Feedback is any kind of information that someone gives you about your performance, skills, and/or understanding, and can represent one of the best opportunities for improving. Feedback could be a grade on your essay, or comments given to you verbally or in writing. It might come from your tutors, but might also come from friends, family, or even from yourself.
However, many students don’t take notice of their feedback. This can be for many reasons, but it’s very difficult to improve without getting any input on what to do differently, and how. Ignoring your feedback makes it difficult to do better next time. So receiving feedback is not the important thing. Instead, it is what you do with it that counts.
The resources on this page have been informed by and adapted from the Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit, Higher Education Academy, 2016.
Receiving feedback is just the first stage in improving your work. You should engage with it, whether positive or negative, so that you know how you performed and how you can do just as well, or better, next time. Try out the following:
There are many words that academic staff may use to give you pointers on how to improve. However, you may not be familiar with those particular terms. Different academic staff will use language in different ways but this glossary may give you some explanations:
You may see these terms come up in your feedback as headers or specific points may include this vocabulary. Here are some pointers about how you could improve in these areas.
When describing studies or theories, ask whether what you’ve learned about them is necessarily true – are the conclusions questionable? If so, why? Does the evidence actually support the ideas it claims to support?
The best way to improve structure is to plan your work well before you start writing. What exactly do you want to say? What does the marker need to understand first, before they can understand the rest? How can you make each section of your work flow nicely into the rest, so that the marker won’t get lost?
Using references appropriately is often tricky, but it’s also fairly easy to find out what to do. Check your feedback to see where you often go wrong. Sometimes it’s an aspect of formatting that you didn’t even know about. Check our section on referencing for more information.
Sometimes students feel so confident in their understanding of a topic, that they forget to show evidence to support their claims. Make sure you back up everything you say. Also, it’s always best to read your primary sources carefully, rather than just reading descriptions of those sources - do they actually say what you think they say?
Your writing style can be hard to change, and the expectations are often much higher at university compared with school or college. When you read papers, don’t just focus on what they say, but also on how they are written. If you find papers that are really clear and easy to understand, keep them as examples of the kinds of style you could emulate.
Feedback should be a conversation and the Cambridge supervision is one of the best examples of that. You receive written and verbal feedback and then get a chance to ask questions and explore what that actually means in order to help you improve for next time. However, that doesn't mean that you can't engage in other ways.
You could write out the positive and negative comments on post-it notes and make them visible when you complete your next piece of work to remind you of what went well and what to avoid.
Or you could be more systematic and record feedback to create a 'portfolio' to help you reflect on your work over time. Have a look at these worksheets and think about whether you could build them into your working practices at Cambridge.
Unless otherwise stated, this work is licenced under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence by Wolfson College Cambridge.