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Introduction to university study: Feedback

"Feedback is anything that gives you information about the effectiveness of what you did, said or thought”

Bingham, The guide to learning and study skills

Academic feedback is often misunderstood. Feedback is not just associated with assessment, but includes:

  • Every time we respond to something you have said
  • Every time we mark or annotate your work
  • Every time we comment on an answer you give. 

Why do we give feedback?

Feedback is like a guidebook - it is advice designed to help you to take right direction in your studies. You could think of it as an action plan: it tells you what you have done well and/or what you need to improve, and this can be applied to future work.

We're here to make sure you can achieve your best work, and feedback is a vital part of that. Feedback is a process that involves academic experts and their students working together to reflect on what went well and needs to continue, what can be done to improve in the future.

How can you use feedback?

Feedback is most valuable when you reflect on this advice and use it to improve it your work. What can you do differently in the future? What can you keep doing the same?


Types of feedback

Written feedback

  • Comments written on work handed in before face-to-face sessions.
  • Suggested changes and improvements on previous work that supports current assessments.
  • Comments that help you understand and satisfy the assessment criteria.
  • Comments on your draft presentations to improve delivery, content, and slides.
  • Suggestions to improve your CVs and cover letters.

Laboratory feedback

  • Advice on the way glassware is assembled safely and efficiently.
  • Comments to help with laboratory reports so you can improve your next one.
  • Verbal discussions about how to solve problems in the lab.
  • Staff will offer you advice about future choices.

Tutorial feedback

  • Recieving instant feedback on any discussion topics during the tutorial or seminar
  • Being asked further questions to stimulate further discussion and/or thought
  • Class responses, questions and comments on your contributions
  • Written feedback on assessed seminar participation.

Workshop feedback

  • Receving instant feedback on any task you are undertaking
  • Advice about whether you are approaching the task or problem correctly
  • Comments that help you meet the outcomes of the workshop
  • Direct assistance or instructions to help you with a task
  • Further help or instruction in response to your progress. 

Immediate feedback

  • Receiving instant feedback on answers to workshop questions.
  • Advice about whether an approach is the best way to solve a particular problem.
  • Menti can give you immediate and anonymous feedback on your answers.
  • Quizzes in Canvas offer instant feedback – right, wrong, and what to do next time.
  • Class responses on your oral communication presentation.

Fieldwork feedback

  • Comments in the field that help you with data collection or other procedures 
  • Advice on your technique and instrument use
  • Verbal discussions that help you meet the outcomes of the fieldwork
  • Discussion and support from other students and staff

Project, dissertation or thesis supervisor feedback

  • Verbal or written comments on draft work
  • Discussions about your research process, ethics and other procedures
  • Identifying issues and problems to address
  • Help and advice on how to conduct research
  • Recommended reading to help you further.

Other forms of feedback

  • Your personal supervisor can give feedback on your exam performance…
  • …and help you to prepare for future assessments.
  • Being directed to other resources to help with your work.
  • Comments on your draft presentations to improve delivery, content, and slides.
  • Feedforward means showing you mark schemes, exemplars of work, do’s & don’ts advice.

Feedback examples

You need to recognise feedback, as not all of it jumps at you and says "this is your feedback". Feedback is anything that you can use to improve yourself and your work. This doesn't just mean comments that will get you more marks, but it can help you with that. When you recognise feedback, you should ask yourself:

  • Why is this feedback important?
  • What is the generalised lesson I can learn from this?
  • How do I apply this in the future?

Example 1

Feedback on a maths paper showing clear advice about including units, suggesting they check a particular answer and indicating that the wrong number of significant figures were used in the answer

Constructive feedback

  • Units!
  • Check this
  • Significant figures

How to use your feedback

You need to think about what can be done better in response to this.

