17: Handling results and feedback on your essay

The good news is that you turned in your essay and the bulk of work is now done. The bad news is that it is not over yet until you get your grade and find out what feedback your tutor has for you on the essay. You have to always remember that it is a learning experience - learning within your speciality and academic field as well as learning how to improve your research and writing skills.

Chapter 17 contents:

17.1: Learning from the experience

In learning from the experience, you first can ask yourself some questions prior to getting feedback from the tutor:

  • What challenges did you face when doing the essay?
  • How did you handle those challenges?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What have you learned from the essay research and essay writing experience?

Even if you feel like you could do things better or would have handled it differently, don't get discouraged. You still have to congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished so far. It is important to always keep a positive frame of mind and perspective on the experience to date.

Think about specific things you did do well and see how you could improve these things in the future:

  • When it came to planning, did you use your time effectively or could you manage your time better or select a better environment to use while researching and writing your essay?
  • In terms of writing the essay, did you do what assignment asked, including covering all ideas, using the right referencing system, and avoiding any plagiarism?
  • What part of the writing process was the easiest? What part was the most difficult?
  • Could you invest in any materials that would have helped the research or writing process?
  • Are there any aspects of the presentation that are proud of or would you do anything differently that would make a better first impression?
  • Did you learn anything from reading any of your classmates' essays that you could apply to your own work in the future?

If you have any negative impressions about how you did prior to getting the feedback from the tutor, try to see how you can turn those into positives or create an action plan for the future that will make those positives on your next essay submission.

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17.2: Understanding feedback on your essay

Now that you have analysed your abilities and your essay prior to hearing back from your tutor, now it's time to get the news about how you did from the most important source - your tutor. This section will cover getting some praise, understanding what the marks mean, and handling any potential disappointment if the feedback is less than glowing and your mark was not what you wanted.

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17.2.1: Taking positive feedback on your essay

While you may think that all comments on your essay from your tutor are going to be negative, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that there will be some positive comments sprinkled in there. Take them! Enjoy them! Congratulate yourself on getting one or more positive remarks from your tutor! Also, be sure to note exactly what they are praising on your essay so you can do that again on all essays in the future whether it is something related to structure, content, analysis or presentation. This is part of the learning experience and something to apply to future essays.

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17.2.2: What do your essay marks mean?

Not everyone reading this book may be familiar with the UK marking system because they do handle grading differently in other countries, so we've added this section to help you specifically understand what your essay mark means.

The essay marking system is based on percentages but these are slightly different than what you may be accustomed to so don't get upset if you see what you think is a low mark because it actually could still be very good, according to a UK university. Here goes:

  • 70% or higher: This is referred to as a first-class grade and it means you have produced an exceptional essay. Just be aware that tutors do not often give marks out in the 80 or 90 percentiles, so if you got anything above 70%, it's time for a celebration! This means that if you consistently get a grade like this, then you will graduate with a first.
  • 60-69%: Students are happy with this grade because it is considered a 2:1 grade and means you are graduating with an upper second and have produced a very good essay.
  • 50-59%: This is a lower second, or a 2:2, and is still considered good. It just means that there is room for improvement and consider the feedback closely so you can aim for a 2:1 on the next essay.
  • 40-49%: This is a disappointing grade for sure because you have received a third class level, which could bring the level of your degree down and that does not sit well with potential future employers. It means you did not produce an essay that illustrates skill or competence.
  • Less than 40%: This is a fail and it means you didn't do anything well. You will need to seriously put more effort into your work going forward or you will not be able to get a degree.

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17.2.3: How to cope with getting a lower mark and handling disappointment

Most often, you know in your heart what you are going to get because you are honest with yourself in terms of how much effort and skill you put into the essay or where you cut corners and winged it. If you get feedback and marks that were lower than you expected, the first thing you need to think about is to consider what you can do to improve them based on the feedback provided and what you know makes a good essay. This is not the time to just become depressed and give up. It's time to deal with disappointment, learn from the experience, and move forward.

