Using feedback to improve performance

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The most effective way to learn is to have your performance evaluated and then to integrate the feedback into your next attempt.

Summative feedback

You receive summative feedback at the end of a course or period of study. Its purpose is to show the level you have achieved. Examples of summative feedback include final course grades and capstone project grades. Summative feedback cannot usually used to improve performance since it comes at the end of the learning period.

Formative feedback

You receive formative feedback or formative assessment during a course of study or period of learning. Its purpose is to show you how to improve your performance by revealing to you areas of weakness or lack of knowledge. Because it is designed to help you improve future performance, it also known as “feedforward” to emphasize its forward-looking perspective. Examples of formative feedback or assessment include teacher’s comments on your work, written comments on drafts, interim quizzes, or informal tests. Formative feedback can take the form of grades or scores (quantitative) or comments (qualitative).

How should I use formative feedback?

Research shows that students look first at their grade, then the grade of their friends and only then do some students read the teacher’s comments. Even fewer students actually try to improve their work by taking into account what the teacher has said. This is a missed opportunity since it is the qualitative feedback which is the most valuable for learning and improving performance.

Consider carefully your teacher’s comments about your work. Try to relate them to your work and then think about what you need to do differently. If the feedback is a grade or score for a mid-semester exam or quiz, then ask your teacher where you lost the most points, what your weakest areas were. Adjust your individual study plan to remedy these weaknesses.

Feedback and the growth mindset

Thinking carefully about formative feedback can be difficult since you are being faced with your weaknesses. However, by accepting that making errors and mistakes is an important part of the learning process, by understanding that with hard work you will improve, you are adapting a very beneficial attitude known as a “growth mindset”. The importance of the “growth mindset” for successful learning is discussed on the dedicated page on this site.

Using feedback to improve performance