Generic Feedback

What is it?

Rather than providing comments on each individual piece of work, generic feedback allows for holistic comments to be provided to all students as a cohort for one assignment. It focuses on patterns of strengths, weaknesses and areas for development that are common to the majority of the class. This approach can be more effective than individualised feedback that comes too late for students to engage with or apply (O’Donovan et al, 2015). Therefore, it can be used for summative assessment, but is more effective when used formatively. It should never be the only way of giving feedback on a module, but it can greatly reduce teacher workload for formative assignments, worksheets, online quizzes and practice exams.

Why would I use it?

  • In time-constrained situations and with large classes, generic feedback can “work much better than slow and perfect feedback as it has to be fast enough that students are still interested” (Gibbs, 2015: 1).
  • It can reduce repetition in the provision of individual feedback, by dealing with recurring issues such as structure and referencing (Hounsell, 2015). It provides scope to explain and expand on comments, compare alternative answers and approaches to the question, focus on common misunderstandings.
  • It is particularly useful for short answer or essay questions in exams. 
  • It is useful for initial or formative assignments, it can address issues immediately which prevent students going off track without hugely increasing the marking workload. However clear an assignment brief is, students may not always engage with directives until they have tried doing the assignment for themselves. (Race, 2006).
  • Once the generic feedback sheets are prepared, they can be basically reused for future cohorts on the same assignment with some modifications for different cohort issues.

Known Issues …

  • It does not address particular weaknesses students may have; therefore, individual feedback might need to be used as a supplement for some students. This can then lead to concerns about parity.
  • Some students may be unable to understand whether particular feedback applies to them. They could either ignore it or use the feedback to change an already good assignment. You could provide office hours or time in seminars to discuss individual problems, but limit the time to, for example, 10 minutes in order to reduce student dependency.

How has it been used?

Here are some case studies and examples of different ways to use generic feedback:

Balfour (2007)  This article describes software used to provide feedback comments to students on their lab reports, against specified criteria from a bank of suitable comments .

Juwah et al. (2004) Case Study 4 page 23-24 Staff teaching final-year Accounting and Finance used grade-related criteria and a bank of feedback statements to provide quick and detailed feedback.

Harland (2007) Page 7   In this case study, a comment sheet was developed for providing feedback to Bioscience students on lab reports, providing answers and common errors. This was circulated alongside shorter individual comments.


KCL’s Dickson Poon School of Law uses a feedback summary for Law exams: see this example Generic feedback Tort Essay Feedback report 2016-17


How can I use generic feedback?