In this question a person working as a TA was asking if and how he should try to persuade a lecturer to change her practice, in which she gave grades for final assignments but not detailed feedback. Many of the comments there expressed sentiments such as this being an "injustice", "reprehensible", "unethical behavior", "moral duty", "refusing to do her job", and "worth firing for".

Now, I must admit that I was somewhat surprised by these reactions. My experience throughout my academic career is that this is usually infeasible for a number of reasons, e.g.:

  • The institution may collect and impound all final exams after a day or two.
  • Final exams may be given on an institutional computerized platform, for which no per-item feedback is available to either students or instructors.
  • Students don't usually have time to come back to campus after finals are given.
  • I don't think I ever received final exams back throughout my undergraduate days.
  • I didn't get comprehensive exams back or feedback from the end of my Master's.

I think there's even an argument to be made vis-a-vis the formative vs. summative assessment distinction that final grades and feedback should not be overlapped, and that doing so is actually not helpful to students. (E.g.: "Summative assessments happen too far down the learning path to provide information at the classroom level and to make instructional adjustments and interventions during the learning process." Link.) In that sense, one could conceivably give copious feedback early in the semester with no grade, and then a course grade only from a final assignment at the end, after one is done with all feedback cycles.

Personally, I try to find ways to give final feedback to students if they are in critical need of it (usually by email), but I actually have to wrestle against my institution's procedures to make that happen. (I'm at a large urban community college in the U.S.) But my intuition was that it's at least a judgement call, and most common to not expect to see feedback from a final.

So: Is there consensus that not giving feedback on final exams/assignments is obviously unethical? (Side question: Are there any statistics on how common it is one way or the other?)

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    The question seems a little misleading to me. It quotes people like me describing a particular instructor's practices as "reprehensible" and "unethical," but we were criticizing that instructor's practices as a whole. It could be perfectly OK not to give feedback on a final exam. I don't normally give feedback on final exams myself. But the instructor described in that question was essentially not giving any feedback, ever.
    – user1482
    Feb 9, 2017 at 2:49
  • @BenCrowell: Thanks for the comment/clarification. But honestly, I didn't read that latter information from the prior question. The TA didn't say anything about feedback specifically earlier in the course one way or the other. Feb 9, 2017 at 3:46
  • Daniel, did you check what your institution's policy is? I don't know the answer in general. I do know that for K-12, the school must at least let the student and/or parent view the exam in a school office. (Except that for state tests, there may be only a subset of questions and answers that are viewable.) Feb 9, 2017 at 8:28
  • @aparente001: I do know what my school's policy is, but that doesn't bear on this question. Feb 9, 2017 at 16:17
  • Do you mind sharing what the policy is, in brief? Feb 9, 2017 at 18:53

3 Answers 3


I think there's a distinction between automatically providing feed, and having access to feedback.

Like many people, I give little to no feedback on final exams for basically the reasons you describe: students don't have a chance to see it until the next semester, and very few of them bother to.

On the other hand, when a student does come see the exam, I'll spend a few minutes answering questions and explaining the grade. I think this is necessary, because students should have the option of asking for mistakes or inconsistencies to be corrected, and they have no way of doing so unless they know why they were marked the way they were.

Many of the accusations of unethical behavior in the discussion on the question you linked to seem to be driven by concerns about the latter issue: the suspicion that students wouldn't have access to any feedback if they requested it, and that this was an intentional attempt to prevent students from appealing their grade.


No, as a general rule I don't think it's obviously unethical to not offer feedback on final assignments, but it may be unethical, depending on the situation. In the question you linked to it sounded like the lecturer's decision not to offer feedback was motivated by non-education-related considerations having to do with her own selfish interests of minimizing the amount of work she does, preventing the students from scrutinizing the quality of her grading and filing appeals, and preventing her students from sharing potentially useful information with fellow students who will be taking the class in future years. It is this motivation, and the fact of the lecturer putting her own selfish interests ahead of those of her students, seemingly in contravention of institutional norms (as evidenced by the grading policy described by the question's OP, which wouldn't make any sense in an institution where no feedback is offered on final assignments), that makes the behavior unethical - not the mere fact devoid of all context of not offering feedback.

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    "Minimizing the amount of work" can definitely be an education-related consideration, if it means spending that time on something which is ultimately more productive. Feb 8, 2017 at 21:30
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    @NateEldredge perhaps, but that can be an excuse for essentially any manner of lazy or selfish behavior. "Why didn't you do [insert thing X that any professor does to help their students]?" "I had to spend the time on [insert thing Y that all the other professors manage to do even despite doing X] which is ultimately more productive."
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 8, 2017 at 21:59

Author's note: I'm having a difficult time separating this question from the other one (for which I have only read the question and not answers so as not to be biased), so this answer may undoubtedly need changing or be moved around to the other question.

Mean, maybe. Unethical, no. The practicality of getting exams back after the course has ended usually involves students going to the office to pick up their tests when I took the class.

As to whether the feedback helps a student at the end of a semester, I'd say not at all, if the grade is final.

The emphasis on no feedback at the end of a written assignment implies that the professor is unjust in not providing feedback. That is not necessarily the case. Could the student have received feedback during the course, while writing the assignment?

One of the biggest resources during the semester is typically access to feedback from the professor to ensure the student is meeting the professor's expectations.

When you write a paper for an assignment, you can typically know what you'll receive as a grade. If you don't cite your sources at all, you're probably going to get a nice F. If you write with your conclusions before your intro, you're probably going to lose points. But all of these can easily be countered by talking to the professor and getting feedback during the course.

Story time, from my waning days of grad school, in an elective course that had a final paper due.

I submitted my 95-page final paper and received a grade back within two hours. I guarantee he did not read anywhere close to the half the paper in those two hours. That doesn't mean he just said "Good job, you wrote a lot."

Throughout the semester, I had submitted drafts and questions to my professor, and he provided feedback to me in the form of addressing anything I was lacking, i.e. more examples, better use of sources, and so on.

In effect, the professor didn't even need to read all 95 pages of my paper in those two hours because he definitely spent time reading my paper when ever since it consisted of only a one-page introduction. By the time I had submitted my paper, both me and my professor knew that I had written an A paper, and so the only feedback that I was provided was "Can I use this paper as an example for next year?"

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