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Learning from feedback Preparing assignments

As well as marking the work, your tutor provides comments and advice on the content of your assignment, and on your skills in communicating your ideas.

Marking assignments is how we assess progress and ensure that students process the module material and learn. It's easy to just look at the grade and put the assignment away but the feedback I give is individual to each student. It's important to address misunderstandings so they aren't repeated in other assignments or in the exam.


Mick's advice on dealing with feedback

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Mick: My name's Mick. I live in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, and I'm currently studying Discovering Science S103 with the Open University. Traditionally my experience in higher education has been in the humanities.

I was quite well informed on my subject matters, but I was also quite opinionated, and I was also quite subjective in my thinking, and I was quite stubborn. I didn't take very well to criticism. I didn't like people questioning my views. So you can imagine, in my first few assignments on the course, that there was obviously a lot of feedback from my tutor in their comments. And, of course, the tutor's feedback would correspond to that and say, "Oh, you know, this is a general statement" or "This is too journalistic". And basically "you need to provide more evidence for your views and opinions, and back them up with other academic writers to produce a more objective conclusion".

But I still continued to make the mistakes. And I remember an assignment shortly after that. I thought I'd written a magnum opus, and I got the tutor's feedback, covered in tutor's comments all over the place, saying "this is all journalistic ... too emotive ... what a sweeping general statement that is". And, of course, it was no surprise that this essay was plastered in comments. All good feedback, I mean, it's all feedback, it's all comments that are designed to help you. But at the end of it my tutor wrote that "Mick, you obviously know your subject matter rather well. However, with all due respect, you do tend to go at it like a brim and firestone preacher thundering from the pulpit". And, of course, I can understand that now. But, at the time, I didn't see it that way. I thought well, "What's wrong with my essay? I thought it was brilliant. How dare you criticise me". And, of course, now I can look back and read the essay and agree with her. But, at the time, I didn't see it that way. At the time I thought "How dare she criticise me? This is my magnum opus and, I would not be challenged this way".

I remember the way I dealt with it at the time, 'cos it's not easy taking that kind of criticism, and what I did was leave it for a couple of days, and then sheepishly go back to my essay and re-read it, and then re-read all the comments, and then give it a couple of days to absorb the comments and think about them. And, after a while I would look back at the comments and say, "Hmm, OK. Yeah, I can see what you mean. Yeah, you've got a point there". And what I did subsequently was try and hone that in, that feedback, into my next few assignments, and be a little bit less subjective and a bit more objective, and avoid the sweeping statements and the journalistic lingo and things. And that was a big help. But I still had a few weaknesses. Some of my writing could still be a little bit too subjective. And sometimes I would neglect to contrast other arguments from other academic writers.

Yes, so studying at postgraduate level, I was doing a masters in humanities, back on to the old history thing. And, of course, at that level, you have to be thoroughly objective. There's no room for emotive language at all. You wouldn't succeed at all in any capacity at that level. And, again I had to go through a process of learning where I'd get lots of feedback from my OU tutor, particularly in my first year, and to a certain degree my second year, where you'd have to justify everything you'd written, and back it up with evidence, not just with evidence from other writers and contrasting them, 'cos that's what you do at first degree level ... at postgraduate level you have to use more evidence, more primary evidence to back up what you're saying. So that proved a bit of a challenge.

Yes, so ultimately the lessons that I've learnt throughout my access course and university and at postgraduate level is to take note of what your tutor's saying, and actually use the feedback that they give as an opportunity to learn. I know, if you're not used to academic writing, it can be quite a a shock sometimes, a bit of a struggle to absorb your tutor's comments initially, 'cos you think "Oh my God, what have I done wrong? Why all these comments? Oh I must be really stupid". It's nothing to do with that. Your tutor's not there to undermine your confidence. He or she are not there to make you look stupid. They're there to help you. And they're there to try and help you improve your academic skills. So really, ultimately what you need to be doing is taking note of your tutor, and have a talk with your tutor. That's what they're there for. You can have a talk to them too, discuss issues further and basically absorb what they're trying to say. And then, try and incorporate what you've learnt into your next assignment, and so on and so forth. And you go through a process of learning. By the end of it, you'll find that you've got the skills that you need at academic level to succeed.

When you get your assignment back, you’ll no doubt look at the grade first and then look at your tutor’s comments. Try to be objective in how you react and use the suggestions below to build on your skills.

  1. Read carefully your tutor’s comments on the assignment and the PT3 form.
  2. Mark anything that you don’t understand and want to ask your tutor about.
  3. Take note of issues to do with your structure and presentation.
  4. Use a tutor-marked assignment (TMA) review form (RTF, 456 KB) to note any suggestions for future improvement.
  5. Keep your feedback in one place and occasionally return to it to identify themes that keep coming up.
  6. Speak to your tutor, or review material on this site for ideas on how to improve.

Take twenty minutes to review your assignment. If you want to check how you're doing on the module so far, you can use the assessment calculator (if available for your module). Find out more about estimating your module results and general assessment and exams matters.

For modules with no exam or EMA, your end-of-module tutor-marked assignment (emTMA) can't be collected until your final module result is issued. You'll be able to download the assignment and PT3 with comments from your tutor in the normal way when you've had your result.

For an example of tutor feedback see K100 - Understanding Health and Social Care (PDF 59KB). You will get a sense of how OU tutors give feedback on such modules from the comments in this example. Tutors tailor any feedback according to the needs of each particular student, however, the comments here are designed to coach students in general assignment writing skills.

Last updated 1 year ago