teacher with students

Macquarie University aims to provide a learning environment in which students receive ongoing feedback throughout their studies. This may take the form of group feedback, individual feedback, peer feedback, self-comparison, verbal and written feedback, discussions (online and in class) as well as more formal feedback related to assignment marks and grades. Students are encouraged to draw on a variety of forms of feedback to enhance their learning.

Feedback is a consequence of performance and can be conceptualised as information provided regarding aspects of students’ learning performance or products including corrective information. Feedback is part of formative assessment – it can be used to clarify and correct conceptual and skills-based errors or underdeveloped ideas. Feedback can help learners to generate higher level responses. There are multiple sources of feedback including peers, teachers, other expert sources.

Effective feedback

Effective feedback provides students with guidance that helps them become aware of gaps in their knowledge and skills. It also helps to provide direction in learning by suggesting ways to address these gaps.

There are two types of feedback: formative and summative feedback.

Formative feedback provides timely and specific information on why a particular task is correct or incorrect and offers suggestions to improve performance.

Summative feedback provides information that demonstrates the standing of individuals against a set of criteria, indicating success or failure and informing their level of progress.

In terms of directing learning, formative feedback is generally most useful when it is specifically aimed at improving the student's performance, not to justify summative feedback (grades).

The aim is to assist markers to provide efficient and worthwhile formative feedback that has a maximal chance of leading to improved learning outcomes because students can and will apply it to their work.

Effective formative feedback

Here are some Tips to make feedback effective

Feedback guidelines for staff

The following principles were developed based on research including at Macquarie University to guide staff on how to write effective formative feedback for students. Adhering to these simple principles will maximise the effectiveness of written feedback.

Staff feedback diagram

Principle 1: Personalised

feedback heading personalisedStudents are more likely to take notice of feedback when they know it is specific to their needs and not generic. Using the student's name builds that trust.


Informal, personalised feedback enhances effectiveness.
Build the student's trust that the feedback is intended to help them improve and not a judgment. Make it clear that you have engaged with their assignment. Begin with the student's name

Less effective: Your introduction was poorly constructed but the conclusion was better.

More effective: Caroline, the conclusion is a good example of a well-constructed passage and was a great improvement over the introduction.

Principle 2: Constructive

feedback heading constructivePointing out failures can only be useful in a formative context if accompanied by suggestions for future improvement.


Students respond better to positive tones and constructive suggestions.

Always provide positive as well as negative feedback.

Never use sarcasm!

Start with the positive and make a substantive (i.e. not token or formulaic) point.

For negative points phrase the comment as a question if possible and/or provide concrete suggestions.

Less effective: You need to make a stronger case in the main body.

More effective: Good intro, Alexandra - clearly stated your intention. Do you think more examples might have strengthened your case?

Less effective: You included a lot of irrelevant information - stick to the main topic.

More effective: Thorough coverage, Quentin. Suggest you save some words by eliminating material extraneous to the main topic.

Principle 3: Aligned

feedback heading alignedFeedback, like the assessments they are based on, should be aligned with specific learning outcomes to focus the students' attention on what matters most.


Feedback should align with learning outcomes
Associate the feedback with specific assessment criteria from the marking rubric.

Highlight examples of specific issues.

Provide examples of good practice.

Less effective: Lots of technical terminology made it a bit difficult to read but overall good work.

More effective: Sven, you covered the issues well. Remember the requirement to explain uncommon terms (e.g. in para 2 where you mention 'conation'). One simple way is to give a brief definition in brackets following the first usage.

Less effective:
The assignment didn't include enough exploration of different viewpoints and missed some obvious fallacies.

More effective: Good exposition, Mikhail. Going forward please concentrate on providing deeper analysis (e.g., try the 'opposing view' technique).

Principle 4: Future Focused

feedback heading futureAs formative feedback is aimed at improving student performance, it should target areas useful for future studies or even the workplace.


Formative feedback is only useful if applicable to future studies or work.

Tailor feedback for future improvement and avoid comments that serve only to justify marks.

Focus on the task, not the student.

Choose practical suggestions emphasising how the student could improve future assignments.

