Making the most of feedback

Information about different types of essay and project feedback, and techniques for using this effectively.

Two people sitting at a table looking at some work together
Two people sitting at a table looking at some work together

What feedback is

One of the best ways to learn is by hearing others' reflections and thoughts on our own understandings.

Feedback is simply any kind of response to the work you do, so you get feedback all the time in many different forms, such as:

  • An academic reacts to a question you raise in class.

  • Another student disagrees with you about the best book on a specific topic.

  • You discuss your views on a topic with others in a seminar class.

  • Someone praises you for getting to the lab much earlier than them.

  • A lecturer explains a theorem that lots of students misapplied in an exam.

  • The comment sheet on your essay asks for development of a specific argument.

Types of feedback

At university, you will get feedback in formal and informal ways. Some of it will be given alongside assessments and grades, and some of it will relate to unassessed work.

You may hear these types of feedback referred to as formative and summative.

Formative feedback

This is feedback provided formally by a tutor or a peer on a draft or interim piece of work.

Use it to

  • refine and develop your approach to an assignment
  • reinforce what you are doing well and build on it
  • identify key areas that need further attention before completing a summative assignment

Summative feedback

This is feedback provided alongside a grade, typically at the end of a module or section of your course.

Use it to

  • understand why you got a particular grade on that assignment
  • inform your work on a subsequent module or assignment
  • identify strengths and skills gaps to work on as part of your academic progress

For more information on feedback and how to make the most of it, visit the University Feedback portal.

Putting feedback into practice

You'll notice that many instances of feedback occur frequently in your day-to-day studies, and it's important to recognise that formal feedback on assessment is just one particularly important and focused instance of this more general learning process.

Formalised feedback is a communication you can potentially learn from, just like all the others. However, it is like any genuine communication: it requires a response.

You wouldn’t expect to learn from a lecture if you didn't think about its contents. So, you will only make the most of feedback by working to turn it into ideas for future action.

Have a look at the feedback action plan (PDF, 510KB) to have a go at working out how to transform your feedback into action.

You can reflect on

  • what your feedback tells you about what you have learnt
  • whether you've learnt the right things in the right way
  • how you could have gone about this learning better

Read more about the reflective learning process

Sometimes, you might want to seek additional clarification to follow up on your feedback. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Ask your tutor for a meeting to discuss your feedback.

  • Discuss your feedback with your peers – did they receive similar comments? What can you learn from their feedback?

  • Have a look at the 301 feedback glossary (PDF, 6.8MB).

  • Book onto a workshop at 301 or Maths and Statistics Help (MASH) to learn more about specific areas of your work.

  • Log your feedback.

  • Rate it for usefulness.

  • Create a portfolio of learning points.

  • Get access to relevant resources.

  • Apply the feedback to your ongoing academic work.

Creating a feedback record

Keeping good records of your feedback is an important part of the process of putting it to good use.

Use the Feedback Portal to log your feedback, rating it for usefulness and pulling out the main learning points to act on next time.

You can link to a Google file to keep an accurate record of all feedback received during your course.

Remember: feedback is only feedback if it results in action. Use the feedback action planning template to put your feedback into action.

Top tips

Collect your feedback and read it.

When assessing it, be objective – if you’re upset by the grade or wording, come back to it later when you’re less emotional.

Take feedback records. Adopt a strategy for recording and storing your feedback – it's useful to compare across modules.

Follow up on your feedback if you need to – it doesn't have to be an endpoint.

Help each other assessing feedback. Swap and discuss feedback with your peers.

Stay positive. Pay attention to positives as well as negatives.



301 – Feedback portal

School of Architecture – Feedback handbook

University of Sheffield Library – Information and digital literacy resources

Digital Learning - Assessments and exams


Study guides and strategies – Using feedback/working with tutors 

Leadership and learning – Using the four types of feedback effectively  

The Higher Education Academy – 10 feedback resources

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