Here are some tips on how to cope with a lower mark and your disappointment:

  • Read all the comments from your tutor carefully. Look at what you could fix immediately and what is more complicated.
  • Don't be angry with yourself for making careless grammar, punctuation, referencing or spelling mistakes. Just fix them the next time and understand how important these types of details are for your essay grade.
  • If you lost marks because you didn't understand something in terms of content within the course, this can be frustrating for you, but again you cannot beat yourself up over it. What you can do is take note that you should always go and ask for clarification or get some other assistance that will help you better understand the course content the next go-round.
  • None of the negative feedback should lead you to believe that you are the worse student over. It simply means you need to get advice and change your strategy on future essay assignments.

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17.3: Working with your tutor on the feedback

One of the best things you can do is work with your tutor on the feedback and take their advice as you go forward. Or, it may be that you don't understand the feedback they have provided so it is essential that you meet with your tutor and get clarification. Here are some tips on working with your tutor:

  • Don't try to talk to them after class where they may be rushed or distracted. Instead, set an appointment during their office hours or contact them via email to set a convenient time to discuss your questions or concerns.
  • Be prepared for your meeting with your tutor with a list of questions along with your essay marked where you needed specific clarification or assistance to understand what you could have done better.
  • If the problem lies in your understanding of the course content, specifically ask what chapters and areas would help you clarify it for you.
  • If the marks were low because of how you answered the essay question, ask your tutor how you could have argued differently or what you should have expanded to achieve better marks.
  • Ask the tutor to show you an essay that did receive better marks so you can read it and see how it is different than yours. Just bear in mind that they may not be willing to do this because they do not want to take away from you putting individual thought into your work. If this is the case, you can also ask a classmate to see theirs if they got good marks just to see the differences.

Working with your tutor also means taking action after they have provided answers to your questions and provided some direction. Here's what you can do:

  • Find some time to rewrite your essay with all the feedback in mind. While you may not improve your grade this go-round by doing so, it will help solidify how to make improvements on future essays for better marks then. See if you can at least show your tutor the improved version to get more feedback to learn from the experience.
  • Get support from other sources, especially if you are having trouble because English is your second language or you have any type of learning or concentration issues. Your students' union often can connect you with counselling services to help with concentration, mentoring services to help with time management, or other services that can help diagnose any dyslexia or even if you need your eyes tested and glasses would help you. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to ask or use this help. Most often, the services are free and they are confidential.  All of this support can help you perform better and improve the likelihood that you will be successful on your future academic endeavours.

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17.4: Moving on to the next essay

After all is said and done, it is time to move on and start preparing for your next essay assignment. All of this analysis should help you to see what you need to work on as well as what you have achieved so far. Your goal should be to aim for a slightly better mark on the next essay. Here are some pointers as you move on:

  • Whatever you did good in the previous essay, make those things better the next time around.
  • Where you needed to improve, focus on those aspects specifically as you set up your essay plan and start working on that essay.
  • Use all the support services that are available to you and don't be afraid to ask for clarification from your tutor. While the tutor cannot read your essay before you submit it, they can provide feedback on your essay plan and your essay outline.
  • While you may still stumble the second time around, just keep going and keep learning from any mistakes that are made. You will get there and you will see improvements as you continue through your academic career.

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Chapter 17: In Summary

In summarising the chapter, consider these questions:

  • How can you focus on what you have achieved as well as assess what you can do better prior to getting the tutor's feedback?
  • How can you turn your own negative comments into positive action?
  • What do you do when you receive positive feedback from your tutor?
  • How does the UK university marking system work?
  • How can you deal with getting a lower mark than you expected on your essay?
  • What is the best way to deal with disappointment?
  • How can you work with your tutor to learn from your essay writing experience?
  • How can you take action to improve for your next essay?
  • What types of support services are available and how can you use them?
  • How do you move on to your next essay?

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