Less effective: You lost marks because you did not structure the essay according to the required standards (clearly stated in the rubric).

More effective: Consuela, for the final essay please use the approved structure (check the rubric and also see the example in iLearn).

Less effective:
You sometimes employ weak arguments without backing them up.

More effective: Anh, the second para was a reasonable argument but going forward please provide more supporting evidence.

A suggested approach

The principles outlined in this resource were used to derive the following procedure for a final feedback summary. These quick and simple steps are designed to efficiently deliver the highest impact:

Write a (minimum) 4-sentence final summary in the following format:

  • Start with the student's name and positively affirm the best aspect(s) of the assignment.
  • Phrase a specific criticism in positive tones (e.g. as a question)
  • Provide a concrete suggestion and/or an example (If necessary repeat steps 2-3 but limit to maximum of 4 issues)
  • Final words of encouragement and/or high level advice

Examples of effective feedback


Filipo is a mature aged student returning to university for his second degree. He is worldly wise and more focussed on his studies now than in his youth. Although he has a full time job and studies part-time he is able to compartmentalise his commitments and focus on achieving good results despite time constraints.

Grade: Credit

Less Effective Version More effective version
A reasonable effort. Part of your argument is unconvincing and needs further work. A highly original argument, Filipo. Your use of Vygotsky's work in this area is unique. Do you think that 2000 words gave you enough room to support all your claims? A tightly focused well-supported paper is often more compelling than a wide ranging essay. Try to locate the central problem you have with the position and the arguments used to support it and focus your energies on demonstrating their failings.


Mariko has come to university straight out of high school. She achieved higher than average grades at school and has adjusted well to the university environment. She is enjoying the freedom and autonomy and is keen to do well. She pays close attention to the feedback she receives and, as her approach to study matures, Mariko will fulfil her true potential.

Grade: Distinction

Less Effective Version More effective version
A very good essay. A well structured paper, Mariko. Clear introduction, cogent argument and concisely stated conclusion. Can you see any way that an opponent of rigid developmental stages could respond to Piaget's arguments? Don't rely too heavily on one source (no matter how well respected). Evaluate both sides of a debate, look at their arguments critically and then give your assessment of the stronger position.


Wolfgang is an international student struggling with English as his second language. He is capable of good grades but has not yet found his feet. He is only vaguely aware of the availability of student support services.

Grade: Fail

Less Effective Version More effective version
I'm surprised you bothered to submit this essay, it falls far short of the standards expected for undergraduate level. Your sentences are virtually incomprehensible and the whole essay fails to follow any standard conventions. Your sources are meagre and you haven't even properly cited them. A determined effort, Wolfgang, though it has not reached the required standard. I suggest you try our various study support facilities (e.g. StudyWise; Learning Skills; etc) to get help on essay writing. Focus on (1) essay construction (including citations and referencing); and (2) clarity of argument. Your tutors can also help prepare you for essays in future.

Resources and further reading

  1. Formative Feedback at Macquarie University: What Students Say They Want.
  2. Price, M; Handley, K:  Jill Millar, J & O'Donovan, B (2010). Feedback : all that effort, but what is the effect? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 35, No. 3, 277-289
  3. Shute, V (2007). Focus on Formative Feedback. Educational Testing Service (ETS)
  4. Hattie, J & Timperley, H (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research , Vol. 77, No. 1, 81-112
  5. Jessop, T;  El Hakim, Y & Gibbs, G (2014). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: a large-scale study of students' learning in response to different programme assessment patterns.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39:1, 73-88
  6. Agius, N & Wilkinson, A (2014). Students' and teachers' views of written feedback at undergraduate level: A literature review. Nurse Education Today, vol. 34, 552-559
  7. Li, J & De Luca, R (2014). Review of assessment feedback. Studies in Higher Education, Vol.39:2, 378-393
  8. Weaver, M (2006). Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors' written responses, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31:3, 379-394
  9. Lizzio, A & Wilson, K (2008). Feedback on assessment: students' perceptions of quality and effectiveness, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33:3, 263-275
  10. Hyland, F & Hyland, K (2001). Sugaring the pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of Second Language Writing 10: 185-212
  11. David Nicol (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:5, 501-517

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