Improving Your Course Evals: Three Proactive Steps You Can Take

By Peter Connor

Worried about course evaluations at the end of the semester? Will your students be full of praise, snarky, or somewhere in between? Mary Clement (2012), Director of the Center for Teaching and Excellence at Berry College, Mount Berry, GA, suggests that thinking about course evals at the beginning of the semester lessens the worrying about them at the end (para. 1).

Her point: you “can be proactive” only at the beginning of the semester. At the end, you can only be reactive. A few steps taken early on, will “lead to better course evaluations” (Clement, 2012, para. 1).

Get to know your students

The old trope that the sweetest sound one can hear is the sound of one’s own name is as true as ever. As quickly as possible, get to know your students names. Ignore this at your own peril. (For an amusing, cautionary tale, see Do You Know Your Students Names?). In addition, know that their lives and their world is as fascinating to them as yours is to you. Before and after class, spend a little time getting to know them. Engage in conversation.

Don’t leave them guessing

Know that your students want to know what and why they’re learning this or that. Don’t leave them guessing. At the beginning of each class, explain what’s in it for them. Lay out the underlying reason(s) for the day’s lesson. At the beginning of the semester an overall course explanation, as well as something about the teaching materials and methods you have chosen, will be useful as well. Clement (2012) refers to this as “making invisible expectations explicit” (para. 2).

Be clear about your grading system

Percentages are misty, mysterious things. They don’t bear the black-and-white certainty of solid numbers. Points for quizzes, tests, papers, projects, etc., are computable. They make sense in concrete ways, making it easier for students to track their progress: so many points gets an A, so many a B, etc. Define your point system in your syllabus; go over it on the first day of class and, once again, after the first point-earning assignment has been graded and handed back.

Clarity trumps obfuscation. Give your students as much of it as possible, as often as necessary. Everyone else expects it, why shouldn’t they. Clement (2012) recommends removing the mystery from your grading system by removing the percentage factor (para. 5).

If you ask them, they will tell you

No need to wait till the end of the semester to find out what’s working and what’s not. If you want to improve the learning experience for students, getting feedback as early as possible will help.

Clement (2012) recommends that, on the first day a paper is due or an exam is given, “asking students to respond to questions” about their learning experience thus far, in your course. Here are some of her examples (para. 7):

  • How long did you study for this exam or work on preparing this paper?
  • How/where did you study/write?
  • Which class activities helped you the least? Why?
  • Which topics remain the most difficult for you?
  • What has a professor done in the past that helped you learn?

These, and other question like them, may be answered on a separate page and handed in anonymously for all the obvious reasons. Their answers will help you assess as you go, make changes to materials and or methods if needed, and or tweak things that need tweaking.

In any event, most of your student will appreciate being asked. Who doesn’t like knowing that their opinion counts? Gathering formative feedback near the beginning of the semester can shape the summative feedback you will be receiving at the end. Positive student course evaluations are quite often the result.


Clement, M., (2012). Three steps to better course evaluations. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor