As an assessment tool, a rubric sets the criteria for evaluating performance or work completed in a course or program. A rubric can communicate the expectations for learning and provide a framework for instructors to make decisions about instruction.

Rubrics are used for both formative assessment (in-process feedback to be used for improvement) and summative assessment (evaluation of student learning at the conclusion of an assignment or project). Essentially, a rubric is a tool for communication between instructor and student.

Rubrics promote good practice in:

  • Communication: A rubric creates a common framework and clear expectations
  • Consistency and Fairness: Same criteria and standards across students and reviewers/graders
  • Transparency: Progress and grades are clear, reduces mystery
  • Faster Assessment: Assessment and evaluation can be done more efficiently
  • Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses: Shows where students are doing well and where they need more support (Is it a ‘B’ paper all the way through?)
  • Objective Criteria: Rubrics are criterion-referenced, rather than norm-referenced. Raters ask, "Did the student meet the criteria for level 5 of the rubric?" rather than "How well did this student do compared to other students?"

On this page: Introduction to Rubrics

See also: Co-Creating Rubrics with Students, Using Rubrics for Peer Review

Introduction to Rubrics

This recorded presentation provides a brief introduction to rubrics for use in university courses. In the presentation, you will learn about the appropriate uses for rubrics and become familiar with the essential components of designing a rubric for class assignments. For more in-depth study, please see the additional resources listed below.

[Stephanie Foster:] Hello! This is 
introduction to rubrics. I'm Stephanie Foster,  

Assessment Lead in the Center for Teaching & 
Learning at the University of Colorado Boulder.  

In this session, you will learn about the 
appropriate uses for rubrics and become  

familiar with the essential components of 
designing a rubric for class assignments

The use of rubrics as an assessment tool dates 
back to the mid-1990s. So, not so long ago.  

Rubrics have since been growing in popularity 
and use in higher education since at least 2005  

and are currently being used 
in many different contexts.  

A rubric is a guide that articulates the 
expectations for an assignment and communicates  

the level of quality for performance or learning. 
Rubrics are typically used to score student  

performance on defined criteria and levels of 
quality, or intellectual or skill development  

over time. Rubrics can be simple and short or 
complex; they can be qualitative, providing  

feed– narrative feedback, or quantitative, 
providing numerical scores. Or all of the above.  

There are two main types of 
rubrics used in higher education:  

the analytic rubric is what we'll spend our time 
talking about today but I'd like to show you both.  

So the analytic rubric specifies at least two 
characteristics to be assessed at each performance  

level and provides a separate score for each 
characteristic. You would use analytic rubrics  

for identifying particular strengths and areas of 
improvement across a research paper, for instance,  

and you can use it to provide detailed 
formative feedback on student work.  

A holistic rubric, on the other hand, provides 
a single score based on an overall impression  

of a student's performance on a task. You should 
use a holistic rubric when a single dimension is  

adequate, so perhaps you have a short assignment 
or you want to give quick or summative feedback.  

I'd like to show you an example of both an 
analytic and a holistic rubric used for the  

same task. When I was at George Mason 
University, I created a product rubric  

for the– looking at the results of 
undergraduate research products.

So for this purpose, we defined an analytic 
rubric. We wanted to understand the dimensions  

of what went into that student product. 
Now, a student product might be  

a research paper or report; it might be a poster 
at an event; but basically this is the the end of  

their work so this is summative evaluation. So you 
see the dimensions listed on the left, starting  

with articulation of problem purpose or focus and 
continuing down the line to quality of delivery.  

So in this case, in this rubric, 
you will see that the dimensions  

are then aligned with four levels of 
performance, from expert to novice, and in each–  

each lines up with a description of student 
performance. So in this case we're looking at the  

fourth dimension down, analysis or interpretation. 
You'll see that at the emerging level, the product  

would show that the student used evidence 
to support a limited analysis of the problem  

and that their interpretation is partially linked 
to the theoretical framework or scholarly model.  

If you just move up to the proficient level 
of performance, you'll see that there there's  

an improvement the evidence now supports an 
adequately complex analysis of the problem  

and the interpretation is adequately 
linked to the theoretical framework or  

scholarly model. And as you see improvement, 
you can move up into the expert category. Now,  

one of the really great uses of an 
analytic rubric is that you can define  

where specifically where students are performing 
really well and other areas where they're  

performing not so well. So they may be stronger 
in articulating their problem, for instance,  

and weaker in, say, their quality of 
delivery or their implications or impact.  

