Productive responses to essay feedback
Situation: you’ve had an essay back. You skip straight to the bottom of the feedback form to read your grade. You celebrate your good grade, sigh at a bad one, or shrug at an average one. Either way, chances are you’re only going to skim-read your feedback, and probably won’t remember it by the time you come to writing your next one. Big mistake. Your tutors spent valuable time writing their response (time which, by the way, you have paid for), and it’s important that you read through it and respond in a productive way in order to maximise your chances of a better grade next time. After all, whether you’re happy with your grade or not, there is always room to improve! So, here is my step-by-step guide to processing and responding to your essay feedback.
- First of all, check the grade. If you’re happy with it, go ahead and celebrate. If you’re not, turn off your laptop and do something to cheer yourself up. Either way, my advice is to take an immediate break so that you can have whatever emotional response you need before returning to the feedback with a clear head!
2. When you return to the form, make sure to read through your essay feedback in detail. This can sometimes feel painful, particularly if you’re disappointed with the mark, but every sentence will contain vital insights about the strengths and weaknesses of your work.
3. Make a note (mental or physical) of all the strengths of your essay. This is really important as it will boost your confidence and help you understand which skills you should continue to flourish in your writing.
4. Next, make a note of all the weaknesses of your essay. It can be useful to separate these between the ones that apply to this question in particular and the stylistic points that will apply to your other essays. You can also put them in order of biggest problem to smallest problem. This way you know exactly what you need to work on in your next piece of coursework.
5. Finally, make sure that you arrange a one-to-one feedback session with your tutor. These are particularly important if you aren’t happy with your mark, or don’t understand something in your feedback. It is especially useful to write down any questions you might have before going in to the session, as this way you can really make the most of this precious time with your tutor in order to gain tips for your next essay.
Feedback can be nerve-wracking, anxiety inducing, and disheartening. Please know that none of these emotional responses are anything to be ashamed of. It can be upsetting to receive feedback that you’re not 100% happy with, particularly if (like me) you’re a staunch perfectionist! What’s important is that you turn this disappointment around. It’s often tempting to respond to a bad grade by throwing in the towel, saying you don’t care and deciding to hate the module for the rest of the year, but don’t fall into this trap! The best thing to do with a disheartening grade is to take it as motivation to improve.
I hope this helps, and remember: be kind to yourself! Coursework is designed to be a challenge, and any written work you do will all be contributing to the skills and knowledge you have in your subject.
P.S. If you do feel disappointed in a grade, even if it’s a good one, don’t let people make you feel bad for complaining about it. Everyone has different personal goals, and if you’re disappointed that you didn’t quite make a 1st when your friends are struggling to get a 2:1, there is no reason to feel guilty for feeling this way.