A Guide to the Best Course Critique

September 26, 2022 Watermark Insights

Many students and instructors have completed course critiques throughout their academic and professional careers. These short assessments often complement every class, typically at the end of the semester. Although critiques are commonplace, not every institution knows how to use them to their full benefit. We've created a guide to the best course critique to illustrate how to construct them, why they're meaningful, and how you can use them to improve your institution. 

What Is a Course Critique?

What Is a Course Critique?

A course critique is an evaluation that students or faculty complete to detail their thoughts and opinions on the class and the instructor. These assessments provide valuable feedback to faculty regarding a course or department's effectiveness. A course critique is an opportunity for students and faculty to voice concerns and address pain points in the curriculum. 

Who Uses Course Critiques?

Course critiques are beneficial at every level of higher education institutions. The more people that complete these critiques, the more information you have to work with. As students and staff describe concerns, highlight program strengths, and express their desire for change, you can use their feedback to create a more enriching student experience. 


Instructors use course critiques to evaluate teaching practices and shape curricula. End-of-course critiques can detail which materials were beneficial and which were not. Students may express that a chapter was complicated, an assignment was engaging, or an instructor was hard to reach. Each piece of feedback paints a picture of the classroom and aids instructors in constructing an effective curriculum for incoming students. 


Institution administrators use course critiques to make initiatives and deliver campus changes. Department leaders can identify which courses have high or low success rates and discover why that is the case. College and university decision-makers can use feedback to shape institution initiatives and adjust goals to reflect the current campus climate. Either way, course critiques can help create a more satisfying student experience and encourage students and staff to overcome academic barriers to success. 

Why You Should Use Course Critiques at Your Institution

Why You Should Use Course Critiques at Your Institution

Along with creating an enriching academic experience, these assessments enable higher education institutions to drive change that improves their initiatives and student retention rates. 

The benefits of course critiques include:

  • Refine teaching methods: Many educators find a teaching method and stick to it. However, as new students come and go, instructors should be willing to adjust their practices to reflect student needs. Critiques allow educators to discover what methods still work and what needs changing. 
  • Understand the student experience: See how your students feel and what they aim to accomplish by gaining direct feedback. Take out the guesswork of determining how to make education more engaging by listening to your students. 
  • Create holistic experiences: Engagement is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. You need to create personalized pathways to success to improve student retention and keep learners engaged. Critiques give instructors and administrators insight into how to guide each student to their goals. 
  • Shape new initiatives: If you've been trying to bridge the gap between your institution and a lofty goal, course critiques could provide insight into what you need to address. When you want to set a new student goal, such as seeing higher test scores, increasing retention, or seeing a shift in engagement, your course critiques will be an excellent foundation for identifying strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum. 
  • Empower students: Giving students a voice helps shape their academic careers. Students who feel they can make a difference at their institution can form lasting connections, engage with their studies, and create a more fulfilling experience on campus. 

How to Write a Course Critique

Writing an effective course critique will ensure you collect relevant and accurate data. Although there may be many aspects of classroom culture you'd like to explore, defining the purpose of each critique will guide you to meaningful feedback. Take a look at how to write your critique to maximize student response and obtain real results. 

Define the Purpose

Before drafting a student critique form, you should establish the critique's purpose. For instance, you may be seeking an alternative course structure or evaluating the effectiveness of a teaching method. Determine the most beneficial information and structure the course critique questions around this objective. 

Without a clear objective, your questions may seem unorganized or sporadic. You may unintentionally frame the critique with cognitive bias, resulting in inaccurate answers. Ensure you use clear language and concise questions to keep your audience from becoming confused. 

Frame for the Audience

Your course critique form templates will look different for students compared to faculty. While questions for students may reference classroom culture, homework assignments, or peer collaboration, faculty members may benefit from other questions. 

If you're aiming to make departmental changes, questions regarding department funding, scheduling, and teaching methods may be more appropriate for your educators. Although you likely want to know more about their experience teaching, you won't give your instructors the same critique prompts as your students. 

Craft the Questions

Each course critique may have different questions because each class's objective may differ. When forming your questions, you should keep the critique's function in mind and frame questions that will give you insight into the problem you're trying to solve. 

Sample course critiques may have questions such as:

  • Would you describe this course as complex?
  • Did the instructor present information in an organized way?
  • Did the instructor present a positive attitude in class?
  • Were you able to seek assistance outside of class meetings? 
  • Did you find class material engaging?
  • Can you apply skills or knowledge from this course to other classes?

A course critique template may also ask students to describe their classroom experience, reflect on course flexibility, and otherwise evaluate the communication skills of the instructor, department, or institution. You can construct a critique with open-ended or multiple choice answers but refrain from making the form lengthy or wordy. 

Course Critique Best Practices

Following the best course critique practices can help achieve high response rates and meaningful feedback. Crafting an evaluation schedule and administering critiques to maximize response rates can help encourage more faculty members and students to provide meaningful feedback. Check out these best practices before issuing your critiques:

  • Creating a consistent schedule: Developing a routine schedule can help you stay organized and prepare participants. Instructors typically distribute critiques at the end of the semester, but you can also implement halfway evaluations so students can witness a change in the classroom as the course continues. 
  • Sending reminders: Many students will forget to complete a critique when you first administer it. Sending email reminders or using a discussion board to encourage students to finish it can help you receive more responses. 
  • Going digital: Many students prefer to complete course critiques on their own time when there are no time constraints. Using digital evaluations also makes it easier to gather results and compile them as practical data.
  • Using integration software: Administer critiques through software that both students and instructors use. This practice can help boost response rates and allow both parties to review the information easily. Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys seamlessly integrates with most student information systems, so students can easily access critiques and you can quickly navigate responses.
  • Exhibiting change: To show students and faculty that feedback drives change, it's essential to illustrate what you've done to improve the classroom. Changes encourage students and staff to discuss their ideas for improvement because you've shown you will use them to make future decisions. 

