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Assessment: Rubrics

What is a Rubric?

A rubric is a valuable and versatile assessment tool that clearly defines the criteria and performance levels by which student work will be evaluated.  

By communicating and applying a coherent set of criteria and performance level descriptors, rubrics can be used to evaluate or provide feedback on student work in relation to an intended learning outcome (or set of outcomes).  

Rubrics are commonly used to evaluate both products (e.g., essays, reports, created objects) and processes (e.g., work habits, communication, skills). Rubrics are useful when instructors want to evaluate and provide feedback on the quality of student work beyond what might be captured in a checklist or rating scale (see Related Assessment Tools). 

Types of Rubrics

Rubrics can be generic and used across related tasks such as writing or problem solving. Rubrics can also be task-specific and provide performance quality feedback on specific products or skills. In most cases, rubrics should be provided to students in advance, or co-constructed with students, so that they see how they will be evaluated. Some task-specific rubrics, however, may contain the answers to a problem or list facts/concepts students may need to include, so these may not be appropriate to share prior to assignment submission. This can limit their effectiveness for formative assessment.

Rubrics come in many shapes and sizes! In general, most rubrics can be divided into three categories—holistic, analytic, and single-point—though there is ample room for variation within each.

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric describes a performance or product by applying all criteria at the same time and enabling an overall assessment. Holistic rubrics are useful, for example:

  • When assessing and providing feedback quickly is important,
  • When assessing low-stakes assignments (e.g., one journal entry in a series),
  • When an assignment has only one specific learning outcome, or
  • For summative assessments when students will not see their feedback.
Sample Holistic Rubric
Excellent Proficient Developing Beginning
Organization enhances and showcases the main idea. The writer’s voice is compelling and engaging. Sentences are sophisticated with strong, varied sentence structure that invites expressive reading. Organization is smooth with only a few issues. The writer’s voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery. Some structure exists but the flow of ideas is difficult to follow. The writer’s voice is difficult to identify although an attempt is present. Organization cannot be identified and lacks a sense of direction. The writer's voice seems indifferent, uninvolved or distanced from the topic or purpose. