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.

How I make notes: For essay planning

Photo of Breanna, the author of the postby Breanna Goff, Psychology student and Bristol Futures Advocate

Hello! My name is Breanna and I am a third year Psychology student at Bristol University. My degree sometimes feels like essay upon essay, so I have a few tips up my sleeve from the past couple of years.

 

 

 

When faced with a challenging and complex essay question, it feels like the final product is so far out of reach. Where do I start? What will it look like? And how long will it take? I like to remind myself that every student (and probably every professor) knows this feeling well. So how would I start?

All good essays begin with good notes.

Understanding the foundations.

When starting to think about an essay, it’s crucial that I fully understand the foundation of the topic. I take time to fill in the gaps of my learning- adding to my lecture notes by reading topic overviews and recommended starter papers provided. I usually annotate my lecture slides to ensure I am aligning my understanding with the learning objectives set by my lecturer. By doing this, I not only consolidate my knowledge of the area, but I am creating a strong set of notes which can easily be referred to and utilized in the introduction of my essay.

Time to explore.

Now I have developed some solid notes about the topic’s foundation, its time to explore the field. I usually look over my notes and highlight areas which interest me the most regarding my essay question. Here, I create a word document with several colour coded headings of areas I want to explore. I read several papers into each option and make short notes on each. For example, I will summarise the findings of each paper and jot down how this finding relates to the essay question, adding points for critical analysis where I can. Now, the most important lesson I have learned in my experience of essay note taking is to always make note of the source I have obtained my information from. I do this by pasting the article title next to my summary notes. Trust me, when you have read 50+ articles for your essay, it becomes difficult to remember which paper stated which fact.

Finding my focus.

It’s time to narrow my choices down. I look over the notes of areas I have explored and review what addresses my essay question most effectively. After deciding on a rough narrative, I assess which specific papers I can utilize in my essay. This may take a bit of time and some extra reading; I usually focus on 3-5 key papers in the main body of my essay. When I have selected these, I make more extensive notes by answering the 5 following bullet points for each:

  • What is the aim of the paper?
  • How did the researcher study this area?
  • What did they find out?
  • How does this relate to my essay question?
  • Are there any points for critical analysis?

I have found using these prompts is highly useful when note taking as, when I come to write my essay, I have already outlined the structure of each paragraph effectively.

5 bullet points answering the 5 questions above about a paper on the links between overeating and sleep deprivation
Notes on a psychology research paper answering the 5 bullet points

Now, as I begin to write up my essay, I can be confident in the extensive notes I have taken. My detailed lecture notes help me write my introduction by giving me a solid foundational understanding. My exploration notes have helped me determine the most effective narrative for my question. And finally, my detailed notes of key studies will allow me to write my essay with ease and direction. The final product is within arm’s reach!

 

 

Letter to my undergraduate self: Therese Kelly – ‘It is okay to ask for help and to say you don’t understand something’

Inspired by the Big Issue’s regular feature Letter to My Younger Self, we’re asking staff to think back to their own experiences as a student and tell us what advice they would give to their undergraduate selves.

This month we’re introducing our newest Study Skills Tutor, Therese Kelly, who will be working with students in the Faculty of Social sciences.

Photo of Therese, the author of the blog post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What and where did you study? 

I studied for a BA in the Anthropology of Religion at the University of Wales, Lampeter. Then 15 years later I went back to uni and did an MA in Social Anthropology, here at Bristol. I am now finishing a PhD in Social Anthropology through Manchester University.

Did you experience culture shock when you started university? 

That’s an interesting question. It was more the location that was a shock rather than the university itself. I grew up in London and then opted for a university deep in the Welsh countryside, in a very small farming community. This was partly because I was a young mother with a child, and I wanted to be somewhere less hectic. I was a mature student of 24 when I started my degree; I became a mother when I was 20 so waited until my son was old enough to go to school before going to university, and Lampeter seemed lovely. It was a wonderful place to study! It is a very small university, and it didn’t take long to become part of the student community.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it? 

My time management was awful when I was an undergraduate, especially during my first year. I always left it to the last minute to write an essay. One essay I handed in two weeks late and so it was marked down 20%. If I had submitted it in time, it would have got 70%, a first, so I was gutted! I learned pretty quickly after that to plan my writing time better.

