Making the most of feedback

The purpose of feedback is to feed forward. It doesn’t just outline what you did well or not so well in your assignment. It indicates how you might develop your work and improve next time. This is why it’s so important to engage with the marker’s comments and not just take notice of the mark. Of course, this is easier said than done! It’s easy to get distracted by the mark, and often tricky to know how to interpret and make use of the feedback. Luckily, the Academic Skills Team is on hand with the 3 Ds to help you make effective use of your feedback.


Receiving feedback. It can be … emotional. Our initial response – whether it’s elation, disappointment or something in between – can often dull our objectivity. This makes it difficult to really focus on the marker’s specific points.  It’s important, then, that we give ourselves a little bit of time to settle. This may be a cooling off period where we vent about a disappointing mark, or it might be time for a celebration. Set a limitation on this, though. Decide when you’re going to return to your marked work and begin the next phase of this process.

On a similar note, it can be hard not to take feedback personally. This is perfectly natural but can be another barrier to objectivity, further preventing you from responding to the comments in a productive way. If you’re experiencing this reaction, you might find it useful to change “I” statements into “my” statements. So “I didn’t use evidence well” becomes “my essay didn’t use evidence well.” This can help you separate yourself from your work and help shift your perspective from being innately bad at something to knowing you can do better next time.


The next step is to interpret or decode the feedback, which means turning it into language we understand and can work with. Feedback uses a very specific vocabulary and its meaning isn’t always immediately transparent. This can be particularly true if you have just transitioned to university or are new to UK academic culture. Often, in order to really understand markers’ comments, we need to view them as insights into tutors’ expectations at our given level and in our particular subject. For example, a marker might comment: “I would have like to have seen you develop some of these points further.” This doesn’t simply translate as “I would really have enjoyed reading more about this.” It indicates that the marker expects a better balance between depth and breadth. This would involve you taking a more focused approach and covering fewer points but in greater critical detail.

Sometimes, certain aspects of feedback are exclusive to a particular assignment. For instance, you might have misunderstood the question and that was the main reason you got a lower mark than expected. Where possible, focus on the points that could also be applied to future work: structure, criticality, style and referencing, for instance. Review your feedback for patterns, too. Do markers raise similar points? Identifying this will help your prioritise what areas to work on.

Read back through your own work once you’ve read the feedback. The marker’s comments will give you another lens through which to view your work and help shape what your editing process might look like next time around. The feedback will grant you insight and give you the awareness to start viewing your own work critically. In other words, it will give you a better idea of what to watch out for when reviewing your work ahead of submission.

It’s also worth noting that you can get in touch with the marker if you require further discussion or need any of the points to be clarified.


The final step is to make an active plan as to how you will act on your feedback. This should go beyond the vague “I’ll keep structure in mind” type of thinking and consider exactly what you will work on in your upcoming assignments. It often helps to consider that issues with the product (the completed assignment itself) can be linked back to the process. For instance, if feedback often flags up issues with structure, it might be worth reviewing your approach to planning. If markers frequently observe that your work contains a lot of irrelevant material, you might connect this with your tendency to read a lot and want to include all the information you find. Your Feedback Action Plan might then focus on streamlining your reading process and adding an extra step to the editing process to help you check for irrelevant material.

The Academic Skills Team can help you interpret feedback and consider how to implement it. You can book a 1-1 with us via our website.

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