How to write a reflective essay for university or college

Graham Jones
3 min readJul 9, 2021
Student writing reflective essay

Writing a reflective essay for university or college is a common requirement. Indeed, university lecturers are increasingly using reflective essays as a means of assessment. That’s because done properly, a reflective essay is an excellent way of demonstrating the extent of your learning and understanding.

Keep a journal

The first step in writing a reflective essay happens before you even start planning what to write. To ensure that you are able to write a good reflection after several weeks of study you need to make sure you keep a reflective journal.

It’s best to write your journal every day. That way your thoughts will be current and you are unlikely to forget things. If you wait until near the deadline it is inevitable you will forget things that struck your mind several weeks beforehand.

Write down what happened

The first step in writing your reflective essay is to summarise what happened. This is going to be the shortest part of your essay. One of the reasons why so many students get poor marks for reflective essays is because they focus on logging what they studied, rather than dealing with the implications. So, take each of your weekly journal notes and write a short summary of what you have studied in the period running up to the deadline for the essay. This summary does not have to be long, or in great detail. All you are doing is providing context for what you will be writing next.

Explain how it made you feel

The next part of your essay should be your reaction to what you have been studying. This ought to be a substantial part of your essay. You need to explain what emotions were triggered. These can include all kinds of feelings from pleasure, to surprise or even anger. It doesn’t matter what you say about how you felt; after all, this is a personal reflection it is about you. Hence, there is no right or wrong thing to say.

Another key component of this part of your reflective essay would be to explain how your understanding or knowledge of the topic had changed. What happened to improve your ability to think about the topic? These are key factors that any lecturer or tutor will expect you to write about in this section of your reflective essay.

Say what you will do in the future

The final part of your essay should explain what you are going to do as a result of your analysis. Your emotional reactions, for instance, might lead you to study things in a different way in the future. Or you may have discovered that a particular way in which you increased your understanding could be applied to other topics. Again, there is no right or wrong answer here. However, university lecturers will expect you to discuss the implications for your future studies as a result of your reflection.

Four steps to a reflective essay

There are four steps to writing a successful reflective essay that will gain high marks. These are:

  1. Keep a daily journal of your studies
  2. Summarise how you learned that week’s material
  3. Explain how the studying of the topic made you feel and how it increased your understanding
  4. Provide details of what you will do in the future as a result of thinking about how you studied the topic

That’s all there is to it. Write your journal every day and you will then be able to use it as the basis of your reflective essays or other reflections that you are required to compile. A journal is central to good reflective practice.

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Graham Jones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps business understand online customer behaviour