Student perspective: Staying motivated after receiving feedback

Steph, the author of the blog postby Steph Hook, French and Spanish student and Bristol Futures Advocate

We’ve all worked so hard on essay and exam preparation, but what happens afterwards? Receiving feedback can be both rewarding and helpful. However sometimes, it’s tricky not to feel disheartened if you receive feedback that you weren’t expecting. This happens to many of us at one point or another over the course of higher education, but it is important to stay motivated. The main thing from feedback is how we grow as learners.

 

1. Be kind to yourself

‘Be kind’ is something that has, rightly, been seen more over recent years. However, we often don’t offer ourselves the same courtesy of kindness that we would to others. I’m one of those people that reaches for a cup of tea in any situation, so personally I find myself putting the kettle on the moment that a mark has been released. That won’t work for everyone, it’s important to find your own cup of tea- if you can excuse the pun.

2. Look at the feedback comments, what do they mean?

It can be very easy after receiving a mark to close Blackboard and never look at the work again. However, the point of feedback is to help us grow as learners, which is what we are at university to do. Constructive feedback can be really helpful if you know how to use it. By accurately identifying what you need to improve on, you can increase the mark you receive on your next piece of work.

3. Focus on what went well too!

Human nature often means that we home in on the things that require improvement. A key feature of staying motivated is to focus on the positives too! Positive feedback is just as important as constructive comments, as it shows us what we should keep on doing. It’s also an acknowledgment for all the hard work that goes into a degree, which can be used as a boost for tackling future assignments.

4. Plan your next steps

To truly make use of feedback effectively, it’s not enough to simply read the comments. Think about what you’re going to do to give yourself the best chance of improvement in future pieces of work. Think about who you can talk to. Often, tutors will have office hours where you can speak to them. I’ve used this time before to ask specific questions on what I can do differently to gain more marks in the future. Do you have a friend on your course that you would feel comfortable talking to about the work? For more general advice, the Study Skills team have an array of tools which you can use independently to help yourself, from the Stepwise guide to writing essays, to Understanding essay verbs. It’s a resource on Blackboard that’s definitely worth a quick look at.

These are just a few things which help me to stay motivated after receiving feedback. Hopefully at least one of them will help you too.

Student perspective: The art of embracing dispiriting feedback

Photo of Tala, the author of the blog postby Tala Youhana, Law student and Bristol Futures Advocate

You’ve put in the substantial cycles of work, you’re certainly no stranger to long hours and late nights at your designated study spot, and you’ve exhausted all the caffeine in your system in hopes of finally receiving spotless reassuring feedback from your tutors. Nonetheless, the threshold you’ve been working tirelessly to meet, still feels out of reach. If this is you, then here are some healthy reminders to help you cope with and defeat the initial discouragement.

1. Accepting the mark is the first checkpoint

Oftentimes, we attempt to rapidly locate the mark before anything else in the feedback form, because it feels like glowing comments are distorted without a glowing mark. In my first year, I had professors disclose their own experiences with disappointing marks and remind us that such marks are not the be all and end all. Marks only go as far as a submission goes, so don’t let that dissuade you from the fact that you’re at university, because you worked hard to be here. Therefore, accepting the mark as a fair reflection of that particular submission would be a promising first step to moving forward. Ultimately, the larger the improvement, the more to be proud of when you’re done!

2. Interrogating the comments objectively involves personal initiative

Now that you’ve accepted your mark as a fair and accurate reflection of your work, you will be well-equipped to objectively evaluate the feedback. If you identify any issues, you will be able to investigate them further by preparing some questions. After this, you can make use of the many helpful resources available to you such as booking office hours with your tutors, revisiting feedback lectures, and perhaps even swapping papers with a peer to identify key feedback patterns, and ultimately gain a holistic understanding of the feedback given. Asking for help where needed reflects strong personal initiative and is actively encouraged.

3. There’s always room for improvement

No matter how you previously performed, it is advisable to keep your targets at least as high as they were prior to the feedback, if not higher! After all, feedback is far from failure, it is as the playful saying goes, “the breakfast of champions”. By visualising your targets clearly, you are then able to create a solid and detailed plan to improve on any skill gaps which you have encountered. The key point to stress here is that asking for help where you feel any doubts, either by consulting with your tutors or by making use of Study Skills and University resources, is a very important step forward, and one which you should be proud of.

