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Marking, feedback and feedforward are key aspects of learning and teaching. Through assignments, students can apply the knowledge and skills they have been developing during the module and should be able to use marks and feedback to give them an indication of how far they have been successful and what they need to do to improve in the future.  

To enhance inclusivity, marking and feedback should communicate clearly to the student what they have achieved, how far they have met the stated learning outcomes of the module, and the standards expected by the department for study at this level. 

They also need to clearly communicate any particular areas of weakness which the student needs to address in order to improve their performance or achieve higher grades, and feedforward with recommendation about how they can achieve this in the next (similar) assignment. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Ensure, when you set the assignment, that all of the information students need to do well is easily located and explicitly stated from the outset – this includes requirements in relation to referencing, use of tables/diagrams etc., any particular content they need to include, e.g. if you want undergraduates to connect the results of an experiment or study to a particular theory in order to achieve a high grade, you may need to state this explicitly as part of the question.  
  • Allow some time for students to read and check their understanding of the marking criteria before they commence their assignment. Don’t presume that they will look at it unprompted or that they will understand it the first time they read it. Providing explicit training to help students to understand the values and expectations of your subject is an important part of learning to be a graduate in your discipline (see Marking Criteria Literacy). 
  • Ensure that your method of marking and feedback is accessible to all students. For example, do not rely solely on colour, free-hand drawing or ambiguous symbols (ticks, crosses, question marks) to convey meaning. If the departmental process for summative marking has been shown to be accessible, use this method for formative assessments whenever possible.
  • Use language from the marking criteria to explain/justify the grade awarded. If you feel this isn’t accessible to students, you may need to provide further explicit explanation about how it relates to this particular assignment.  
  • Don’t just say that something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – illustrate your point by providing specific examples (and page numbers) from students’ work to make sure your meaning is clear.  
  • Don’t overwhelm the student – provide a clear indication of a few strengths and prioritise two or three key areas for improvement which will have the most impact on the student’s work. 
  • Provide clear advice (feedforward) about what students should do next time improve their performance – you might like to start with imperative verbs, e.g. ‘remember to use concepts from X to support your position’ ‘try looking at theory Y from the perspective of…’ ‘improve your conclusion by ….’ 
  • Specific detailed advice about how to do this is also advisable e.g. ‘review the lecture on X on Learn Ultra’; ‘read Chapter Z in…’; ‘look for examples of this in the following journals…’
  • Make time in a lecture or seminar to provide feedback on common areas of difficulty shared by a large number of students. If students feel comfortable, they could be encouraged to share their individual feedback (not their mark) with a classmate and ask for advice about how they could improve for next time. You could then take general questions from the floor for any questions which remain outstanding. 
  • For smaller groups, you might like to ask students how they would prefer their feedback to be communicated so that it is accessible for them (in line with university/departmental policy). For example, some students may prefer to have audio or video feedback as a voiceover whilst looking at their work on the screen. 
  • Adopting multiple forms of delivery for feedback allows students to engage with whichever they find most useful, e.g. audio or video with a transcript; short typed feedback followed up with a face-to-face discussion (individual, small group or large group).

Further Reading

Burke, D. M. and Pieterick, J. (2010) Giving students effective written feedback. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Philips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D. and Molloy, E. (2019) ‘What Makes for Effective Feedback: Student and Staff Perspectives.’ Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.’ Vol. 44(1) pp.25-36.