When teaching undergraduates, I find myself trying to balance making them stretch to produce good work and giving them guidance. I must admit in my own undergraduate and graduate studies I rarely if ever asked for feedback (plenty of missed opportunities for me). That might color my judgment on this question.

This question is somewhat related to this other one Drawing Lines when Giving Ideas to Undergraduate Students; however, this question is more focused on when to give feedback and when not to.

I generally do quite a few in-class activities (and am considering automated online no-penalty testing) and I consider those ample chances for students to gain feedback which does not affect their final grade (formative feedback). Most modules in my department are assessed by one written report. While I do have the ability to change how my modules are assessed the question still remains:

Does reviewing drafts and giving advice on how to improve their graded submission (prior to actual submission) maximize student learning?

I am interested in any research in this field as well as expert opinions.

Arguments for giving feedback before submission

  1. Students may genuinely not understand what is expected of them (although I do feel I cover it quite well in dedicated review sessions)
  2. Students may work harder when things are made crystal clear

Arguments against giving feedback before submission

  1. Students may end up looking to the teacher for too much assistance and will, therefore, become more dependent where we want to foster independence
  2. Students may be lazy and simply wait for the teacher to tell them exactly what to write seek excessive hand-holding when deciding what to write.

In student surveys asking for what students would most like to see more of, students primarily choose to have more feedback of their drafts prior to submission. This is unsurprising since (almost) everyone wants a better grade. However, I'm thinking that reviewing of drafts is actually hindering student learning.

  • Your questions asks "is it a good idea," which sounds like it could lead to lots of people giving their own opinions. Are you looking for research on this subject? Experiences from educators? Please clarify.
    – ff524
    Jul 14, 2014 at 8:57
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    Students may be lazy and simply wait for the teacher to tell them exactly what to write — That's not what "feedback" means.
    – JeffE
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:07
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    Hand-holding is also not what "feedback" means.
    – JeffE
    Jul 15, 2014 at 12:21
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    Pointing out errors (or better yet, asking leading questions that expose errors), guiding students through related examples that illustrate general techniques, guiding students through a detailed solution of the actual homework problem after they submit their own solutions, and saying "You need to figure out the details yourself." are all appropriate and useful feedback. Guiding them through a detailed solution of an assigned problem before the due date is hand-holding.
    – JeffE
    Jul 15, 2014 at 18:47
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    At least sometimes, yes, but it's not black and white; you have some freedom in how to point out errors. Asking "Did you check your answer when x=0?" gives away less than "Your answer is wrong when x=0", which gives gives away less than "You dropped a minus sign in step 4".
    – JeffE
    Jul 17, 2014 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


A first point is to ask what is the purpose of the activity to be graded? Is it to test student's knowledge, or is it to provide a learning activity? If it is the former, then feedback before grading seems counter-productive. If it is the latter then the feedback is necessary to provide the sought effect.

I am experiencing this problem with student theses. In the system where I work, the thesis is considered an individual work and grading it should take into consideration qualities such as originality and independence and yet the student has a supervisor who should provide input. The task is caught in the middle between examination of a task and a learning experience; and each supervisor has their own take on where the limits are. So why is this such a mess?

The key lies in failing to define what is a learning experience and what is a test of knowledge or understanding. Hence it is necessary to try to define these points so that the division becomes clear to all concerned. The key lies in deciding the balance between the two. Feedback provided after grading is, in my opinion a lost cause since students have moved on to other activities and very few probably run through the comments. Better is then to, for example, build in the feedback into the grading. This can be done by setting a preliminary grade and stating that successfully working through (not just any work-through) comments to improve the task will provide additional points or step up to a higher grade. This may be incentive enough for most to do the extra work and for those who do not want to, well that will be their decision.

So a key ingredient will be to build in the feedback--improvement into the grading of the task. exactly how to do this will of course vary depending on the task at hand.

  • This is related to another issue I am dealing with (for which there are already other questions on this site): Should the teacher allow the student to increase their grade after submission (through re-submission)? From your answer, it seems you believe yes. However, I do see many students who will do the minimum of work on original submission simply waiting for greater detail during feedback to see how they should change their assignment. I really want them to work to submit their best on the first submission so I do not allow greater than the minimum passing grade on resubmit.
    – earthling
    Jul 15, 2014 at 6:32
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    If it is the latter then the feedback is necessary to provide the sought effect. — I don't think it's so black and white. Every test of knowledge is also a learning experience. And often what we want students learn is how to solve problems without expert guidance.
    – JeffE
    Jul 15, 2014 at 18:53
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    Should the teacher allow the student to increase their grade after submission (through re-submission)? — The instructors I know who allow resubmission do so with a penalty. Most of them average the scores of both submissions. One will change the grade to 100% if the resubmission is absolutely perfect, which (among other things) means no arithmetic mistakes, no off-by-one errors, no sign errors, no spelling or grammar mistakes, no typos, and no missing commas.
    – JeffE
    Jul 15, 2014 at 19:00

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