  • You should include units with all calculations.
  • You need to check a number -- why is it wrong? Could using units show where you've made the error? Yes, because if you had written "cm3" at the end, you would realise that's the wrong number to divide by.
  • And is that a sensible number of significant figures for this answer? Not likely, as the "worst" input number is 2.5, only two significant figures. Even if it implies 2.50, your concentration won't be precise to 1 part per million as implied by 6 significant figures!

Example 2

Feedback on some maths work indicating that it had been very clear

Positive feedback

Now you just need to keep writing things out clearly, consistently, and with your workings visible so we know what you've done.

It's important to recognise that feedback is not just an instruction. Sometimes it's a question that you must ask yourself, and find out the answer. This helps you learn effectively by asking you to be an active participant in the feedback. It's okay to ask for further clarification about what something means, but feedback is about making you improve your process and skills more than just giving you the right answer.

Example 3

Image of feedback on a graph that lacks major features

Constructive feedback

  • axes labels lacking,
  • figure numbers lacking,
  • figure subheadings lacking...

How to use your feedback

Sometimes feedback is very clear -- but it's important that you do the work so that you know how to implement it. This example is all about using this to identify where you need to develop a skill and then use it consistently.

  • Check the Library Skills pages, there is training for Excel and other data analysis software
  • Or maybe some YouTube tutorials
  • Or ask in the lab! We have PCs in the ground floor teaching lab, which are used in Physical Chemistry. You can still apply all those skills in the other aspects of the course. 

Example 4

Image of a fully-labelled graph with caption

Positive feedback

You should then keep doing this. It means your reader can understand you, you've communicated data clearly, and you can be proud of the effort you put in. For graphs, save a template which you can drop your data into! This could save you a lot of time.

Turning feedback into improvement: Using reflection for action

Reflection is an important skill as it enables us to look at past events and make the most of those experiences. When it comes to assessments, this is useful to help you identify what went really well so you can keep doing it, what didn't go so well and if there is anything you could do differently in future. Students that use feedback to reflect on their previous work tend to make bigger improvements in their future assessments. 

‘It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.’

Gibbs (1988) in Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods

Kolb's Cycle of Reflective Practice

Kolb's (1984) cycle of reflective practice is a model designed to help people learn from their experiences.  While it can be used as a basis for the structure of a reflective essay, it works as a great tool to help you consider feedback, reflect on your own work and develop actions for future assessments. Kolb's model is based on four stages, requiring you to work through each one before the cycle leads to new experiences and loops back around. This makes it the perfect tool to turn your feedback into real improvement

Concrete Experience (experiencing something) Reflective Observation (thinking about an experience) Abstract Conceptualism (learning from experience) Active Experimentation (putting into practice a theory you have learned)


The Learning Cycle emphasises reflective observation as a way to analyse and draw conclusions from an experience. The aim is to take this learning into new experiences, completing the cycle.

1) Concrete Experience

Your concrete experience is your assessment. Whether an essay, an exam or something completely different, the thoughts, feelings and reflections you have on that assignment are all valid. Even while you are working on an assessment you may have some thoughts to help you in the future - even if it is something as simple as wishing you had left more time to do it! You may find you're given formative, informal and verbal feedback during your assessment that will shape your experience. 

2) Reflective Observation 

This stage required you to think about the assessment you have just experienced. The emphasis is on you, your feelings and the links to your skills, knowledge and prior experience. It is often useful to think about an assessment you have handed in before you receive feedback - this can help you capture your immediate thoughts about your performance. 

3) Abstract Conseptualsim 

This stage is all about learning from your assessment experience - but with the power of hindsight and time. Your feedback should make sure you engage with any feedback provided on your assessment - this will help you develop your learning. Based on your feedback and your own reflection, you can acknowledge both things that went well - and things that didn't. You may identify areas for further exploration.

4) Active Experiementation

This final stage is about putting your learning into practice. You should ensure any goals set are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and targeted. This could include trying new planning, writing or time management techniques. Alternatively, you may commit to seeking help or spending time to develop your writing or other academic literacies outside of assessment. 

This page is based on work by Dr Christopher Armstrong from the University of Hull and is re-used with permission.