It has been a tough journey for me to master assessments.
During my first time at uni, I constantly missed deadlines, misunderstood the tasks, researched inefficiently and answered assessments incorrectly – if I did them at all. I never dreamed of asking an academic for help. There were pieces missing from the puzzle I can see now. I didn’t have good study habits, or know how to put together assignments properly, and as I sunk further behind I was too busy spinning the web of excuses of why I was missing the next deadline, that no teacher ever got the chance to realise just how bad I was at academia.
No surprise I got to second year and the head coordinator, on finally discovering my case, told me that because I had either not received or learned from the feedback I got in my subjects, I had not learned to improve in first year, so now it was second year I had failed to gain several key skills that are the whole point of university… Ouch.
So from the long hard and arduous road, several bridging courses and three years of uni later, plus all the academic tips I can possibly think of already shared with you in the Mastering Assessments series, I have one last tip: how to receive feedback – and what to do with it if you aren’t happy.
The Importance of Feedback
Here’s a crash course in understanding uni basics:
Assessments are designed to show academics you understand the subjects they are teaching you and developing opinions of your own. The ways they organise these assessments are designed to provide you with graduate skills that will help you in your future career. They are listed individually in your subject guides for each subject. Each subject’s target skills are different from the next. You might get group work to develop your teamwork skills. You might have to give a presentation, to strengthen your confidence and public speaking. Exams teach you to write under pressure, which helps you in your career with deadline stress, while essays build research skills, analysis and critical thinking (problem solving), as well as time management… you get the idea.
The first assessments in each subject exist to ensure you make time to study from day one. They also give you a chance to get feedback on your understanding of the topic and your developing general skills. It is so important to learn from this feedback so that you can apply it to the bigger assessments like the major essays and exams! Had only I known that, I might have actually passed first year way back when. I don’t regret the major failures I went through because I learned so much, particularly to come back to uni only when I was ready to take it seriously.
Reading Your Feedback and Tweaking for Next Time
So how does this help you with those assessments?
Well, your first grades will indicate where you need to make improvements for the bigger assessments in a few weeks:
What do your tutors think of your spelling and punctuation? Have you been consistent with your referencing, and overall spelling and punctuation? Used the full stops and commas in the right spots each time? If they’ve circled a lot of points, consider having someone else read over your next assignment before submission. This small difference may earn you an extra 5 marks.
Same goes with layout. Is it double spaced, correctly margined, with the title and your name, student ID number, etc? If you’ve done it incorrectly this time, there’s a way to get a few extra points next time as well.
You’ll never guess what I have a hard time keeping under control. Actually you might. Word counts. The rule goes that 10% under or over is acceptable. So don’t write 1500 words on a 1000 word essay, they won’t grade you down for going over word count, but in more or less the same thing they’ll downgrade you for not being clear and concise and arguing your point succinctly. Because everyone else in the class has to be able to – so there are no exceptions for us wafflers.
These sorts of things may be pointed out in your first assignments and can help you earn just a few points extra in the next assessments.
But what else might they be saying in your feedback? There are the big three in my opinion that drop you down a grade every time:
Topic: Are you actually answering the question? At the end of each paragraph is the reader able to say exactly what your topic is and that you are answering it with an argument and clear examples?
Argument: is it clear? Are you showing a strong opinion one way or another, or do you think the topic at hand is complicated? Whichever way, make sure you are to the point.
Examples, evidence: are they relevant and do you link each one back to the argument? Again, at the end of each paragraph the reader has to feel like they are on a journey to being convinced by your argument and examples.
These babies are the major criteria in an essay so if you don’t get these right, As become Bs and Bs become Cs. So carefully read your first assessments and look for clues as to whether they think you need to work on these areas. Remember skeleton structures work really well at helping you keep these areas strong. Here’s a reminder.
Argument: This essay will show that chocolate is good for you.
Examples: It reduces the risk of blood clots causing heart attacks and strokes.
Research shows it releases endorphins to make you happy.
It can reduce risks of cancer
When you start an essay with a skeleton it can be helpful to return to it as you write and make sure you’re not introducing unnecessary extra information or going off topic.
*Did you know that when you submit an essay or major assessment, the lecturers and tutors will only give you feedback if you attach a stamped self-addressed envelope to your submission?
Tragically so many students only want the grade and so the tutors will only dedicate extra time to students who proactively send the envelope to show they care enough to want that extra feedback. Obviously I am one of those. I religiously attach my envelopes every time, so that’s how I can tell you where common mistakes are made, because they are the common mistakes I’ve made over the years that drag my grades down. Usually its the overnighters and rush jobs or assessments where you aren’t 100% focused where these mistakes usually show themselves best, so more than anything, have someone else look at those ones for a fresh take, or leave it a couple of days before reviewing it. It may help reveal simple ways to improve. Teachers talk about these sorts of errors enough that you know they are the most common mistakes everyone makes!
Anyway next topic!
If you get an A or an N (F), then your work will be double marked. Keep that in mind.
Contesting Your Grade
What do you do if you aren’t happy with the grade you got? Typically you start with your tutor. Having a chat with them during their consultation hour lets them know you aren’t happy and gives them the opportunity to explain to you why they graded you as such. Usually this rectifies things a bit more clearly than the feedback on the assignment (which can sometimes be illegible). If you still aren’t satisfied, go to your lecturer, and see what they suggest. They may re-mark it – watch out this may not bring you a more favourable grade, but at least it gives you a second opinion.
I contested a few grades last year, or visited lecturers and tutors to talk through the assessment. It helped me a lot to get a clearer perspective on where they were coming from in the approach they took to marking.
Of course there are avenues you can take if you ever need to extend further past the teaching staff. The Student Union has a great student advocacy team who can give you an unbiased opinion, and the Student Complaints Office are also out there for other issues. Not so much for assessments but for general aggrievements.
So now you know, feedback can help you rock your next essay!
Generally anything you do early in semester will be handed back in class, including tests but NOT exams, the grades of which are never known unless you are good at math and calculate it yourself. Any final assessments will be kept by staff unless you provide the magic envelope that gets it back with that beautiful feedback on it.