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Your secret weapon: understanding assignment feedback

We’ve reached that point in the year where assessment results are trickling in. But what should you do with your feedback? Throw it to one side and hope you do better next time? Although that may be tempting, feedback is more than just a grade. Understanding your feedback can be your secret weapon when it comes to unlocking higher grades next time.

Below, we look at some common themes in student feedback and explain what they mean, as well as what you can do about them.

Woman using laptop looking into the distance as if thinking

‘Needs to be more critical’

Critical thinking. Critical analysis. Critique. This tricky customer goes by many names. Basically, your tutor’s asking you to give your answer more thought – to show you’ve examined your evidence and drawn conclusions from your reading. So, instead of just accepting a source as fact, think about whether it’s adequate. Is the source reliable? Are there other pieces of evidence that counter this point of view? Find out more about how to demonstrate these skills in the Skills for Learning Critical Thinking Guide

‘Unclear structure’

Sometimes you’ll be given a set structure to follow in your assignment brief. Other times, you may have the freedom to choose your own approach. Either way, it’s important to follow academic conventions in your written work, such as presenting an introduction and conclusion, and making a series of points supported by evidence. One way is to use the PEAL paragraph structure – why not try this in your next assignment?

‘Lacks analysis’

This probably means you need to explain why you’ve included your evidence. What does the evidence show you? Can you use some data from the source – like a quote, paraphrase or some statistics – to make your point clear? Again, this is about showing you’ve thought about your sources, rather than just describing what they say.

 

‘Weak sentence structure’

Grammar is something many people struggle with. If you find it hard to put sentences together, try using an online grammar tool like Grammarly. Remember to check your writing afterwards, though, as no computer program is 100% foolproof when it comes to grammar.

To develop your skills longer term, you might consider an online grammar course. The British Council offers some great free online resources.

‘No clear argument’

If you’re writing an essay, you’ll be expected to make an argument. This isn’t necessarily about being angry; it means putting forward a case and presenting evidence to support it. To answer the assignment question ‘Is online learning beneficial for university students?’, you might argue either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on evidence from sources. Try presenting a thesis statement in your introduction – a one-sentence summary of your argument, which you should refer back to throughout your essay. Our Essay Writing resources cover this approach in more detail.

'Stronger conclusion needed’

It can be tempting to conclude in just one sentence or repeat the points you’ve already made. However, your conclusion needs to do more than that: it should demonstrate that you’ve answered the question. Think of it as a place to bring together all the ideas you’ve raised throughout your assignment. Explain how your body of evidence shows what you wanted it to show.

‘The evidence doesn’t support the point’

One of the skills of university study is choosing the right evidence. Imagine you wanted to prove the sea was wet by showing that water comes from a tap. Although there is a common theme between your point and your evidence – water – the evidence doesn’t demonstrate your idea. When examining your sources, think carefully about whether they help you answer your question. If in doubt, leave it out – and try searching for a more suitable example.

‘References need work’

References are one of the most time-consuming, but straightforward, parts of an essay. It’s a matter of following the rules. Use LBU’s ‘Quote, Unquote’* referencing guide and consider attending a referencing workshop. You’ll be surprised what a difference accurate referencing makes to your marks.

*NB: A small number of courses use different referencing styles. If in doubt, check with your School.

Still baffled by your feedback?

Try talking to the lecturer for your module, they aren’t that scary, honest! Once you understand exactly what your lecturer is trying to say, you can develop a plan to improve your work next time.

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