Have you ever gotten back an exam paper with a grade on it and asked yourself, “What do I make of this?” The grade might tell you where you stand, but it doesn’t help you if you want to know how to improve. It’s just the wrong kind of feedback.
There are three main types of feedback that actually work: appreciation, coaching and evaluation.
They each have different functions. Appreciation motivates and encourages, coaching helps you improve, and evaluation helps you understand where you stand, and what’s expected of you.
Before a basketball game, your coach might give you a pep talk – that’s him coaching you. During the match he might encourage you from the sideline, by saying “nice shot” or “keep it up.” After the game, he will probably evaluate your team’s strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll know how best to continue training.
Different situations call for different types of feedback. When you’ve already given your best and feel exhausted, it is important to be appreciated for your effort. In this situation, it wouldn‘t help much to be coached on doing things better.
On the other hand, when you’re in trouble and actually need coaching, some cheerful appreciation like “you’re doing just fine” won’t help either. You need to learn what kind of feedback will help you in which situations, so you can go seek it out.
So tune into your needs and wants. If you want to write better papers in the future, ask your professor for some pointers. Then you can improve by listening to their feedback.
Learn to identify what feedback you need. It’ll be much easier to get it.