Options Institute The arrow method for Giving Feedback to Students on Essays

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Goddard Riverside Community Center

Options Institute

The ARROW Method for Giving Feedback to Students on Essays


Start by identifying the strengths of the essay. Every essay has strengths, whether in the writing, messages, examples, or effort.


Reflect back what you took from the essay: What were the main points? What were the important messages? Where was the student going?


Restate the goals of a college application essay, particularly around the areas in which you are going to recommend work.


Identify the areas you suggest the student work on by observing what the essay includes and contrasting that with the goals of an essay.


Work with the student to identify strategies to use in revision.


Always start with strengths. No matter how a student writes, it is important to communicate respect for the student’s effort and experience. You can use the accompanying “Giving Feedback on Students’ College Application Essays” sheet to help you identify strengths.

SAY: “I read your essay. It addresses the question well. Your voice really comes through and it has a positive tone.” OR “I found your essay moving. It clearly reveals your perspective on the importance of education and really adds something to your application that isn’t clear anywhere else.”

Avoid solely giving your opinion about what you liked. For example, “I really liked your opening paragraph,” is not as helpful as specifying what was strong about the opening paragraph, as in: “I really like your opening paragraph because it clearly stated the main idea of your essay and made me want to know more about your experience.


It is also helpful for the writer to hear if you formed a desired impression. Sometimes with a first draft, the writer is not fully clear on his or her main ideas, so it helps to hear what you concluded. This is why we suggest you reflect back to the student the main ideas you took from the essay.

SAY: “Let me share what I got from your essay. I understand that you overcame many obstacles to attending school and concentrating on your school work. It is clear that over time you have come to see education as critical to your future goals.”

Open the door for the student to either confirm your impression or help you better understand his or her intention.


Overall, a college application essay must inspire confidence in the student’s readiness for college and reveal a personal side. On the accompanying “Giving Feedback on Students’ College Application Essays” sheet, there is a checklist for elements of a high-quality essay:

  • Responsive

  • Clear

  • Concise

  • Revealing

  • Authentic

  • Concrete

  • Coherent

  • Has a positive tone

  • Adds something to the application

The final version must also be accurate and attractive, which includes spelling, grammar, use of language, length, errors, student’s name, formatting and paper (if sending a hard copy).

It can be helpful to restate these criteria, especially those you intend to focus on when you start talking about revisions.

SAY: “As we have discussed, it is really important for a college application essay to make you come alive to the admissions committee. The way to do that in an essay is to include specific examples to back up each point, examples that help the admissions committee ‘see’ what you are doing or seeing.”


The more specific and concrete the feedback, the more helpful it is. In identifying what you would like the student to work on, first observe what is happening in the essay as it is and contrast it to what it needs to accomplish:

SAY: “Are you open to some suggestions on how you might revise? I have a couple of thoughts about how you can strengthen your essay in the next draft. One improvement could be to include some specific examples to bring your main points to life. For example, you mention in your essay that you are very dedicated to getting your school work done; you need to give the reader some concrete examples that demonstrate your dedication. You could think about occasions when it has been really hard to get your school work done, but you did it anyway. What was going on? What made it difficult? What did you do to overcome the challenge?”


It is important for each student to do the work of revising his or her essay. Different strategies are effective for different types of revisions and different types of students. Work with your student to identify what strategies might work for him or her:

SAY: “Now that we’ve talked about a couple of areas to work on, let’s talk about next steps. Let’s identify the points in the essay where examples would be helpful. Once we’ve identified the places, you can brainstorm two or three examples of each point. Then choose the ones you think fit best and work them into the essay. When you’re done, bring it back and I’ll have another look. Would that work for you?”

© 2012 Options Institute™

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