Now for that same product that we're looking at, 
we could use a holistic rubric and here's the  

example. So you'll notice we use the same four 
levels of performance from expert to novice,  

but in this case there's a very 
brief summary under each of those–  

under each of those scales. So, the 
reason we designed the rubric in this way  

is that the– we had two different purposes in 
mind. The first was that the analytic rubric  

would be used by the instructor or the mentor to 
look in-depth at a student product. We felt like  

that instructor or mentor was the only person who 
could really look at the product in that detail.  

But we were also holding celebrations of 
scholarship and presentations where students would  

present their work or show their posters in 
poster sessions, and we wanted to be able to  

do an assessment of those products quickly by 
reviewers who were not the mentors, so we would  

need something where they could very quickly 
assess the entire product and give it one score  

so both the analytic and the holistic rubrics 
are– have important uses at certain times.

Now why should you use rubrics? Essentially, 
a rubric is a communication tool between the  

instructor and the student. So a rubric creates 
a common framework and clear expectations for  

how students will perform. It creates consistency 
and fairness using the same criteria and standards  

across all of the students in your class, 
and across reviewers or multiple graders. I  

should note here that it's important that if 
you are using multiple reviewers or graders  

that you need to spend time training them on 
the rubric and norming their scoring across  

samples, so that graders are not interpreting 
the language in different ways, and thus this  

consistency and fairness notion would kind of 
go out the window. So you want to make sure  

that everybody's using this in the same 
way to promote consistency and fairness.  

Rubrics can promote transparency, so that progress 
towards a final product and grades are clear.  

It reduces mystery when and helps students to 
understand why they earn the grade or the feedback  

that they receive. Some faculty think that rubrics 
can be used for faster assessment and it can be  

done more efficiently when you have a rubric with 
well-defined categories and criteria for success.  

Now I might add here that it's important when 
you're giving student feedback that you always add  

something particular to that student work: that 
you don't only use the rubric but that students  

also receive written feedback and comments 
from you that are specific to their assignment.  

Rubrics can be used to identify 
strengths and weaknesses, so  

using the example that I just showed you, 
it could show exactly where students are  

doing well and where they need more support. 
So usually when students earn a B on a paper,  

you assess the paper in a holistic way to earn a 
B but there are specific components that are not  

all earning B grades. You may have strengths in 
some areas and areas maybe the conclusion was not  

a B, maybe the conclusion was a D, but overall the 
student performed well, but this could really help  

to identify specific strengths and weaknesses. And 
finally, rubrics are used for objective criteria.  

Rubrics are criterion-referenced: this means 
that you compare all student work against the  

criteria for success, and not norm-referenced, so 
you're not comparing students to each other. So  

when should you use rubrics? A rubric can be used 
for assignments for which there's more more than  

one answer, so really, there's no point in using 
rubrics for a multiple choice exam, for instance;  

you can use rubrics for formative or summative 
assessment and what's the difference here? I  

really like what evaluator Robert Stake 
wrote, that when the cook tastes the soup,  

that's formative. You still have time to 
improve it. But when the guests eat the soup,  

that's summative, you're done. So– so you can use 
rubrics in both a formative and a summative way.

You can use rubrics for both process or product or 
performance. A process element might be something  

like how well a student communicated 
with team members for a group project.  

A product or performance might be a final research 
paper or the performance of a choreography.

Rubrics are very useful when done appropriately 
for peer review so students can use rubrics to  

look at each other's work and get feedback 
for improvement. And finally, rubrics  

are useful for self assessment and improvement. 
This can promote higher-order thinking such as  

critical thinking and self-reflection, and can 
communicate that back with their instructor.

Now let's talk about how do you create a rubric? 
In its simplest form, a rubric includes five  

things. The essentials are a task description, 
the outcomes or dimensions to be rated  

(these are the rows of the rubric), the levels of 
performance or the scale (those are the columns),  

a description of each characteristic at each level 
of performance or scale (this– this is the content  

of each of the cells), and a scoring strategy. 
We are going to focus on numbers one through four  

the scoring strategy will be 
covered in a separate presentation.  

So I'm going to continue to use the example that 
I showed you earlier from George Mason University;  

you should have a link to that in the content on 
the website where you're viewing this video right  

now. A task description: so on the first 
page there's actually quite a bit of text  

but if you sort through that text, ultimately 
you'll find the task description. This rubric  

is designed to evaluate the product of an 
undergraduate research or creative project.  

