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Overview of Rubrics

Rubrics are scoring guides that allow anyone—you, peer instructors, teaching assistants, and the students themselves—to evaluate performance based on specific criteria and performance levels. 

Rubrics are good for measuring learning: Rubrics make it possible to be more objective and consistent during the assessment process. They allow you to measure learning according to real-world criteria.

Rubrics are good for students: Students can use the rubric both to prepare and to evaluate their own work before submitting the final draft. If the rubric is weighted, students can see the relative importance of specific criteria or requirements for a project or assignment. Rubrics guide students in the peer review process. When you return their work with a rubric, they receive critical feedback outlining where they did well and where they need work.

Rubrics are good for you: Rubrics can save you time by providing prepared comments you can modify or use for each student, and focusing your efforts on what is most important for students to learn.

Rubrics are good for the institution: Across core courses, rubrics can provide consistency regarding how the institution defines proficiency in writing, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, etc. At the department or program level, rubrics can be used to evaluate capstone projects or student ePortfolios containing different work products for completion of a major.

Types of Rubrics

Holistic rubrics assign one score for each student's work as a whole. They can be valuable for quick, broad decisions about the overall quality. 

Analytic rubrics are comprised of two elements that form a matrix:

  • The criteria are the objectives, individual tasks, or activity components that you want to review. For example, if you use a rubric to evaluate student presentations, then criteria might include "organized information," "supported main points," "prepared to answer questions," "made eye contact," or "used appropriate visual media."
  • The levels of achievement define the extent to which a given student meets each criterion. A numeric value is assigned—usually a 3-point, 4-point or 5-point scale. Within the matrix, you can also write text descriptors letting you and the students know what performance is expected at each level, for each criterion.

It is helpful to assign weights for each of the criteria.. For example, for an analytic paper, criteria spelling out the important characteristics of the analysis will receive the most weight, whereas correct use of a particular citation system is likely to be weighted lower. Rubrics can be designed explicitly for grading wherein by applying the weighting system and scores, the rubric score corresponds to a grade.

Constructing an Analytic Rubric

To construct an analytic rubric, follow these steps:

1. Draft evaluation criteria

Make a list of everything that you feel is part of an assignment or activity, then pick the five to ten that are the most important. These can range from specific learning outcomes to general categories (e.g., critical thinking, communication, organization). Constructing the criteria with your students involves them in the learning process and makes the activity more meaningful.

2. Create levels of achievement and descriptors

Make the levels of achievement clear with a numeric value for scoring and a simple description, such as Exemplary (3), Meets Requirements (2), and Needs Improvement (1), or Advanced (3), Proficient (2), and Novice (1). Zero (0) can be used when a student does not earn any credit for a particular task. These levels then apply to each criterion. Text descriptors further clarify what each level means in concrete terms.

3. Test the rubric

If you want to be sure the rubric will accurately reflect what you want to evaluate, you can score a sample of student work from a previous semester, or ask a colleague to review it with you.

4. Share the rubric with students

When you assign a project or activity, provide the rubric at the same time, so students know what they are expected to do. As noted above, you may decide to include the students in making the rubric.

5. Use the rubric for assessment, peer assessment or student self-assessment

Note: Several learning management systems (including Camino) and ePortfolio (including Digication) solutions provide rubric functionality as a valuable feature.

Additional Resources

The SCU Office of Assessment has compiled a rubric bank consisting of sample rubrics spanning many disciplines and types of assignments. You'll find rubrics for evaluating Capstone projects, student writing, oral presentations, online discussions, research papers, and more. Chris Bachen, Director of Assessment, is available to help you design customized rubrics for your assignments. 

Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Carnegie Mellon – Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. (n.d.) Grading and Performance Rubrics


Page author:
Dr. Kevin Kelly, Lecturer at San Francisco State University

Last updated:
August 5, 2020