A Guide to Writing Feedback for Undergraduates: By Academics and Students

Top ten tips

I ran a session at the LDC conference last week called ‘an undergraduate guide to feedback’.  I showed a few of the different ways in which we deliver feedback to students in the School of  Social Sciences.  This included using Wiki’s for continuous feedback, using the quiz tool in moodle to deliver operational feedback to students, and paying PhD students to write a guide to feedback for undergraduates with the purpose of providing students with a clearer idea of what we expect them to do with their feedback, and PhD students a more comprehensive idea of the types of feedback they should be giving undergraduates when they are marking.

I then opened the topic up to the floor for debate, first we discussed the different types of feedback that others were using in their Schools, and this ranged from using video and audio to providing group feedback for assignments.

We also had some students in the audience so I asked them to think of the most useful and productive feedback they had received as students and they came up with the following list of feedback preferences:

  • General points delivered to the entire class before they received their grade
  • Feedback that is delivered electronically as they often have difficulties deciphering handwriting
  • Lessons learned from previous years students
  • The option to discuss feedback with a tutor or module leader specifically in the first year
  • Voice recording (Audio Feedback)

We then moved the session on to try and write a series of tips for academic staff writing feedback for undergraduates.  The audience was made up of Academics, Support Staff and Students who all helped input into the following list of tips/ideas:

  • Consider giving general feedback across the class before grades are released so students engage.
  • Stay away from Jargon and ensure students understand the language you are using i.e. critical discussion
  • Criteria specific – link your feedback to your assessment criteria
  • Don’t hand write – consider electronic feedback (moodle?) or typed cover sheets, students have problems with handwriting.
  • All feedback needs to be appropriate to the type of assessment – one size does not fit all!
  • Suggest solutions, don’t just point out errors!
  • Make sure you let the students know when you are giving feedback – flag it as feedback!
  • Be creative consider audio, peer assessment and other innovative forms of  feedback.

A case study: Moodle quizzes

Multiple choice question in Moodle quizMoodle’s quiz function allows you to create a range of questions including multiple choice, matching, true/false, short answer and essay formats. They can be an effective tool for formative or summative assessment as questions are saved in a bank to allow you to reuse them, and feedback can be given for each answer.

Dr Victoria Serra-Sastre from City University’s Department of Economics has been using Moodle quizzes with her Masters students and second year undergraduates. In this interview she shares her experience of using this tool.

How often do you set quizzes for students?

I have set quizzes once or twice per term, depending on the module taught. Quizzes on Moodle have been used in addition to other assessment tools like mid-term tests and take-home exercises. I have been using quizzes as the first assessment exercise that students had to face.

How have you done this in the past?

We piloted the use of Moodle for an UG course in second term of academic year 2009/2010. We received the support of the Educational Support Team who helped us through the process of setting up the first quiz. Once the first quiz is designed and uploaded on the system, it proves a very easy tool to use.

Why did you decide to use the Moodle quiz tool?

As I first learned about the online quizzes there were practical reasons to test it. Although the uploading of the questions is time-consuming, once the quiz is set up Moodle will mark it automatically and therefore the time saved on marking outweighs the time taken to post the quiz online.

What feedback have you had from students?

Positive feedback from students. They have access to questions and answers to the quizzes that help them to prepare for mid-term test and for final exams. It is also a very helpful tool as students are required to keep up to date with the material covered during the lectures

Will you continue to use Moodle quizzes in the future?

Yes, I will use them as part of assessed coursework. They are extremely useful and simple to use tools to assess students’ progress. Since I first used a quiz, the functioning of quizzes has been improved and adapted to the needs of students to facilitate their learning process.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering setting a quiz in Moodle?

At first you may require some time to train how to use quizzes but once learned it is a very helpful for students and for lecturers. In case of questions or problems in setting up the quiz lecturers always have the support of Educational Team. Also, Moodle quizzes are quite flexible as to accommodate the different needs of different module types.