Products may include written 
documents, poster presentations,  

oral presentations or performances, 
artistic expressions, and interviews.

So when you write your rubric, you should be 
very clear about the activity, the assignment,  

the performance or presentation 
that's being assessed. Okay, the next  

uh– when you take a look at an analytic rubric, 
you'll see these uh different pieces. So you want  

to define your dimensions. Your dimensions 
are either about the product or performance,  

which we've discussed, so, for instance, 
the use of evidence to make an argument  

could be a dimension, the use of examples could 
be a dimension, or the organization of ideas,  

or it can be about process. So we use the example 
of communication for teamwork, for example,  

or did the student follow proper protocols. This 
is whether they– how they perform the process  

of producing the work. And across the top you'll 
see the scales or level of– levels of performance.  

This describes how well the task is 
performed. So you might have different levels:  

you could have language describing those levels 
such as exemplary, proficient, or needs work;  

complete, partial, or none; or you 
could have letter grades across the top.

So let's look at dimensions or outcomes and 
in this case I'm continuing to use the example  

of this– the product rubric. The outcomes or 
dimensions to be rated, these are the rows;  

these are the skills knowledge and or behavior to 
be demonstrated. You should specify which skills,  

knowledge, or behaviors you are looking for here, 
and limit the characteristics to those that are  

most important to the assignment. So one thing I 
want to caution faculty on here is something I see  

quite often and that is when I interview faculty 
about an assignment they say, "I want students to  

develop critical thinking skills. I want them 
to understand how to use multiple sources to  

make an argument." They almost never say things 
like, "I want students to use proper grammar,"  

"I want them to use proper syntax and have no 
spelling errors," and yet when I take a look at  

their rubric, their rubric significantly weights 
things like grammar, syntax, and spelling errors.  

So if those are things that you want to grade 
students on, then those things need to be included  

in your rubric and be clearly spelled 
out. Now of course you're going to have  

things that happen in student assignments that 
are unexpected. Maybe somebody does something  

that is wonderful and you want to reward them 
for that. Maybe they do something unexpected in  

various ways and you want to be able to comment 
on that. You should always leave room for  

the the unexpected or the wonderful things that 
you see in student work. But by defining these,  

and clarifying these expectations, you do that 
not only for the student but for yourself.  

Now when you're thinking about scales or levels 
of performance, these are the labels that you  

use to describe the levels of performance, 
and they should be clear and meaningful. One  

of the things that I like to do that I prefer 
is to always have positive language. Positive  

and developmental language. So what I mean by 
developmental is that we know that students  

are learning and growing and we want to represent 
that. So this is not representing a failure,  

but that you are performing at a certain level 
and we know that you'll be able to improve. Now of  

course you may use letter grades, or you may use a 
word, uh, instead of "novice" here you might have  

"unacceptable," or maybe that's off the scale: 
maybe you also have an unacceptable category or  

maybe you just don't see an element in the 
student work at all, so they're required  

to articulate their problem and maybe they 
don't do that at all. So that's not a novice,  

that's– that's a zero because they didn't do that 
and so you just need to be clear what you expect.

So when you're completing in an analytic rubric, 
the description of each of these dimensions  

at– and according to each level of performance, 
it's good practice to start with the top category.  

So this describes the best work you expect using 
all of the characteristics. And then define the  

lowest category. What's an unacceptable product, 
or the bare minimum that you expect to see? And  

then develop the descriptions of the intermediate 
level products in the categories. You should make  

sure that the language from column to column is 
similar, and that your syntax and wording are  

aligned. So you should use specific descriptions, 
avoiding words like "good" or "excellent" but use  

words that are clearer to students and 
provide areas that they can use to improve.

I like to start my list of outcomes with 
the content, ideas, arguments, and then move  

to things like organization, grammar, and 
citation if those things are being evaluated.

Now what I've given to you today has been a 
very brief introduction to rubrics with not  

a lot of examples. If rubrics is something 
that you really want to learn more about,  

there are a couple really great books 
on the subject, pretty recent books;  

the second one, "Introduction to Rubrics," should 
probably be on every faculty member's shelf.

