Dealing with essay feedback
Just received the worst Christmas present ever… bad essay feedback. You would think that now that I am in my third year I would be a master at writing essays, definitely not the case. I have received every class mark from first to a third, I have had them all (thankfully I have never failed). Nonetheless, I still have anxiety when I submit my essays and when I receive them. This is probably because you can never predict what you are going to get. You may not have explained your point as clearly as possible, you may have made a huge mistake that you completely forgot to consider before submitting, or simply your tutor does not like your idea (which happens 99% of the time).
Think about it, your tutor has been studying these topics in the same way for a few years now, they have got their own point of view on the topic, no matter how much you try you will never make them change their mind. So, what do you have to do in order to maintain your high marks, or even achieve high marks?
- Be selective with your essay questions, look at the bibliography that accompanies the question, if your tutor’s name is there STAY AWAY! You do not want to start disagreeing with your tutor, that’s just not a smart move. Pick essay questions that cross over with your other modules, this makes your life easier for when you are reading your essays because the basic foundation is there.
- Keep things simple, I know you get a first in your essays when you show originality, this is a lie. There’s no such thing as originality because you have nothing to back your idea except if your primary source makes is explicit that it can be a comprehensive point. So when I got my first in a couple of my essays, I used two scholars and compared and contrasted them then I assessed which one had the most convincing points when using the primary sources. Instead of just dropping random quotes everywhere in your essay to show your tutor that you have read a lot, use the scholars to enrich your essay and engage with them. This actually increases your word count because you have to think about other ways of interpreting the primary source.
- Talk to your tutor, emails are useful but having a meeting with your tutor and discussing ideas, as I have said from day 1, is the best way to understand where you have gone wrong and where you can improve. You are paying for your education make the most of it! You are here to get the best grade possible because that is what you deserve, so go and work for it! Your tutors are marking your papers you need to learn the game that they are playing, learn the rules and win! Some tutors like particular styles and particular scholars, figure out who they are and use them in your essays. Unfortunately, that is the way it is, even as a third-year student I see that there isn’t room for interpreting the texts yourself or using your own ideas solely because that’s how you see the text or artefact. You need to follow the guidance of your tutors because at the end of the day they are going to mark your work.
- Get a second opinion, depending on the subject and the topic of your assignment there is no harm in getting a second opinion. The danger of that is, creating friction within the department and getting confused with so many opinions and advice.
- Don’t give up and feel disheartened, right now I am angry and upset that’s why I’m writing my blog just to remove all of my frustration. But there is nothing we can do, marks are final and you just have to work harder at the next one. But how do you work harder? Look at the previous points, there is a difference between working hard and working smart. Hit the marking criteria, get the reader to be on your side, turn down your own opinions if they conflict with your tutors because there is no point trying to argue against them, you need to figure out the essay writing game and focus on writing a good essay. The way I see it is that because I now have to reduce my personal input I will not get as attached to my work as I have before, yes the passion might die out, but passion doesn’t get you marks, it is the way you hit the criteria. Sad I know, believe me, I’m trying my best to change this toxic way of marking, but for now, do your readings and keep communicating with your tutor, even if they do make your blood boil.
I know this might seem like a negative blog post, but it is the reality of academic life, I’m here to be as honest as possible and I hope this helps you to channel your frustration into determination. There will be a way out, just keep figuring it out, that’s where hard work comes into play.