Feedback: How to Get it and Use it

Feedback: How to Get it and Use it

By: Stephanie Bizeur and Yana Weinstein

Stephanie just graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a degree in History and Psychology.  She will be going on to get her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from UMass Lowell.  During this time she will be working as a substitute teacher and volunteering at Lawrence Catholic Academy (LCA).

Earlier this week, we put together a digest of resources for teachers on how to provide good quality writing feedback. But feedback is pointless if students don’t actually use it to improve their work! As a student, you may think that “feedback” only comes after you’ve completed an assignment, and that’s when you find out that you may not have done as well as you thought. The feedback may be negative because your argument was not well organized, or because you did not follow the instructions of the assignment. Do you have an upcoming presentation, paper, project, or assignment that you want to do well on? Do you want to know how to be successful in this assignment? Here we give you tips for how to get and use feedback to improve your work.

First, we describe why feedback is important, and what makes for good feedback. Then, we give you – the student – step-by-step instructions on how to get and use feedback from your professors. It is important for students to get feedback from their professors BEFORE they turn in their final assignment! Feedback has been shown to create a positive learning process and to allow a professor to demonstrate more effectively how they want the assignment done (1). For example, a professor may instruct a student to use primary sources; when a draft is submitted for feedback, the professor can then see how the student analyzes the document as well as examining whether or not it is a primary source as instructed.

When getting feedback from your professor, if at all possible it is ideal if the feedback comes in two forms: written and oral. Written feedback is important because it allows you to go back and look at it in your own time; whereas oral feedback is important because it allows a professor to fully explain to you what they would like you to change, and why (2).

Now, let’s get you good feedback!

Step 1: Ask your professor if they take drafts; if not, ask an adviser, a writing center staff member, or a trusted peer to give you feedback using the same steps listed below.

Step 2: Create a due date for yourself TWO weeks (if possible) before the actual paper is due, and mark it in your planner or on your calendar. (If there is already a draft due date in the syllabus, you can just use that date).

*Remember: Submitting a draft early will allow enough time for feedback as well as your own revision following that feedback.*

Step 3: Collect information and read primary source materials before writing your draft. Take notes, create an outline, and write your draft.

Photo by Stephanie Bizeur

Photo by Stephanie Bizeur

*Remember: The best way to get feedback is by having a developed draft that includes topics and concepts that you want to discuss.*

Step 4: Print your draft and/or email it to your Professor (depending on their preference) on the due date you set 2 weeks before the assignment is due, OR on their draft due date. 

Step 5: Ask the Professor before they give you the feedback that if at all possible, you would be very grateful to get both written and oral feedback from them.

Photo by Stephanie Bizeur

Photo by Stephanie Bizeur

Step 6: Make sure you’ve understood the feedback. If anything is unclear, ask clarification questions.

Step 7: VERY IMPORTANT! Go back and revise your assignment based on the feedback you received. If the professor took time to provide you with feedback, then you must take the time to use it! There’s nothing worse than receiving a final assignment with all the same errors as the first draft (and some professors will even give negative points for ignoring feedback).

Step 8 (optional): After making your revision, give the paper to a peer as well. A good idea is to give it to a student who is not in your class. If your friend can understand what you’re writing about without you explaining it to them, then other people should be able to understand it as well. And your friend may also learn from providing this feedback (3)!

If you're a student, you might also like: 

Be Your Own Teacher: How To Study With Flashcards

Be Your Own Teacher: How To Study A Textbook

Be your Own Teacher: How To Study With Pictures

If you're a teacher interested in writing assignments and feedback, you might also like:

Weekly Digest #2: Writing Resources

Weekly Digest #10: How To Grade Writing Assignments

Weekly Digest #7: Grading and Giving Feedback on Homework Assignments


(1) Gross, S., Mokbel, B., Hammer, B., & Pinkwart, N. (2013). Towards providing feedback to students in absence of formalized domain models. In Artificial Intelligence in Education (pp. 644-648). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

(2) Blair, A., Curtis, S., Goodwin, M., & Shields, S. (2013). What feedback do students want? Politics, 33(1), 66-79.

 (3) Patchan, M. M., & Schunn, C. D. (2015). Understanding the benefits of providing peer feedback: How students respond to peers’ texts of varying quality. Instructional Science, 43(5), 591-614.