And one more slide; I want to talk about 
expanding our use of rubrics. So, a 2009  

review of research on the use of rubrics in higher 
education found that students tended to think of  

rubrics as helping them learn and achieve, so, 
that formative use of rubrics, while instructors  

focused almost exclusively on rubric use for quick 
grading. So there's a bit of a mismatch there,  

and I think that the way that students are 
looking at it is the way that I look at it,  

although I do enjoy quick grading myself, but I'd 
like to encourage you to think about using rubrics  

as an instructional guide instead of or 
in addition to the use for grading. So  

how can you use rubrics to help provide 
a richer, more complex communication  

to students about expectations and about 
their ability to to grow and to learn  

through this assignment? But here's the key: you 
can't just hand out the rubric to students. They  

must be taught how to use it for self-assessment 
and improvement. They must get practice and  

understand the language. So this is important for 
self-assessment and for peer assessment as well.  

Rubrics can be developed to assess learning 
performance over time, such as in a portfolio from  

one semester, from multiple semesters, or over the 
course of a student's academic career. Portfolios  

are very often used in certain academic fields 
such as teaching or education programs; they  

are often used in performance or visual arts, for 
example; and in a variety of other areas as well.

Rubrics can be used to assess learning 
across sections of the same course.  

So if you want to understand, for instance, the 
impact of different teaching strategies across the  

different sections or other elements, you might 
use a rubric to do that kind of assessment,  

or across courses. So you can use the same 
rubric for similar kinds of assignments  

across courses. And finally, rubrics can be 
used in a very interesting way as a program  

guide to make decisions about [a] program's 
curriculum and program assessment tools. So  

rubrics can be used for faculty to have shared 
understandings about what students are learning,  

where you want to see students go, and, 
ultimately, what the values of the department  

are in that program. And it can also be used 
to then create program assessment tools such  

as surveys uh and– and other kinds of um and to 
guide other kinds of assessment and evaluation.

Video Resources

Good Practices for Creating Rubrics

In its simplest form, a rubric includes five things:

  1. A task description: The activity, assignment, performance, or presentation being assessed.
  2. The outcomes or dimensions to be rated (rows): The skills, knowledge, and/or behavior to be demonstrated. Specify the skills, knowledge, and/or behaviors that you will be looking for. Limit the characteristics to those that are most important to the assignment.
  3. Levels of performance/scale (columns): Labels used to describe the levels of performance should be clear and meaningful. Commonly used labels include:
    • Not meeting, approaching, meeting, exceeding
    • Exemplary, proficient, marginal, unacceptable
    • Advanced, intermediate high, intermediate, novice
    • Complete, partial, minimal, none
    • Letter grades (A, B, C, D, F)
  4. A description of each characteristic at each level of performance/scale (cells)
    • Describe the best work you expect using these characteristics. This describes the top category.
    • Describe an unacceptable product. This describes the lowest category.
    • Develop descriptions of intermediate-level products for intermediate categories.
    • Make sure that the language from column to column is similar, that syntax and wording are aligned.
    • Use specific descriptions, avoiding words like “good” and “excellent.”
    • Start your list of outcomes with the content, ideas, and arguments, then organization, grammar, and citation (if being evaluated)
  5. A scoring strategy

Next Steps

  1. Test the rubric by applying it to samples of student work.
  2. Share the rubric with colleagues.
  3. Review feedback and revise.

Good Practices for Using Rubrics*

Use Student-Friendly Language

Use language that is appropriate to the level of the course and your students. If you are using academic or disciplinary language, make sure you spend time teaching and practicing the concepts.

Share the Rubric with Students

Share the rubric with the assignment prompt so that students are familiar with your expectations. This should help students master your learning outcomes by guiding their work in appropriate directions.

Use the Rubric to Grade Student Work

Use the rubric to grade student work and return the rubric with the grading on it. Faculty save time writing extensive comments by marking relevant segments of the rubric. Some instructors include space for additional comments on the rubric, either within each section or at the end.

Develop the Rubric with Students

Students can monitor themselves and their peers using agreed-upon criteria that they help develop. Have students apply your rubric to sample products before they create their own. The ability to evaluate, edit, and improve draft documents is an important skill.

Use the Rubric for Peer Review

Have students exchange paper drafts and give peer feedback using the rubric. Then, give students time to revise before submitting the final draft to you. You might also require that they turn in the draft and peer-scored rubric with their final paper.

Use the Rubric for Student Self-Assessment

Students assess their own work using the rubric and submit the rubric with their assignment. This is a great basis for deep discussion about which aspects they can improve.

*This content was adapted with gratitude from work done by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Office of Assessment, 2018

Further Reading & Resources

 Selke, M. J. G. (2013). Rubric assessment goes to college: Objective, comprehensive evaluation of student work. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

 Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (second edition). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

 University of Wisconsin–Madison Examples & Resources (webpage; section on Responding, Evaluating, Grading)