Does the feedback you receive from your lecturer and/or tutor on your problem question assignments and practice questions help you understand where you could improve?

My convenor recently called a meeting of all law lecturers at our university. To gauge whether we were consistent in the way in which we approached assignment marking, we were given a problem question from a previous LLB exam and two student answers – and asked to grade the answers with reasons in support.

A big complaint students have is that some lecturers are more generous markers than others. I was therefore surprised that we all gave the same mark – a pass (a “D” grade) on one answer and a high 2.1 (B+) on the other.

I was also surprised to find my colleagues’ reasons for those marks a little unclear – and I think I’ve discovered the reason why.

Back in the day, when I went to law school and we wrote our answers with quill pens by candle light, our lecturers had complete discretion with the feedback they gave. Mostly, that feedback was limited to “well done” or “not quite right”.

These days, Universities are monitored by the QAA and must show their degrees meet certain Law “Benchmarks”.

In turn, Universities formulate “Assessment Criteria” – the standards they want you to achieve. These include:

* Knowledge and understanding
* Cognitive skills (analysis, judgment and evaluation)
* Practical and Professional skills (research and problem-solving)
* Key skills (communication, literacy, numeracy and IT skills)

One of the problems with marking to “assessment criteria” is feedback can get garbled in management-speak.

When my colleagues explained their reasons for the pass, they noted that the answer did not show sufficient, “knowledge and understanding” and “evaluation”. If I were the student, I’m not sure I’d know what that feedback meant or what I was suppose to do to improve.

I’m not suggesting lecturers go back to the old days, but I think it’s much clearer to say, “you correctly identified the issue here but jumped straight to your conclusion without setting out the law and applying that law to the facts – and that’s why I could not give you marks for your knowledge or analysis”.

I also found that my colleagues were impressed as I was with the superb structure of the 2.1 answer. It goes to show that a very organised and methodical answer displays cognitive, practical and professional skills and will get you a good mark, even when your depth of knowledge may be of a good, but not superb standard.

IRAC definitely gets results. The irony is, law schools expect you to know the drill without showing you how it’s done.

The moral of the story? Lecturers’ feedback may sound like nothing more than behind-covering, double-Dutch management-speak – but what we’re looking for in your answer hasn’t changed. Adopt and keep the discipline of IRAC and you will be rewarded.