To conclude, kindly note that this method is merely a guide and certainly not the only way of embracing feedback effectively- it is just what has worked for me when I had been hesitant with feedback in the past. The silver lining here is that feedback is meant to be critical, but when used wisely, it’s a chance to start over and progress!

Student perspective: How to use your summer productively

Photo of Claudia, the author of the postby Claudia Raymond-Hayling, Second year Theatre and English (BA) student and Bristol Futures Advocate.

For many of us, this year was difficult and not what we were expecting. However, it is important to be proud of what you have achieved. With that in mind, I have been thinking about how summer can be a productive time in many ways, some of which I thought may be useful to some of you. Whatever you’re doing, whether you’re finishing first or final year, your day-to-day will shift as the teaching block comes to a close.

Relax!

This year has required huge adjustments for many of us. For some, taking a break could not come soon enough, and for others switching off will seem quite hard! Whatever you’re feeling, using this time for a bit of a pause is a great reward to yourself for finishing the year.

Dedicate some time to hobbies

Hobbies are easy to neglect amidst university work, but they are so important to keep up! Hobbies allow you to productively focus your spare time on something that you really enjoy, whilst giving you an opportunity to learn new skills that will be transferrable throughout your life. An increased time spent on hobbies can also be really beneficial for your mental wellbeing, so dedicating even just one hour a week on something you love can make a massive impact. I know that I’m unbelievably excited to regularly go to the theatre, which I haven’t been able to do properly in such a long time due to the pandemic. If you’re not sure what hobbies you specifically enjoy, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up something new!

Go outside!

Revision and work often requires a lot of time spent indoors, so spending some time outside will be a nice change as the weather (hopefully) improves. Go for a walk with a friend or go for a nice day out. Whatever you’re doing, the outdoors can be a really nice change of scene.

Socialise

Meeting up with friends and family has been a long time coming and with restrictions easing, it has never been more important. Making time to meet up with people is a great way to spend your free time.

Think about the future

The end of the year is an important time to think about where you will be headed. Maybe you’re thinking about getting ahead for the next academic year, or you’re thinking about internships or jobs you’d be interested in. Whatever your future plans are, it’s important to be aware of them. If you don’t know what you want to do, now is the time to have a think about it! There are some great contacts through the Careers Service who will be available over the summer if you need some help with internship/job opportunities or even long-term career planning.

Even if you don’t end up doing any of these things, it is important to think about what you want to get out of this time. Although I think these are useful, do what works for you! Ultimately, be proud of finishing this year of university, during a very difficult time. It would be great to hear how you are using your summer productively in the comments and, on that note, have a great summer!

Student perspective: Keeping up motivation over the Easter break

Photo of Josie, the author of the blog postby Josie Rahman, Bristol Futures Advocate

Maintaining motivation over semester breaks can be difficult at the best of times – throwing in the challenge of online learning only makes it more of a struggle! Through running a peer-led workshop surrounding motivation and how we can cultivate it, it has became even more apparent just how universal this worry is for students. I hope that this blog can offer a few tips and tricks on how to keep on going with important assignments throughout the Easter break, whether that is spent at university or elsewhere.

Score a goal!

It is more important than ever when you are free from synchronous teaching over the Easter period to ensure that you have a plan and goals set for the time off. It goes without saying that you need a rest, so make sure to allocate time off in the week to catch up with friends (socially distanced!), fit in some exercise and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest to look after yourself. However, I find my motivation is at its best when I set really focused goals – I use the SMART goals acronym for this so give it a google! Check in with yourself at the start and end of each day – have you achieved the goals you set out to do? If not – were your goals too ambitious or were there other obstacles that got in the way of your studies?

What is your WHY?

