It’s not personal: How to take feedback and turn it into success

Receiving criticism can be tough, huh?

When you’ve worked long and hard to submit something you’re proud of, feedback that points out problems with an assignment can put a dent in your confidence.

But let’s face it: despite our best efforts, tutors and lecturers will sometimes find fault with our work.

Your job isn’t to fixate on the negatives. It’s to use the feedback to improve your work!

Here are our tips to help you turn one assignment’s feedback into the next assignment’s success story.

1. Prepare to receive feedback

Spoiler alert: when you hand in an assignment or complete a project, it will eventually be returned to you with some notes on your performance.

Since you know it’s coming, you can get into the right head space to process those notes. Perhaps there’s a time of day or a specific place where you have the time and space to really take on board the feedback? Before seeing your results, you might like to tell yourself that the feedback isn’t a reflection on your value as a person, nor is it an indicator of what you’re capable of at Uni.

Also acknowledge in advance where you might have run into some roadblocks or where you suspect you didn’t altogether nail your response. ‘No one knows your work better than you do, so chances are you’re aware if some areas for improvement are going to be highlighted.

2. Trust that the teacher has your best interests at heart

Are you guilty of getting a little defensive when a teacher or peer provides feedback that isn’t altogether glowing?

Feedback can be hard to hear but remember that it isn’t designed to wound: it’s designed to help you do better next time. It’s also not a reflection of you as a person or of your worth – it’s merely about what you were able to achieve in a task.

A substantial chunk of an academic’s time is spent reflecting on students’ work and giving thoughtful, helpful advice. They devote that time to this task because they want you to have the necessary tools to do better.

In fact, it would be rather incredible if there was no part of your work to improve. After all, our academics have had lifetimes to get familiar with the content. Think of it as them imparting some of that wisdom to you.

3. Use feedback – don’t just file it away!

Good feedback takes time and energy to construct; taking that feedback on board also requires time. A quick glance over some written notes at the end of an essay might be enough to point out where you went wrong, but it won’t stop you making those mistakes again in the future.

Instead of filing feedback away in some dusty desk drawer, go and get some help to address the concerns it raises. That’s where the experts come in! Pay a visit to your tutor or lecturer to ask for guidance. Alternatively, La Trobe’s Peer Learning Advisors can assist you with any areas of your work in need of improvement.

Then, when the next batch of assignment due dates are nearing, dust off the feedback and use it as a guide for what to do – or what not to do – this time. You might even use the notes from the last assignment to create a checklist of things to watch out for. When you tick a pain point off the list, then you can have confidence you won’t get the same note twice!

4. Still not sure where you went wrong? Ask!

Maybe you don’t understand the feedback you received or can’t quite pinpoint where you went wrong.

That’s okay – seek some clarification. Politely ask your tutor if they can re-word or expand upon the notes they’ve provided you.

Remember what we said earlier about their heart being in the right place? They’ll want to do whatever is in their power to make sure you feel confident about doing better next time.

5. Take the good and the bad

A lot of what we’ve talked about above presumes that the feedback you’re receiving is pointing out weaknesses in your work. But if you’ve worked hard on something, there’s a pretty solid chance you’ve received some positive feedback as well.

When someone says, “You make a lot of strong arguments in your essay but…”, it’s tempting to block out whatever came before the ‘but’ and focus solely on the criticism that follows.

Take the compliment. It’s just as important to recognise where you’ve been successful as it is to dwell upon your mistakes.

6. Be kind to yourself

Don’t tear yourself up over one assignment that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.

After all, it’s one assignment, in a sea of assignments. For every time you weren’t altogether pleased with a result, there’ll be another occasion when you really, truly ace an assignment or an exam.

Remember: your overall performance at University is not determined by one assignment. A much bigger factor is how you learn from mistakes, put into action advice you’ve been given and how quickly you can bounce back from disappointment.

Also acknowledge all the other things you’re managing while studying. You might have work and family commitments, not to mention the challenges related to COVID that we face daily. Despite all these things, you still completed and submitted an assignment and took another step on the path towards becoming a better student!