ‘style’ is not appropriate for academic writing. You may be writing in an informal way, or you may not be following typical academic conventions such as the avoidance of personal pronouns (‘I’ or ‘we’ for example) – check with your department about style.||Proof read carefully for things like contractions (use ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’, ‘can not’ instead of ‘can’t’, for example), for informal words and other expressions that sound more like speaking than writing.|
Log your feedback
Once you have read and understood the feedback you have received, it is important to create a system of storing it for future reference. This feedback is useful when preparing your next assignments, and you should find a system of storage that is easily accessible and works well for you.
Not everyone will like the same system. Here are a couple of examples of ways that students have stored their feedback to create an easy reference tool to use as a check list each time they start work on assignments.
Using a table
This method of logging and storing your feedback is commonly used. Here you create a table and cut and past feedback into the appropriate column. In addition, students often include a column for their grade, so that they can see which assignments are likely to have feedback that tells them not only what to improve, but also what to continue doing.
|Date of feedback|
|Unit and Assignment title/task||Positive feedback||Improvement points/Critical feedback||Grade|
|Personal response and reflection|
This is what it could look like as a student starts to fill it in:
|Date of feedback||18/06/21|
|Unit and Assignment title/task||Positive feedback||Improvement points/Critical feedback||Grade|
|Education and Society||The essay provides a very good critical review of the literature. There is excellent analysis of core arguments and concepts and a good level of interpretation and reflective commentary is applied. The essay is well written and the structure is clear.||There was scope for greater use of primary sources, rather than relying on secondary sources alone. The use of sub-headings would have been a useful addition to the reader, clearly demarcating each line of argument. Better proof-reading would have picked up some unnecessary typographical errors.||70|
|Personal response and reflection||This essay shows I know how to take a critical approach, and I will look back at this essay and how I used analysis and evaluation as a guide to my next essays and assignments. I worked hard to get the structure right by reading academic skills tips, so I’m glad it paid off!||I hadn’t realised the importance of reading from primary research where possible and will ensure I find these for future assignments, as well as core secondary sources. I will consider using sub-headings, as these would help me when planning, and form an initial outline. I thought I had proof-read thoroughly, but perhaps I didn’t have enough time away from the assignment before I did it.|
Using a mind map
Another common way to log your feedback is by creating a mind map.
Use sections to group your feedback so that it is easily demarcated by comment-type. Mind maps work best with the key points from your feedback. It can be a useful review task to pull out the main issues raised by your tutor, and to summarise them using concise language.
Remember that you should choose a way to log your feedback that works best for you. It needs to be achievable and accessible to you, so that you can use it easily to review your tutors’ advice and learn from it.
Use your feedback in future assignments
Once you have set up a system for collecting and storing your feedback, you have an important resource to help you improve on your work.
You need to revisit this feedback and review the comments frequently, in order to learn what your strengths and weaknesses are. You will start to identify themes, and this will help you to create a plan for how to improve.
For each new assignment, the following approach should help you to avoid making the same mistakes again, and allow you to consolidate the strengths you have.
|1||Create your outline, and use it to guide your literature search. Check your feedback for comments about your literature choices, e.g. using primary sources as well as secondary sources; making sure you are including core literature.|
|2||Once you are ready to start writing, check your feedback for comments about organisation. Check again to ensure you are guiding your reader appropriately.|
|3||Throughout your writing process, review the feedback and use it as a checklist where possible. You will be writing about a different topic, but much of the feedback will be relevant across your assignments|
Summary and next steps
- Make sure you understand it and can see why your tutors are saying what they are saying.
- Create a storage system that suits you. Include your own reflection and ideas for what you need to do to improve.
- As you build up your feedback, start to collate it to show recurring themes and comments.
- Use your collated feedback as a guide and checklist when planning, preparing and reviewing your work.
Engaging with feedback resource
This short, interactive self-access resource shows you how to:
- use feedback as a powerful learning tool
- examine what might be preventing you from using feedback
- identify patterns in your feedback
- set goals and create a personal action plan.