When to Use a Course Critique

When to Use a Course Critique

Course critiques do not have to be an end-of-semester assessment. There are plenty of times you can administer critiques to maximize response rates and drive change. Your critiques should be working to improve the student experience, so distributing them when it's convenient and allows time for change is ideal. 

Early Critiques

An early course critique can take place a few weeks after the course begins. This critique can discuss whether or not the syllabus and course description were accurate. This could be an excellent opportunity for students to describe what they're looking forward to or are less interested in. 

Students can also discuss whether the course schedule is manageable or strict. At this point, students should know how long homework assignments and studying take out of their evenings and whether the instructor is presenting information too quickly.

Instructors can use feedback from these evaluations to reconfigure the course schedule and modify deadlines. By listening to students early on, instructors can create a flexible curriculum that allows students to dive deeply into concepts. Additionally, this is an excellent time to meet with students who may be falling behind before they contemplate dropping the course. 

Midterm Critiques

At this point in the semester, it is typically too late for students to swap one course for another or regain any tuition funds if they drop the course completely. Students who feel they can't catch up in the second half of the class may become disengaged and less interested in the remaining coursework. 

A midterm critique can allow students and instructors to evaluate performance for the course so far. Perhaps many students received low scores on the midterm exam. Rather than assume students did not put effort into preparing, educators and institution decision-makers should question whether the instruction has been too challenging.

Perhaps many students are struggling to understand a complex topic. Instructors can adjust the course schedule and upcoming assignments to incorporate another week of discussion on that topic. When students recognize that instructors are trying to help them overcome barriers, they're more likely to stay engaged. This change will also help keep students from falling behind and show them that they have a direct hand in shaping their education. 

End-of-Semester Critiques

You should administer an end-of-course critique during the final days of the class. Among final exams, assignments, and projects, you can encourage learners to find free time to complete evaluations with digital options rather than expecting them to make room in their otherwise hectic schedules. 

Although end-of-semester critiques will affect incoming classes rather than current ones, students can witness department and institutional changes due to their feedback. Students may take the same instructor for another course and recognize a coursework change. In this case, you can determine whether a course is more favorable by comparing the feedback from one semester with the next. If scores are increasingly better the second time, you know your educators have made positive changes. 

These course critiques provide an excellent foundation for restructuring classes and programs. Whereas the other two options involve small changes as the class progresses, these critiques allow you to evaluate overall effectiveness. Perhaps your educators will need to spend time collaborating to determine the best course of action and how to implement necessary changes. 

How to Apply Course Critique Feedback

After obtaining feedback, the next and most crucial step in the process is determining how to apply it. Here are some course critique examples that can make small and significant improvements to your institution. 

1. Shape Curriculum

Evaluate the success of a course with critiques. Students can help shape their education by highlighting what they enjoyed or illustrating what needs adjustments. Instructors can use these reviews to determine which teaching methods work and which do not. Department heads can reconfigure courses and determine whether additional courses are necessary for student comprehension or if some can be replaced or removed from the curriculum. You can strengthen the path to each student's degree or certification by filling your institution with worthwhile and engaging courses. 

2. Set Initiatives

You can compare course results to campus initiatives and institution standards. Higher education administrators can use this feedback to support staff hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions. You can ensure you provide your students with the best educators and reward the most successful instructors by reviewing course critiques. 

Use collected information to reach goals and seek new ones. If your current goal is to increase student retention, you can track whether students are completing their programs when you make curriculum changes. When you reach this goal, perhaps you set your sights on creating new programs or implementing new technologies. By listening to students, you can discover what they believe would be the most beneficial to their experience and set goals that reflect these desires. 

3. Create Holistic Experiences 

Share course critique feedback with faculty, department leaders, and instructors. Doing so encourages your team to collaborate to find solutions. One-size-fits-all is outdated and ineffective. Instead, students need a curriculum that aligns with their interests and leads them to their goals. 

Creating a holistic experience means engaging each student with personalized pathways to success. Although you will need more than course critiques to fully implement this process, listing to your students is the first step. You can ensure students stay on track and remain engaged by administering course critiques. Identify students who are falling behind by reviewing their feedback and bring them back to speed by discovering what they need to succeed

Collect Meaningful Feedback With Watermark

Collect Meaningful Feedback With Watermark

Watermark can work with you from day one to help you use course critiques to achieve institutional success. We've spent the last 20 years gathering data and crafting solutions for higher education institutions to increase student engagement and retention. Many of our team members have worked in higher ed positions, so we know the ins and outs of the system. 

We also know the importance of data and feedback, so we've created comprehensive software to collect and distribute it. You can use Course Evaluations & Surveys to administer course critiques to your students and receive actionable insights for improving your institution. With Watermark, you can easily create customizable reports, track trends, and identify pain points as quickly as possible. Share reports with faculty and other administrators and make a repeatable process for every critique. 

At Watermark, we want to help you spend less time collecting data and more time reviewing it. Request a demo of Course Evaluations & Surveys and start driving change at your institution.

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