Professor Feedback: What Your Teacher's Comments Really Mean

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Professor feedback is an important part of your education. Effective professor feedback tells you what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and what you need to do to improve. Simply stated, the teacher feedback should tell you exactly where you stand. Collectively, students seem to recognize the importance of feedback. According to Rate My Professor — the leading student-driven consumer report on professors — the very best professors rate highly for “gives good feedback.” In fact, professor feedback routinely outranks “clear grading criteria” among those scoring the highest professor ratings. In other words, the best professors are those who focus as much, or more, on useful feedback as on grading.

But are you really making the most of your professor’s margin comments? Do you really know what your professor’s feedback means? More importantly, are you prepared to improve your own work based on that feedback?

If you’re looking for some expert tips for completing an excellent college essay, check out the following resources:

And for more great study tips and materials, check out The Study Lounge

Otherwise, read on for our handy little professor feedback decoder. Use our interpreter to make sure you’re getting the most out of your professor’s next batch of comments:

 Why Professor Feedback Matters

In his multi-part documentary Planet Word, British humorist, actor and all-around Renaissance Man Stephen Fry explains that people often prefer to speak to one another in gentle euphemisms rather than bald-faced truths. He notes that the English have a particular gift for sugar-coating harsh realities.

This gift is especially valuable to those in education. Professors must wade through any number of run-on sentences, literary non-sequiturs, and head-scratching turns-of-phrase in order to assign fair grades. It must take a heroic level of restraint to offer constructive criticism to students who deserve more of the latter than the former. But restraint is important because educators are there both to enlighten and encourage. There is a risk that overly harsh criticism could cloud the potential for both.

Essay grading, in particular, is a sensitive science. It isn’t always easy to hone commentary that is forthright and direct but which doesn’t destroy your student’s fragile psyche. Below, and in the spirit of the great Stephen Fry, we offer this friendly translator for understanding professor feedback and making the most of this valuable insight:

 Handy Professor Feedback Decoder

What Professors Say What Students Hear What Professors Mean
Go back and give this a second look. I’m pretty close. This is drivel.
Good use of imagery. I’ve painted a vivid picture with my words. Superficial and otherwise unreadable.
Are you sure about this? The website I borrowed this from is probably wrong. This is wrong,
Much improved from the original draft. This is good enough. This is bad but the original was so much worse.
Organization could be improved. I just need to shuffle some things around. I couldn’t make heads or tails of your argument.
Rephrase more clearly. At least I got the basic premise right. Were you drunk when you wrote this?
Be sure that your support statements back your thesis. At least my thesis is good. This argument doesn’t hang together.
This is a good start. I totally nailed it. You have a long way to go.
Good point, needs more support. I’ve made a compelling case. I know what you were trying to say. Do you?
Does not seem relevant to your argument. I wrote all this extra fluff for no good reason. You made me read all this extra fluff for no good reason.
This word is used incorrectly. This word doesn’t make me sound as smart as I thought it would. Do you even own a dictionary?
Passive voice. Grammar rule I don’t fully understand. Ignore this comment. Flimsy and indirect sentence structure.
Misplaced modifier. I should just delete all the adjectives in this sentence and move on. This sentence doesn’t convey its intended descriptive meaning.
Citation? It’s obvious that I stole this idea. Did you steal this idea?
Explain in greater detail. I should find new ways to say the same thing over and over again. Try harder.
Please see me. I really blew it. You really blew it.

Now that you understand the secret language of professors, perhaps you’d like to become one. If you’re interested in earning an education degree, check out:

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