Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

The Tables Turn! Students Evaluating You!

Midterm and Final Evaluations

Here’s a common scenario. You get through your first semester of teaching without any serious problems. Nobody failed the course, nobody complained out loud, and nobody sued you for gross negligence. In general, everyone seemed to get through section with a polite level of attention and there were a number of students who really appeared to enjoy themselves.

Yet when you get back your standard, end-of-semester evaluations, you find a bunch of mediocre reviews. Some of them are even outright nasty.  Among the students’ criticisms are the following:

  • You weren’t available enough outside of class
  • You should have involved more people in group discussions
  • You didn’t do a good job of relating the material to “real life” issues.

You can’t believe that none of these things were brought to your attention. 

As you’ve probably guessed, the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t wait until the end of the semester to solicit evaluations from your students. There are many different ways to get feedback, and it’s always a good idea to get some when you can actually use it. End-of semester evaluations are helpful as a summary of student reactions to the course, and they can be useful for future classes and teaching portfolio, but it’s far more helpful to get some input from your students while you’re still in the thick of things.

Some students might approach you with problems, but it can be difficult for students to be forthright about their concerns. Rather than relying on your ability to gauge their reactions in class, try asking them directly through an evaluation.

Mid-Semester Evaluations: What You Should Know

As you consider what questions to ask, think about the things you want feedback on. These can be very specific (“Do you think we spent too much time talking about Guernica?”) or very general (“should we spend more time in small groups?”). Then devise an evaluation that suits your own needs.

Better still, write questions that focus students’ attention on what’s helping them learn. Ask them to rate, rank, or otherwise assess three or four approaches you’ve used for their contribution to their understanding, comprehension, motivation, or whatever else you’re trying to achieve. What students like isn’t as important as what’s helping them learn. Sometimes they forget that. Sometimes we do too.

Evaluations do not necessarily require a special form; you can get valuable feedback in a very informal manner. Some TFs use the “KQS” method: simply give the students a blank piece of paper and ask them to write down one aspect of the course that they would like to keep (K), one they would like to quit (Q), and one they would like to start (you guessed it, S). Other TFs wait until the end of class and ask the students to write down questions they’d like to see addressed next time.

Whatever your method, just make sure that any evaluation you use is kept anonymous. It’s not easy for students to tell the truth if you’re staring over their shoulder.

Another excellent means of soliciting anonymous feedback from students is the Midsemester Student Feedback form or the Anonymous Feedback tool on Canvas. Some TFs have had success with using a Google Form, or with Yale’s subscription to Qualtrics. These allow you to create an online survey that you can email to students, and even track who has responded and who has not. 

Some Common Concerns

The Fear Factor

Many TFs don’t want to find out what their students think because they’re afraid it’s going to be bad news. Though this is quite reasonable, it shouldn’t stop you.

First of all, there’s a good chance that the students will actually say something nice. Also, if they do have problems, it’s far more likely that they will give constructive criticism rather than spiteful, personal attacks, particularly because a mid-semester evaluation offers the possibility of changes in the class environment.

Second of all, you can control what you ask for on an evaluation. If you’re worried that the students don’t think your jokes are funny, don’t ask a question like, “Do you think I’m funny?” Remember, mid-semester evaluations can deal with very neutral topics. Questions like, “What do you think of the homework so far?” or “Are there any topics that you want to review?,” probably won’t generate scathing criticism.

Never Let Them See You Sweat

Some TFs fear that they’ll look weak if they solicit evaluations in the middle of the course. However, soliciting feedback during the semester (whether at midterm, at the conclusion of each unit, or more often) is something that most students will appreciate. The fact that you actually care about what they have to say can go a long way.

After You’ve Read Them

Your mid-semester evaluations can help you make the last six or seven weeks of section more productive; the end-of-semester evaluations can help you plan your next course. But what do you do with them after you’ve read them? Some TFs burn them, some bury them, and some frame them and send them to their parents. Here are a few of our suggestions.


Typing up a summary of comments prevents you from focusing on the extremes. Don’t let hyperbole (whether positive or negative!) blind you to the more reasonable comments, like the ones that say you were clear, organized, and very helpful outside of class or that you weren’t always good about letting every student talk. If you write up a summary, every voice will be heard and you’ll begin to realize that the extreme evaluations are far less important than the many similar ones.

Tell Them About It

In the case of mid-semester evaluations, let the students know that you’ve read them and have given them some thought. Summarize the general thrust of the comments, and let your class know if you plan to change your approach as a result of their thoughts. They’ll respect the fact that you took their suggestions seriously.

Get Some Advice

A constructive response to constructive criticism may not be at your fingertips, particularly if student comments amount to “section is boring.” If you feel comfortable discussing problems and solutions with your professor or fellow TFs, do so. But if you’d rather not, give the CTL a call. All consultations are strictly confidential, and you’ll get some very good advice.

Copy ’Em and Keep ’Em

Evaluations are often an important part of your teaching portfolio and are sometimes requested in grant applications. It’s also helpful to give them to faculty members who are writing letters of recommendation for you. Download all of your evaluations and keep them on file.