Exploring the Emotional Responses of Undergraduate Students to Assessment Feedback: Implications for Instructors

  • Jennifer Hill University of Gloucestershire https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0682-783X
  • Lisa Cravens-Brown OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Lisa McKendrick-Calder MACEWAN UNIVERSITY
Keywords: emotions, assessment feedback, thematic analysis, feedback literacy, learning attitudes and behaviours


Summative assessments tend to be viewed as high-stakes episodes by students, directly exposing their capabilities as learners. As such, receiving feedback is likely to evoke a variety of emotions that may interact with cognitive engagement and hence the ability to learn. Our research investigated the emotions experienced by undergraduate students in relation to assessment feedback, exploring if these emotions informed their learning attitudes and behaviours. Respondents were drawn from different years of study and subject/major. A qualitative approach was adopted, using small group, semi-structured interviews and reflective diaries. Data were analysed thematically and they revealed that receiving feedback was inherently emotional for students, permeating their wider learning experience positively and negatively. Many students struggled to receive and act upon negative feedback, especially in early years, when it was often taken personally and linked to a sense of failure. Negative emotional responses tended to reduce students’ motivation, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Some students, especially in later years of study, demonstrated resilience and engagement in response to negative feedback. By contrast, positive feedback evoked intense but fleeting emotions. Positive feedback made students feel cared about, validating their self-worth and increasing their confidence, but it was not always motivational. The paper concludes with recommendations for instructors, highlighting a need to communicate feedback carefully and to develop student and staff feedback literacies.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Hill, University of Gloucestershire

Jennifer Hill, PhD, is Professor of Higher Education Pedagogies and Head of Learning & Teaching Innovation at the University of Gloucestershire, UK.


Kathryn Berlin, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Program Director for Health Sciences at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana.


Julia Choate, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Physiology Education at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. 


Lisa Cravens-Brown is Associate Vice Chair for Instruction in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio, USA.

Lisa McKendrick-Calder, MACEWAN UNIVERSITY

Lisa Mckendrick-Calder, MN, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nursing Sciences at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Susan Smith, PhD, is a Professor in Teaching and Learning and Associate Director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Leeds Beckett, University, Leeds, UK.


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How to Cite
Hill, Jennifer, Kathy Berlin, Julia Choate, Lisa Cravens-Brown, Lisa McKendrick-Calder, and Susan Smith. 2021. “Exploring the Emotional Responses of Undergraduate Students to Assessment Feedback: Implications for Instructors”. Teaching & Learning Inquiry 9 (1), 294-316. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.1.20.
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