The Student

Improving exam feedback is crucial for students and universities

If The Guardian’s most recent University League tables are anything to go by, it is evident our student body is anything but “satisfied with feedback” from The University of Edinburgh, which has made its roots firmly in the bottom in this category. The most pressing reason for this has to be exam feedback, or rather, the total lack thereof.

It would be inconceivable to be left without appropriate essay feedback. Your tutor’s comments are imperative, especially in the formative years, to your understanding of what is expected of you and how to continue making improvements. Yet examinations make up the biggest proportion of our marks and degrees, making the lack of feedback that seems to be specific to this kind of assessment even more bewildering. Obviously, as courses are large and numerous, logistical constraints play a part. But solutions can be found in more generalised forms of feedback, which the university is failing to offer.

Universities are now part of a competitive market, and failing to improve Edinburgh’s notoriously low student satisfaction levels will have negative consequences for our university. This is why improved feedback and communication between tutors and students is so imperative to the future of this institution. There are many avenues the university can explore in terms of exam feedback. General online feedback could be made accessible online to students containing the medium mark, perhaps a top mark and failure rate, and then on a question-by-question basis evaluating common mistakes. Exam scripts could be distributed to tutors and regular meetings organised, much like those in welcome week.

At the very least, the introductory lecture at the start of each semester could spend some time going through the previous exam on top of, or better yet instead of, the repetition of the administrative side of courses that we already have ready access to. It is understandable that the marking process is complex and time consuming, but it is in the university’s interest for students to achieve the best possible marks, and this surely seems an endeavour worth committing to. Unlike the impracticality of detailed individual exam comments, these more generalised forms of feedback cited would be fairly easy to achieve whilst being of huge benefit to the student body and university alike.

Whilst some universities offer these modes of feedback, they are sporadic not only between schools, but between certain exams as well. A standardised form should be set across the university. A mark without explanation bears little significance, and greater clarity would not only help students improve as they progress through university, but also hand greater accountability to markers.

Furthermore, the point of communication is imperative in this process and one which is distinctly lacking in our university. Few people collect their exam scripts and even fewer people know that they have a legal right, under the Data Protection Act 1998, to receive detailed feedback for any examination, as this is considered personal information. Universities have up to 40 calendar days after examination results are published or 5 months after the request has been received so email, phone, knock on your school’s door, and ensure you get the little feedback you are entitled to.

Image: Pete via Flickr