How to Ask a Professor for Feedback: 7 Tips From an Actual Professor
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- Feedback from a professor can strengthen your skills and boost your grades.
- Ask your professor for feedback before or after an assignment.
- To get detailed feedback, be specific and ask the right questions.
- Knowing how to ask for constructive feedback benefits students after graduation.
An English major once enrolled in my senior seminar for history majors. While he turned in solid papers, they were written more like English essays, not history papers. He was clearly frustrated with the feedback on his work. But after discussing some simple changes he could make, his paper grades shot up.
This example shows how important it is to ask professors for feedback.
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Professors, and sometimes teaching assistants, grade your exams, essays, and presentations. And if you want to improve, you'll need specific, actionable feedback.
But too often, professors hand back papers and assignments with a grade and nothing more. So how can you ask professors for useful feedback? Here are my seven biggest tips.
1. Review Your Assignment
Your professor hands back the first assignment and you see red marks all over the page. That's actually a good thing because those marks offer valuable feedback.
Too often students toss assignments after looking at their grades. Instead, analyze your midterm, essay, or report. Take notes on your instructor's comments.
Are you losing points because you need a stronger argument? Or is grammar bringing down your grade? Once you've identified where to improve, consider reaching out to your professor or the writing center for help.
But what if you get an assignment back with pristine pages unmarked by your professor? In that case, you'll need to know how to ask your professor for feedback.
2. Talk After Class
If you have a quick question about your assignment or a specific comment from your professor, you can approach them after class. But keep in mind that most feedback will take more time than a brief conversation.
Your professor almost certainly does not remember the specifics of your assignment — after grading 50 midterms, they all start to blend together.
For more detailed feedback, ask if you can make an appointment or come to office hours. Make sure to give your professor the assignment so they can reread it before your meeting.
3. Email Your Professor
You can also email your professor to ask for feedback.
Attach a copy of the assignment, if possible, and be clear about the type of feedback you want. Let your professor know that you're looking for advice on quoting sources, developing your argument, or clarifying your ideas.
You can also send an email to your professor asking to meet about your assignment. Again, make sure they have a copy of the assignment with your grade. That's easy for online submissions, but if you turned in a hard copy of the paper or took an in-person exam, give your professor a few days to review it.
4. Be Specific
Ask specific questions and you'll get better answers. Avoid questions like "Can you raise my grade?" or overly broad questions like "How can I get a higher grade next time?" Your professor might give a few suggestions, but you'll likely walk away still uncertain about what to change.
Try something specific. "Do you have advice on strengthening my argument?" or "Can you suggest better ways to use evidence?" Ask for clarification about comments on the assignment, too.
For written assignments, see if your professor will read a draft of your next paper and give you some feedback before the due date. That's the best way to get feedback that will directly improve your grade.
5. Ask the Right Questions
Along with being specific, getting useful feedback means asking the right questions. You'll get much better results if you focus on the quality of your work rather than on the grade.
Outside of a grade appeal situation, avoid trying to change your current grade on the assignment. Instead, focus on the future. What skills or techniques can you improve for the next assignment?
In history classes, I frequently noted on papers that students needed primary source quotes. Many other disciplines prefer paraphrased sources.
Since each field looks for something different, ask your professor about the conventions in their discipline. Identify the areas where you fell short and ask your professor for advice.
6. Go to Office Hours
Office hours are a great resource that many students never use. Your professor holds office hours to meet with learners, so show up.
Bring your midterm, and ask how you can write stronger short answer questions. Or show up with a draft of your next paper and ask for feedback on it.
If you want to discuss a specific assignment, it's a good idea to email your professor with your questions before visiting office hours. Your professor can provide better feedback with time to review your work.
7. Ask in Advance
Students usually ask for feedback after receiving their graded assignments. However, consider letting your professor know before an assignment that you're hoping to get detailed feedback.
Doing this can save your professors time, as they can take notes and focus on areas for improvement during their first look at your work.
This strategy also works great for presentations. Before you present, mention to the professor that you'd appreciate feedback on your speaking style or presentation slides. By seeding specific questions before your presentation, you'll get more useful feedback.
What to Do After Receiving Feedback From a Professor
You've met with your professor and they recommended strategies to strengthen a presentation or essay. What should you do next?
Incorporating feedback into your work can be challenging. Consider a visit to the writing center or a meeting with your professor before any upcoming due dates. If you run into the same problems with future assignments, follow up with your professor.
As a professor, I realized that students benefited from my feedback, especially early in the term. For every paper students turned in, whether it was for an undergraduate lecture or a graduate seminar, I typed notes on the assignment's strengths and areas for improvement.
But not every professor takes the time to give detailed feedback without being asked. And some professors won't provide much feedback even on request!
By learning how to ask for constructive feedback, you'll gain a valuable skill that will benefit you long after graduation.