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Lesson 18: Ask for Feedback

Feedback is the third member of the power trio that unlocks your potential for continuous improvement. As you’ve probably guessed, the other two members of that trio are questions and mistakes. Feedback refers to any information, advice, tip, or criticism coming from other people concerning something you’ve done.

Examples of feedback are:

  • The marks you’ve received for a test.

  • The comments the teacher has written next to your work.

  • Being praised or scolded by teachers, parents, or peers.

  • Ways you could improve your work in the future.

  • Ways you could improve your attitude.

Feedback is precious in your quest to becoming a Laureate because it shows you where you can improve. This, in turns, helps you get closer to your ultimate goal of achieving full marks in all your subjects. As Bill Gates said:

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.

Even though Bill Gates (at the time of writing) is the second richest person on Earth, he still values feedback from others. This is the strategy that you should adopt too.

Critical feedback is a gift that we receive from other people. Unfortunately, most of us don’t see it that way. Instead, we find it hard to admit, process and act upon that feedback. We all know that student who always makes a fuss for that extra 1 or 2 marks from the teacher. You’ve probably also encountered students who get very upset when the teacher criticises them. Such feedback tends to make us defensive and angry, and as a result, adversely affects our ability to learn from them and become better.

Before I show you the reasons why feedback is so valuable, you must distinguish between useful and harmful feedback. I’ll teach you how to handle useful feedback in a moment. However, when it comes to harmful feedback, you should ignore them, i.e., filter them out. I define such feedback as anything that does not have the potential to add value to yourself or to improve your chances of becoming a Laureate. It’s up to you to decide whether the feedback you receive is harmful or not, but two common examples are:

  • You are stupid.

  • You won’t make it because you don’t go to an “elite” school.

Such feedback often discourages you and does not give you ways to improve. So, ignore them. Sometimes, people can also make you overconfident by saying things like “You are a perfect student. You will become a Laureate, for sure.” Be careful on how you handle such compliments!

Now, let’s come to useful feedback. Before we proceed, you need to accept that helpful feedback can be both positive and negative (i.e. constructive), so it’s important not to confuse harmful feedback with negative feedback.

Here are the reasons why useful feedback is so valuable:

Reason 1

It’s straightforward to obtain feedback. You only need to know what you want feedback on. Then, approach the relevant person (such as your teacher or your peer) and ask for it. It’s as simple as that!

Reason 2

Feedback is an instrument for continuous learning. You are going to learn new things when you actively seek feedback. It’s a no brainer that the more knowledge you have about a subject, the better you will perform in the exam. So, as far as possible, always ask your teachers what you can do to improve your work. For example, each time your General Paper teacher returns your essay, ask him/her what you should do better next time. In particular, if you did not receive full marks, ask them what you should do to make it happen next time. Note that GP teachers are unlikely to ever give you full marks for your essay, so there’s always room for you to ask feedback on how to improve! However, when Cambridge examiners mark your scripts, it is possible to obtain full marks. So, ask for as much feedback as you can while you are still studying.

Reason 3

Feedback helps you to improve your academic performance as it enables you to identify weaknesses that you may not have detected by yourself.

Reason 4

Asking for feedback from teachers can improve your relationships with them. On one hand, you’ll make them feel that their advice and opinion are valued. On the other hand, you’ll show them that you want to take the initiative to get better. Teachers love it when their students show this attribute.

Reason 5

Constructive feedback will motivate you because it will help you identify and eliminate the things you are doing wrong. This means that you will be doing more things right, and as a result, you will start finding your studies more enjoyable.

Now that you know why you should ask for useful feedback, here are some tips on how to handle them:

Tip 1

Control your first reaction. Even better, don’t react at all for a couple of seconds. Why? It’s because your first reaction almost always gets in the way of harnessing the power of feedback. Whenever you receive negative, constructive, or critical feedback, your first reaction will often be to dismiss it or to argue against it. Instead of doing these, remain calm and pause for a few seconds to process it.

The objective of the discussion is to understand, not to argue! Don't take things personally.

Tip 2

Remember the benefits of getting feedback.

Tip 3

Try to put yourself in the other person’s place and make a genuine effort to appreciate their point of view. Don’t interrupt them while they are talking..

Tip 4

Don’t debate with the person giving you their feedback. Instead, try to seek more clarity and investigate possible ways of addressing the issues that they raised. For example, if your GP teacher tells you that the quality of your essays is not good enough, humbly accept it, and ask them why they think so. Then, ask them how you should proceed to resolve those issues next time.

Tip 5

This one is obvious: Act on the feedback received! For example, if you’ve left too many grammatical mistakes in your essays, try to be more careful about them next time! If you were told that your handwriting was bad, make an effort to improve it next time.

Top Tip

Just like you did with the questions and mistakes, you’ll want to keep a “Feedback” notebook to record all the feedback you’ve received. Make sure also to include details such as when, how and why you received each feedback.

Thus, the Key Takeaway is:

Be willing to receive, and act upon feedback.

Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!

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