Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Making and Using a Rubric

“I tried out my first grading rubric, and it worked really well: my grading time was cut in half, the feedback I gave was equal or better than when I used to make extensive comments on each paper, and I was much more consistent.”  Ryan Luchs, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Duquesne University

Rubrics to Promote and Assess Student Learning, an Online Hands-on Workshop: Click here to enter (must use multipass).

What is a rubric?

A rubric is a grading guide that makes explicit the criteria for judging students’ work on discussion, a paper, performance, product, show-the-work problem, portfolio, presentation, essay question—any student work you seek to evaluate.  Rubrics inform students of expectations while they are learning.  These tools also enable teachers to grade efficiently, judge student work against a standard, and communicate readily with each student.

Examples: Excerpts from rubrics used by instructors at Duquesne

English Essay

Quality of Argument / Content
Does the paper indicate mature understanding of its topic and reflect originality, college-level thought, and effort of the writer?  Does it use effective examples and mature reasoning to support its overall analysis?  Are directions for the paper given by the instructor followed appropriately?
(No) 1 2 3 4 5 (Yes)
Thesis Statement
Does your paper contain a clear, perceptive, arguable sentence (or group of sentences) which articulates its central point?  Does the thesis explain how and/or why that central point is significant?
(No) 1 2 3 4 5 (Yes)

Used with permission of Amy Criniti Phillips, English Department

Lab Reports

Scientific Lab
Introduction Clearly, concisely, and logically presents key concepts related to experiment.
States hypothesis and specific predictions. Includes relevant references
Missing a key concept related to experiment.
Lacks conciseness and organization. States hypothesis and specific predictions. Includes references.


Lacking two or more key concepts. 
No hypothesis or predictions.
Little to no conciseness and organization.
No references.


Lacking key concepts. 
No hypothesis and predictions. No organization of ideas. 
No references


Materials &
Experimental design is clear with dependent and independent variables and controls listed.
Purpose of controls is explained and subjects defined.
Key experimental procedures stated clearly enough to be replicated.
Analysis explained.


Missing one of the components of the experimental design.
Missing one of the following: purpose of controls, subjects defined, or analysis explained.
Procedure not clearly stated


Missing more than one of the components of the experimental design.
Missing two or more of the following:  purpose of controls, subjects defined, or analysis explained.
Procedure not stated well enough to be replicated


Missing most of the components of the experiment design.
Poor description of procedure


Used with permission of Corina Wack, Biological Sciences

Getting started with a checklist

The development of a rubric is a “work in progress,” something to be improved with experience.  A first step is simply to list out the criteria in a checklist.  In simple assignments, a checklist is all you need for giving feedback and helping students assess their learning.  Or, students might sign a checklist indicating that they have completed all the steps in the assignment.

Why use a rubric?

  • Grade consistently and efficiently against a standard. Faculty report that they grade more fairly and efficiently when using a rubric.  They don’t have to keep repeating the same comment.  They are more apt to be consistent when grading many papers (minimizing the “fatigue” factor) or when responding to students whose performance differs across assignments (minimizing the “halo” effect).  The use of rubrics implies that you’re rating students’ work against a standard rather than against one another.  Rubrics help you do a quick analysis of student work to see patterns of strength and weakness.
  • Provide rich feedback to students on their performance. Compare the information conveyed by a score (e.g., 85%) on an objective test of problem solving to that provided by a rubric which identifies areas of misunderstanding or omissions in the problem-solving process.  Or, compare the information conveyed by a grade on an essay (e.g., “C”) to that provided by a rubric that rates performance in areas such as content, organization, style, and grammatical correctness.  The scores and grades tell the learners the instructor’s overall rating of their performance and, perhaps, how they performed relative to other students in the class, but don’t provide guidance in how to improve.

    Are we spoon feeding students? When students encounter new kinds of complex tasks, scoring guides are useful in clearly setting forth the expectations.  As students become familiar with the conventions of writing or performance in your field, the instructions and feedback should be less structured and detailed. 

    Consider involving students in the development of scoring guides especially when this simulates a task they will face in their career (e.g., work performance reviews, analysis of team work, revision of their own or others’ writing, evaluation of a product, blind reviews of articles, search committees).  You might give them a skeletal draft to fill in based on sample work they review.  Students can use rubrics to review their peers’ or sample work so that they learn what the expectations are and see examples of stronger and weaker performance.
  • Guide faculty in planning instruction. Once you have developed well-specified criteria and expected levels of achievement for a task, it may become evident that students need practice in various subtasks.  For example, critical thinking in sociology may require understanding a political or economic context; and developing a persuasive argument about a historical issue may require understanding how primary sources can be used as evidence.  Some tasks we set for students are complex, and we need to assure that they know how to carry out elements of the task before orchestrating these elements into a finished product.

Rubric Worksheet: Use this worksheet to create a rubric for an assignment in a course you teach.

Rubric Examples and Worksheet


  • Allen, Mary, California State University.  Using Scoring Rubrics.  Brief overview article and large list of sample online scoring guides in various disciplines.
  • Association of American Colleges & Universities.  (2009).  Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) ,  Requires you to give some information to log in.  Provides rubrics for 15 kinds of learning.  Faculty are encouraged to adapt these to their course and program contexts.
  • Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J.  (2010).  Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment (2nd. Ed.).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  This book provides practical tips and tools for both grading at the course level and examining learning across the curriculum of an academic program.   There is a lengthy discussion and many examples of rubrics.  Also, chapters 6 & 7 are excellent on managing one’s time and grading efficiently so that students truly learn.