Pimp your Grade: Finding, understanding and using feedback
21 November 2016
In this article our LLB Director (and feedback enthusiast) Imogen Moore brings together experience, research, and personal insights to show how finding, understanding, and using feedback effectively can assist you in improving your performance and reaching your potential – enabling you to ‘pimp your grade’!
We all know feedback is good for us. But we’re not always so good at seeking it out and engaging with it. Feedback helps us to develop our skills and abilities, and achieve our potential. Unsurprisingly we tend to want more, and better, feedback. Yet we often don’t like hearing feedback when we get it; and can find that simply getting more feedback doesn't help us at all. Why is this? How can we both get the feedback we need and make good use of it?
For feedback to be effective we have to find it, understand it, and use it.
To find feedback (let alone make good use of it) we need to be able to recognise it. It can be tempting to think of feedback in your legal studies only in terms of the ‘feedback form’ you get back with your assessments. This ignores myriad other sources of feedback, which may then get overlooked. It also leads to a limiting view of feedback as a one-off event, delivered by a tutor, looking back to a completed activity. In truth feedback is not an event but a process – and one in which the tutor is only part (and not the most important part). It is not something that is done ‘to’ you, but something that you (and we) participate in. And, of course, feedback does not just look back to a particular activity but feeds forward to the next.
Feedback opportunities during your studies obviously include tutor-led opportunities such as individual written feedback on formative assignments, general feedback on activities, and personal tutor feedback on your exams. It is easy to recognise these as ‘feedback’. But feedback opportunities also arise, for example, through tutorials, consultation hours, discussion boards, or post-assignment discussions with the marker. And many more valuable opportunities exist without direct involvement of a tutor, such as self-evaluation through practice questions, exploring past exam answers on Blackboard, or working in a study group. Finding feedback means seeking out and using feedback opportunities: sitting back and waiting for feedback can seriously restrict your growth.
Finding feedback is of limited value if you are not sure what it means when you get it. But it can be daunting to ask for clarification, and tempting just to ignore feedback that you don’t understand.
You should become more familiar with the language of feedback, and thus better able to make use of it, over the course of your studies. But this will only happen if you use the opportunities available, and revisit your work in the light of feedback. Just as with any new language, you have to practice translation and application. To help the process, the new assessment criteria guidance and feedback form (available on Blackboard*) are designed to help you to understand how we assess, to learn the language and unlock your feedback. Remember too that understanding feedback is not just about the language being used. You also need to make sure you are listening to what is being said – and not simply hearing confirmation of your own assumptions.
Feedback is only really of value if put to use. Although we all think we want feedback and will make good use of it, we often put up significant barriers to receiving and using feedback. Feedback can make us uncomfortable. Even though we tell ourselves (correctly) that the feedback relates to our work, and is not about us personally, it is still our work and so still feels personal. Unsurprisingly, our instinctive response to feedback may be negative or defensive.
How we respond to feedback both immediately and in the longer term can be influenced by our mindset. If you think a person’s characteristics and ability are largely fixed (a ‘fixed mindset’) you are more likely to view feedback personally and find it (whether good or bad) difficult to hear. In contrast, if you think characteristics and abilities are significantly malleable (a ‘growth mindset’), you are more likely to hear feedback as an opportunity for development rather than a reflection on you personally. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with either mindset, but being alert to our perceptions and instinctive emotional responses can prepare us to receive feedback constructively.
Receiving feedback with a ‘growth’ attitude also makes it easier to engage with feedback, and engagement is essential to make effective use of feedback. That means being an active participant in the feedback process - joining the conversation, taking up opportunities, looking forwards as well as backwards, and using the resources available to you. If you feel you don’t have enough feedback on something – seek it out; utilise a variety of sources and don’t just wait for tutor-led feedback. If you feel you don’t understand your feedback, take steps to learn the language and clarify points; use the opportunities you are given to engage with feedback and feedback-providers. And if you don’t like what you are hearing – take a deep breath, seek advice if you need it, revisit your work with fresh eyes, and approach concerns constructively.
As lecturers we will be continuing to do our very best to provide you with helpful, timely, varied and appropriate feedback; now you know what you can do to help yourself!
* You can find more on our updated information assessment criteria on Blackboard: Law Student Information / Assessment / The Assessment Regime.