Essays are daunting to write and often even more daunting to get back. When you get back a piece of writing and you’re not seeing much improvement in your work, it can be both frustrating and discouraging.
Here are 3 steps for how to strategically approach your essay feedback in order to boost both your confidence and your grades:
Step 1: don’t take it personally
Getting harsh feedback is a truly humbling experience, and it can sometimes be really disheartening to receive criticism for a piece of work you have dedicated a lot of time and effort in writing. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to detach yourself from your writing and view any critique of your essay as being aimed solely at your work and not you as a person. However, it cannot be overstated how important it is not to view feedback as a personal attack. Teachers are teachers for a reason, and their expertise and experience should encourage you to embrace any opportunity to gain from their insights. If you take the time to understand their feedback, you’ll more than likely find that their judgement of your work is fair.
Remember: your teachers only want for you to do well, and their comments are there only to help you to improve. Therefore, it only harms you and your grade if you are unable to embrace constructive feedback from your teachers and use it to improve your writing in future essays. It is all too easy to forget to appreciate that giving helpful and tailored feedback takes your teachers time and effort too — so if you receive a lot of detailed feedback, make sure you get the most out of it that you can!
Step 2: focus on the feedback
It might seem very obvious to say that you should take in all the feedback, but it is extremely easy to get hung up on the numbers instead once you receive them. Yet, the written comments are the most valuable—but often most brushed aside—part of getting feedback. Of course, grades are an important indicator of the quality of your essay and the level that you are currently working at. But crucially, grades can only tell you so much; your grade only tells you where you’re at but not how you can improve. That’s where written feedback comes in.
The comments about your essay included by your teacher are important in helping you to understand why you were awarded the mark that they gave you. This is helpful because it gives you a sense of both what you did well in the essay and—most importantly—what you need to work on for next time. Especially if an essay is only formative and is not going to affect your final grade, the mark is only included to indicate to you where your current achievement falls and so the comments are vital to take on board so that you can produce your best work for your summative essays. Even if an essay is partly summative, any feedback you receive is indispensable for guaranteeing that your other summative essays only improve upon it. It is only natural for your essays to get better as you hone your writing skills over the year.
Step 3: dissect your essay
Once you have received feedback for an essay, it is a missed opportunity to forget about it and move onto the next. All essays—both good and bad—can be used as a foundation upon which to base your next essay. If you did some things very well in an essay, that is useful to note down; equally, if you did some things badly in an essay, that is also useful to note down. As a result, after receiving feedback for an essay, it is important to set aside some time to read through it with the teacher’s comments in mind. Particularly valuable is writing up a list of all the things you did well and all the things you need to improve. Once you have done this exercise, not only will you better understand why you got the grade you did, you will also have a handy checklist of dos and don’ts for your next essay.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for more feedback if their comments are surprising or you would like some further clarification. In fact, booking an office hour and having a conversation about your essay is a very useful way of figuring out what your teacher expects from your essays and what you can do to improve. Not only can your teacher clear up any doubts about the essay feedback, they can also provide you with tailored advice for your future writing. As they are the ones marking your essays, this is an invaluable tool for boosting your grades with confidence!