To keep yourself going without the help of scheduled time with tutors over the Easter period, it can be really helpful to ensure you know WHY you are studying – what are the factors that motivate you? Motivation is split into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is where motivation arises within yourself – you are doing something that personally feels rewarding – whereas extrinsic motivation involves wanting to do something in order to achieve a reward or avoid a negative consequence (e.g. exam deadlines!). Understanding what factors may contribute to both of these can help sustain motivation. For example, I study medicine and am lucky enough to be genuinely passionate about certain aspects of my course, such as learning more about the signs and symptoms of interesting diseases, which is my intrinsic motivation. My extrinsic motivation is the fact that if I complete my degree, I will go on to become a doctor, an external long term reward! Remember to give yourself little external rewards too – a nice meal or a walk outside after work towards an assignment can be very gratifying.

The end is in sight!

Whilst exam season and deadlines loom after Easter, Easter break is a great chance to safely catch up with friends and family, and the balance of this is paramount for motivation. After deadlines are over, Summer is waiting ahead – and fingers crossed it’ll be a Covid-free one. Making plans for after deadlines and exams to look forward to is one thing that hugely motivates me during the breaks – the light at the end of the tunnel!

 

Bringing this all together, it’s great to consider what will motivate YOU over the Easter break? Let me know in the comments!

Student perspective: Obliterating procrastination

Photo of Iskandar, the author of the postby Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Every time I slip up and spend hours on YouTube or Tik Tok instead of studying, I would chide myself and promise to do better next time. Did I actually do better? Not quite.

As opposed to taking a well-deserved break at the end of the day, procrastination is not at all fun – it’s just easy. If you’re struggling with this issue as well, especially with distance learning, I have found that setting up structures to promote productivity greatly reduces the chance of procrastinating. Here’s what I found useful:

Pile of papers, with the top one headed 'To do list'
Photo: Breakingpic/ Pexels
  1. Set clear sub-goals when breaking down bigger tasks.

Most of us know that breaking down large tasks (i.e. preparing for a workshop, doing your final year research project, etc) into smaller, more manageable subtasks will make it much easier. Not only does it make the work less daunting, but the endorphins you get when finishing a subtask can motivate you to continue working.

While this will likely make your work less unpleasant and therefore reduce the chance that you’d just give up entirely and binge-watch The Crown, I would encourage you to take it a step further and set goals for your subtasks. Having clear goals have been proven to lead to better outcomes (Locke et al 1981) and having subgoals was proven in a study by Bandura and Simon (1977) to increase the quality of the intended result.

So hopefully when you try this and find that your work is less intimidating and you’re actually obtaining clear results, you’d be less likely to procrastinate and enjoy studying more!

Student looking at phone
Source: Andrea Picquadio/ Pexels
  1. Obliterate distractions

Distractions disrupt your focus and can easily lead you off course, so obliterating -because eliminate is too timid a word for such a serious assault on your productivity – distractions should be a priority.

Phones

Android users have the Focus Mode (DownTime for iPhone users) which allows you to customise which apps can operate. This instantly blocks out notifications from apps that distract your attention, although I would suggest muting your phone as well. To reinforce this barrier against using my phone, I also use the Forest app to plant a tree for however long I want to focus. This prevents me from using my phone while the tree grows, lest I want to be a monster and kill the little thing.

Chores

If you’re like me, the various tasks you juggle daily would gnaw at the periphery of your thoughts and prevent you from staying focused. To prevent this, if you have work for later, write them down in your planner (or anywhere) so you can keep them off your mind with the reassurance that you won’t forget them.

Notebook and computer on desk, arm pointing at computer screen
Source: Julia M Cameron/ Pexels
  1. Organise your study space

Personally, I like my window-facing study table, complete with a hanging string of pearls plant and fairy lights. But according to feng shui principles, the best study table position is when:

  • Your back is facing the wall
  • The door is in your line of sight
  • If you have a window, have it at your side rather than facing it

Other things to consider include what material and colour your study table is, and the presence of plants to affect the aura. All these components aim to address your subconscious mind and help you to focus better.

You should also start cleaning your desk. Chae & Zhu (2014) found that a disorderly environment led to a range of self-regulatory failures which for our purposes, means reduced ability to focus and less effective studying. Remove anything that is unnecessary on your study table and keep it neat to ensure your mind is not distracted by untidiness, but rather stays focused on that essay that is due tomorrow.

