Student perspective: Using feedback effectively and developing your academic resilience

Photo of Tiegan, author of this blog postby Tiegan Bingham-Roberts, Bristol Futures Advocate

As the second half of TB1 approaches, there is one thing beginning to loom on our minds and creep up on us – the upcoming assessment periods in December and January. Whether those assessment deadlines are for essays, group projects, or exams, it is important to approach them with a sensible approach of incorporating feedback from previous assessments (at University, school or work) and a skill for academic resilience. Therefore, I hope this blog will help you think about how best to utilise feedback to help your future assessments.

When I was in my first year at University, I was terrified of having to complete my first assessment. I had taken a year out prior to starting University and felt like my academic reading and writing skills were a distant memory of the past, with little hope of being resurrected in time for the approaching deadline. I knew that most of the other students on my course felt the same way too, so this is completely normal.

If you are in your first year right now, you may not have had the opportunity to receive feedback on University work yet. If this applies to you, it might be worth considering ‘feedback’ as any information you have been given about something you have done in the past, and this feedback can be from friends, family, work colleagues, managers, teachers, etc. and is equally as valid as feedback from University tutors. If you think about feedback from general life, you can start to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you have a grasp on your general strengths and weaknesses in relation to academia, these can help to inform your approach to assessments. You can identify these by asking the following questions to yourself:

  • What are three words my friends or family would use to describe my approach to academia?
  • Why did I get a better grade in one subject at school over another?
  • How would my teachers describe me to my University tutors?

If you are in your second year upwards right now, you will have some form of feedback from your first year which is usually available on Blackboard. If you cannot find any feedback in the grades section of Blackboard, you can contact your School or Faculty asking them to locate these documents for you or to point you in the right direction. If the type of assessments you did meant you did not receive a great deal of feedback, it is worth remembering the smaller and more informal feedback that you might have received. Every time you communicate with a tutor, lecturer, or your peers is an opportunity for feedback – such as when people acknowledge your contributions during classes and agree or disagree with you. All of these incidents can be beneficial to approaching your future work, as you have a sense of what sorts of things you are doing well, and which things need improvement.

It is easy to fall into the trap of feedback avoidance – perhaps because you were not particularly proud of the piece of work so you do not want to go back and revisit it, perhaps because it just feels like too much effort to trapse through Blackboard to find the right document, or perhaps because you are worried it will confuse your new assessment topic. I have definitely been guilty of this in the past but over time I have learnt to develop my academic resilience, which makes looking at feedback a lot less daunting and a lot more productive.

What do I mean by academic resilience? I mean that when you receive negative feedback, you are able to digest it and work upon it within a reasonable amount of time, without allowing it to throw you off track to achieve your academic goals. You can develop this important skill by doing the following:

  • Try to remove your personal attachment to the piece of work you have received negative feedback on. Although you might have poured blood, sweat, and tears into the piece of work during the time leading up to the deadline, and you may have celebrated after pressing the bittersweet ‘submit’ button, those feelings should not act as a barrier after that point.
  • Try to turn the phrase ‘negative feedback’ into ‘constructive feedback’ – if you are able to use the feedback to better your grades and your academic development at University, to graduate having learnt something new which you did not know how to do perfectly at the beginning, then ‘negative feedback’ is not negative at all, it is actually something positive!
  • Try to be balanced in your response, there is almost always something positive amidst the sea of feedback that rushes towards you as you open the document. It is easy to focus on the negatives because you want to know what you did wrong, why you did not get a higher mark, but the positives are equally important in letting you know what you did right and should replicate in the next assessment.
  • Try to change your mindset from ‘fixed mindset’ to ‘growth mindset’. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your abilities, intelligence and talents are just fixed traits – that there is no point trying to get better at something because you simply cannot do it. If you have a growth mindset, you do not believe that your abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed entities – instead, you get better at something through effort and persistence.

After developing this academic resilience, you will be able to use your feedback more effectively. You could make a document with all of the feedback you have collated in your academic career so far, going back as far as you are able to gather information for. With this document, you can then draw connections between the feedback to highlight any common themes. If more than one person has given you feedback on a particular point, then it is clearly something you need to work on, such as by having a meeting with your personal tutor, attending a tutorial or a workshop with Bristol Study Skills, or going to your PASS sessions. Likewise, if there is something you are consistently being praised for, then you can categorise this as one of your strengths and feel confident about that aspect of your assessment.

If you want to speak to me or another Bristol Futures Advocate about how to use feedback effectively and develop your academic resilience, feel free to attend one of our student-led drop-in sessions by following the page here and finding the dates and times for your Faculty.

Best of luck!

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