What are you most proud of about your time at university? 

I was, and still am, a shy person, the difference is I have learned to manage it. When I was in the first year, I was part of a group giving a presentation about a Hindu temple we visited for one of our modules. I can still remember how I felt when it was my turn to speak. The blood rushed to my face, my heart was beating in my mouth, and I was so nervous I struggled to focus on the people in the room, I was terrified! I managed to get through it but thought, I must get over this fear. So, I signed myself up for presenting at as many seminars as possible and each time I did it, my ability to talk and present improved. I believe it was one of the bravest things I have done for myself.

What was the best bit of feedback you received? 

I didn’t think my work was any good most of the time as I had very low self-confidence. But after having completed an essay that I actually enjoyed writing, the lecturer said in the feedback that I had ‘clarity of expression’ and that the essay was ‘a joy to read’. I was so happy that my essay was not only readable but that someone got joy from it too!

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

I could say, PLAN YOUR WORK! I could have reduced so much stress and got a better mark if I had organised my writing better. Saying that, getting a 2:1 rather than a first is still a great achievement and I did really enjoy being an undergraduate. So, what I would say to my undergraduate self is that it is okay to ask for help and to say you don’t understand something, and enjoy the fresh air and the wonderful countryside!

Student perspective: Sleepless in Bristol…memory challenged!

Photo of Tracy, the author of the blog postby Tracy Ohis, Bristol Futures Advocate

I know we do not know each other very well but I have a personal question to ask… How well have you been sleeping lately?

This blog aims to help you consider the importance of sleeping as you approach the final hurdle of summer term examinations. Previously, some friends seem to hold a badge of honour for “pulling an all-nighter” of studying, encouraged by the wings of a famous drink or two that is highly caffeine loaded, enough to probably sink the titanic all over again. Yet there are many other reasons why people are not getting enough ZZ’s at night as COVID19 and somewhat beyond has taxed our general mental capacity. Even though we may have enjoyed the novelty of taking Zoom meetings with lecturers in PJs (not guilty!), this may have led to a complacent attitude when compared to the academic vibe surroundings of the university’s esteemed walls.

Lack of sleep vs Memory recall

As we continue to navigate the discovery channel of new information, our memory may find it problematic to retain at least half a day’s worth of study material before a test with a limited supply of sleep. The medical advice states to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep and I must admit this was a struggle at times even before starting my academic journey. The physical long-distance study amongst other things triggered a spiral that I needed to address and with some help from the university Wellbeing department and smarter planning of my time, I was able to develop a solution that has been useful most of the time to suit my needs. I hastily add that any plans you create will be unique to fit into your lifestyle and adjusted with some measure of flexibility. Ideally, accounting for unfortunate circumstances beyond our control forbiddingly other lockdowns per se ‘throws a spanner in the works’. If you would like to know more on how you can incorporate planning into your routine, you could meet with a tutor from Study Skills to discuss and even attend a workshop.

The experts say

Scientifically, a view taken that academic performance based on the early to rise approach resulted in higher achievers as opposed to the total hours of sleep and other factors (Eliasson 2010). Whilst another investigation of 61 undergraduates were focused on those from 2nd year and onwards, used a diary and mathematical science to conclude that irregular sleep patterns affected academic performance negatively (Phillips 2017). Indeed, a further point is that lack of sleep if left long term could potentially develop into insomnia and other health issues, so seeking help from your GP or nurse is a thought worth some consideration. A takeaway message is to remember you are not alone and it is good to have this conversation even with a friend, you might find that there are likeminded colleagues who will be keen to develop a community to support each other as mentors as suggested by this article (Cort-Blackson 2018).

Getting back on track

In identifying a problem exists and deciding that you want to make those baby steps towards changing behaviour is indeed a feat to be encouraged. Take time to view some YouTube videos or Google on how to improve your sleep could be a good investment of your academic performance. Some suggestions that could be helpful:

  • Turning your phone or other electronics off 2 hours before bed.
  • Making your bedroom space clutter free.
  • Doing some form of exercise (aerobic or yoga) during the day.

Which one of these will you try? Do let us know. All the best in your exams and I hope this blog has been useful to you.