Four students sitting around a table with books and papers
Source: Cottonbro/ Pexels
  1. Set up study sessions with friends

The lack of scheduled hours in our current blended learning can blur our concept of time, meaning long hours of work without proper cut-off points for rest and recharge. It is all too easy to let the days flow into each other and eventually burn out.

Setting up a scheduled study session with your friend(s) can help provide a bit of a structure to your day. It gives you a small sense of accountability for showing up to the session, and you can help each other stay focused. It has definitely worked for me.

Alternatively, you can join Study Skills’ interactive Online Study Lounge. You can sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-study-lounge-tickets-120527943323

 

Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some new things to try! I would love to hear what you think about these structures, and whether you personally have other ways of preventing procrastination. Goodluck!

Student perspective: Staying motivated in the lead up to and during Winter Break

Photo of Tiegan, author of this blog postby Tiegan Bingham-Roberts, Y3 BA English student & Bristol Futures Advocate

There are only three weeks left of TB1… congratulations on making it this far! I for one am certainly looking forward to a break, especially to spend some time doing activities that do not involve staring into the abyss of my laptop screen all day every day. I might do some baking, go for some walks in the countryside of my hometown (weather dependent of course, which does is not a great dependent if you live in the UK like me), read some books that are completely unrelated to my English degree, and catch up on the extra hours of sleep that ran away from me this term. I hope you are also planning on doing some relaxing activities, whatever they may be for you.

Before you can do those activities, though, you must get past the finish line. Especially with the recent updates that all teaching is going to be moved online gradually from the 3rd December, you might be feeling worried about how to stay motivated. If you are staying on-campus, the lack of in-person teaching may impact your motivation because you feel as though you are being held less accountable for how much work you put into your studies. If you really enjoyed the in-person teaching, you might be worried about being less engaged with your learning materials. In general, you may be feeling unmotivated purely for the fact that you are tired of 2020 and all the changes it continues to bring to our lives. If you are returning to your non-term time address, if you have one, you might struggle to stay motivated because you are no longer surrounded by other students and so it feels as if the Winter Break has started early, even though it has not.

However, and this is a big however, it is hard to escape from the reality that Winter Break is not truly a ‘break’, because unfortunately we cannot switch off our student status as soon as we leave the classroom. I know that every student, no matter what course they are studying or what year group they are in, will have tasks to complete over the Winter Break – whether that be essays, reports, research, exam revision, reading, proposals, job applications, internship applications, volunteering, part-time jobs, the list goes on and on…

Alongside these tasks, comes the big distraction of Winter Holiday Celebrations. During the final few weeks of term and in the month and a half that follows, you might be participating in one of the many festivals happening across the globe, perhaps in a different capacity this year due to coronavirus restrictions. Between the tasks you have been set to complete over the Winter Break, and the festivities of the season, it is understandable why many students get sucked into the intoxicating fun of it all only to soberly panic as our deadlines or exams quickly approach before our TB2 timetables start.

Here are some things you can do to stay motivated amidst all the chaos, excitement, and relaxation:

· Remind yourself of what you have achieved so far in such strange circumstances of a global pandemic, why you are here at University, and why you want to do well. Sometimes it is easy to forget how far you have come as you get wrapped up in deadlines and what can feel like aimless days of staring at your screen, but there is a point to all of it – to get your degree from a top University. This is very cliché, but the phrase ‘it will all be worth it in the end’ is apt here.

· Make sure your goals are realistic. Whether these are daily or weekly goals, have them noted down somewhere such as on a physical or virtual notepad or calendar. Make sure they do not completely fill your time, as often unexpected things come up or things may take longer to complete than you initially realised. Allowing flexibility means that you will be much more likely to achieve the goal by the end of the day or week. I get so much satisfaction from being able to tick things off my to do list and go to sleep each night knowing that I can truly relax and watch a bit of Netflix without feeling guilty for it.

· Create a study space. This is going to be easier for some students than others depending on your living situation, and my advice here is to work with what you have got to the best of your ability; try to get creative. It might be that you clear one area of the room you are staying in to be a blank canvas so that you are able to focus, it might mean stacking up a pile of academic books in your space to serve as a reminder that you are still a student!

