How to critically reflect on your studies

Critical reflection (also known as reflective practice) is a process undertaken by skilled professionals in a variety of industries.

The concept itself can be as detailed as required, but the fundamental principles behind it focus on the ability to identify, question and assess our current understanding, beliefs and knowledge to align these with our goals and aspirations.

Why is critical reflection relevant?

As a student, you will aim to gather as much information as possible from a variety of sources to help you throughout your studies – this includes tutor support, peer-to-peer support, and a wide variety of books and online content (amongst other things). All of this information is of great benefit to you, but there is a hugely important source of information that is often overlooked and ignored – yourself!

A heightened sense of self awareness is a considerable contributor to your overall effectiveness in studies, revision, and exam attempts. Applying critical reflection allows you to identify and address multiple aspects of your studies, such as identifying areas of strength, areas of weakness, and even the most effective ways in which you learn, providing valuable confidence and motivation to tackle your targets.

What to do and what to avoid

Critical reflection can be relatively easy to perform, but requires tuning to your individual needs to yield the greatest benefits. In general, however, there are traits and processes a good reflector should aim to do, and avoid.

A good critical reflector:

  • Reflects objectively. Try to focus on yourself and your studies without bias or prior conceptions altering your judgement.
  • Focuses on their strengths as much as their weaknesses. Focusing on the negatives alone can erode confidence and self-belief – make sure you identify what you are good at, as this in turn also allows you to apportion your time on areas that require further development.
  • Is not “looking for faults”. A good reflector understands that when they identify areas that require additional development, they are not doing so with the assumption their efforts up until that stage are not good enough, rather they simply require more focus and support.
  • Continues to reflect. The beauty of critical reflection is that once the ball is rolling, you can constantly evaluate the steps you are taking and alter them as you gain a better understanding of your objectives, and yourself.
  • Wants more, for the right reasons. Linking with the point above, a good reflector does not lose sight of the concepts behind the process and understands that while they continue to set new goals and objectives as they develop, they also acknowledge their efforts and skills to reach that stage alone – completed goals do not become irrelevant as soon as we set new ones.

A poor critical reflector:

  • Sees the glass half empty. It can be easy to focus only on what is going wrong without understanding what was also done correctly along the way. This in turn can create a precarious situation in which the process becomes less “reflection” and more “critical”.
  • Aims for perfection. A considerable mistake made by reflectors is the idea that you are striving for perfection – this is not the case and can cause more harm than good. The prospect of continually developing should be the goal. Nobody is perfect and critical reflection is not a tool for achieving it!
  • Rejects change. Sometimes, a change to your targets or plans is simply beyond your control. A poor reflector chooses not to react to these changes, instead ignoring them and electing to pursue their original goals. This creates a crisis in confidence if the original goals are then not met.

How to reflect critically

To help you get the ball rolling with the ideas behind critical reflection, a great place to start is by looking at the written questions on the synoptic assessment. To do this, you simply need a practice assessment from AAT or your training provider and access to the model answers.

  1. Complete your written questions as normal and do not peek at the answers!
  2. Compare your work against the model answers. Award your marks fairly and in line with the requirements of the question.
  3. It’s time to do some critical reflection. Look over the work you have done and make a note of where you gained marks and how you did so. Then take note of areas that you touched on in your answer, but did not meet every point. Finally, of course, focus on areas that you may have missed in your answer. Can you identify to yourself why you missed them?
  4. Make an action plan based on your feedback. Is there a topic you need to revisit? Or perhaps there is a common occurrence in your answers that you need to address?
  5. Share your findings with your tutor or mentor. To become a better reflector, always share your findings with a professional who can offer guidance and additional support. See if your tutor or mentor agrees with how you scored yourself, and if not, discuss why.

Key takeaways:

  • Critical reflection focuses on the ability to identify, question and assess our current understanding, beliefs and knowledge to align these with our goals and aspirations.
  • Applying critical reflection allows you to identify and address multiple aspects of your studies, such as identifying areas of strength, areas of weakness, and even the most effective ways in which you learn, providing valuable confidence and motivation to tackle your targets.

Further reading:

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