Top Ten Tips for developing MCQs

Top ten tips

Bull and McKenna (1999) describe a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) as a question with a ‘choose from a list’ of options answers. Moodle and Clickers provide opportunities to develop, deliver, mark and feedback on formative exercises for consolidation of knowledge and summative assessments.

We have produced the ten top tips to help you in creating more effective and challenging Multiple Choice Questions.

MCQ Terms

Before we start here is a guide to the terminology used in developing an MCQ.

Stem The text of the question
Key The right answer
Distracter The incorrect answers
Options The list of answers which includes the key and the distracters.

Top Ten Tips

  1. The text of each question (stem) should be presented as a clear statement or question that does not give any clue to the answer. (e.g. do not use ‘an’ at the end of the stem if only one of your options begins with a vowel) (Bull and McKenna, 1999)
  2. The stem should be presented in a positive form. Use negatives sparingly and if you need to use negatives ensure they are highlighted (bold and CAPITALISE) (Bull and McKenna, 1999, UKCLE, 2010)
  3. The incorrect answers (distracters) must be plausible. Implausible distracters can ruin a good question. Higgins and Tatham (2003) use the following example to highlight this point.

Which US state was the third state to accede to the Union in 1787?

  • New Cardy
  • New Woolly
  • New Jersey
  • New Jumper
  1. Avoid the choices “All of the above” and “None of the above” in your options. If you need to use them, make sure that they appear as right answers some of the time. (Bull and McKenna, 1999) Be extra careful of these options if you are randomising answer options with Moodle as these choices may appear on the top of the list and confuse students.
  2. Effective distracters are options that address common misconceptions or are statements which are only partially correct. Don’t confuse students who know the right answer by creating a distracter that is too close to the correct answer. (CAA Centre 2002)
  3. Extend the MCQ to test application of knowledge by creating a scenario which is new to the students that develops over a series of questions. A great example is provided by UKCLE (2010)
  4. Extend the MCQ to test the students’ analysis and application of knowledge through interpretive exercises which begin with a picture; a passage of text or a series of figures that are followed by a series of questions  that test students’ analysis of the data provided.
  5. Extend the MCQ by designing an assertion reason question. This is a “question [which]consists of two statements, an assertion and a reason. The student must first determine whether each statement is true. If both are true, the student must next determine whether the reason correctly explains the assertion. There is one option for each possible outcome.” (CAA Centre, 2002) Assertion reason questions are commonly used in Prince 2 Project Management qualifications and you can view examples of these on PPC’s Prince 2 training website.
  6. Use the Clickers to increase interaction in-class by posing MCQs. Have a look at YouTube video from Professor Eric Mazur, Harvard University on how he uses Clickers to facilitate peer instruction to promote understanding of key concepts.
  7. Online MCQs can help you to provide effective feedback to your students quickly. You can use your feedback as an opportunity to providing links to additional resources to correct student understanding. (UKCLE, 2010).


Bull, C. and McKenna, J (1999) Designing effective objective test questions: an introductory workshop [online] Available from: http://caacentre.lboro.ac.uk/dldocs/otghdout.pdf (Accessed: 17.3.11)

CAA Centre (2002) CAA Centre Website. [online] Available from: http://www.caacentre.ac.uk/index.shtml (Accessed: 19.4.11)

Higgins, E. and Tatham, L. (2003) Exploring the potential of Multiple-Choice Questions in Assessment [online]Available from:  http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/ltia/issue4/higginstatham.shtml  (Accessed 17.3.11)

PPC (2010) PRINCE2 Assertion-Reasoning Questions. [online] Available from: http://www.prince2training.net/component/option,com_madblanks/Itemid,516/mbcsr197configid,3/mid,197/task,showmbmod/ (Accessed: 29.3.11)

UCKLE (2010) How can I write effective MCQs? [online] Available from: http://www.ukcle.ac.uk/resources/assessment-and-feedback/mcqs/ten/ (accessed: 17.3.11)