· Check in with your peers on your course or other students you know who are studying different subjects – ask them how they are doing, what work they have managed to do, discuss deadlines, peer review each other’s work. I find that having somebody to hold you accountable for what you have been up to can be a great motivator, and even having a small conversation about University life can help to jog your memory and get you back into the right mindset of being a driven and determined student.

· Book onto one of the Bristol Study Skills Online Study Lounges. These are a fantastic way to study with and meet other students whilst studying remotely.

· Check out the Bristol Study Skills resource online about Studying From Home, which breaks down different ways of studying remotely which is what we will all be doing from between 3rd-9th December onwards until the end of January (if in-person teaching resumes of course).

I hope the rest of term goes well for you and that you have found this post useful for thinking about motivation over the Winter Break. What activities are you most looking forward to during your rest days?

Student perspective: Maintaining an asynchronous routine for synchronous students

Note: This post was written during the covid-19 pandemic. While university teaching is no longer 100% online, online learning is here to stay… whether in the form of online lectures or simply a quick Teams/ Zoom/ Skype call with your project group. So we think this blog post is just as relevant as ever! Now read on…

Photo of Claudia, the author of the post

 

by Claudia Raymond-Hayling, Second year Theatre and English (BA) student and Bristol Futures Advocate.

During this very strange year, working from home or university accommodation is something we all are adjusting to. Since starting the first teaching block, I have learnt a few things about staying organised and keeping that daily routine in check.

1. Regularity with your timings of the day

Make sure you get up at a good time (before 10am). This will allow you to spread out your tasks across the day, so you use your time efficiently and effectively. Also, having a rough idea of the timings you eat your meals will make it easier to schedule your work around the break you might want to have at mealtimes. Exercise is a great way to help your mental and physical wellbeing, so you may also find it helpful to schedule this at regular times during the week.

2. Make a list of the work you need to do at the start of the week.

Writing down the things you need to get done can help so much in terms of visualising your goals. It can make tasks feel much more manageable and accomplishable. Even things that aren’t university-related, put them onto your list.

3. At the start of each day, choose things from your to-do list and make a schedule.

Making a daily schedule might seem excessive, but it allows you to organise your day and prioritise the things that need to be completed more urgently. It also can help you to feel motivated by having a smaller, more manageable list each day, rather than being daunted by your weekly to-do list. If you make a daily schedule, it will also mean that you can organise your tasks around other plans you might have – as unexpected things often come up!

4. Make your daily goals realistic.

It’s easy to overestimate the work you can achieve in a day, and how much time each task will take you. Sometimes 30-minute lectures can take up to 2 hours, simply because of the difficulty of the concepts being taught. Make sure your daily goals are realistic, as it can really help with your time management, but also your mindset and attitude towards a day’s work.

5. Vary the environment you’re working in.

Try working in a different room – ask your flatmate to swap rooms for the afternoon or maybe go to the library. You’d be surprised how much a change of scene can alter your approach and attitude towards your work.

6. Take breaks! Do things you enjoy.

Allow yourself to have breaks, don’t burn yourself out. Go for a walk with a friend, watch Netflix for an hour or do any hobby that you really enjoy. Breaks allow you to work more effectively, and if you schedule them, you’ll have a cut-off time. Sometimes, you might need to take a longer break, or have a day not working, which is also okay. It’s important to prioritise your own wellbeing during this time at home too – don’t be harsh on yourself if you need a breather. And remember, if you’re struggling to meet deadlines for this reason, extension requests are always available to you.

I’ve gradually been implementing these steps into my life and my work schedule, and my routine has felt much more structured. Different techniques work for different people, but these are what have made a profound difference to my life during lockdown. Since many aspects of life can feel so unstructured right now, taking steps to help yourself have more of a routine can be hugely beneficial in terms of wellbeing and completing those daily things that we need to do.

If you need any support in study skills, you are always welcome at the drop-in sessions run by the student advocates within each faculty. These sessions can help with the general skills that facilitate your learning in a way that can be really helpful to your academic progress, specifically through speaking to other members of your faculty – which can be very insightful! The university Study Skills also have many online resources that can be invaluable to many specific aspects of working effectively.

Wishing you all lots of luck, and perhaps have a think about the things that have helped you stay in a good routine during this time and post in the comments below!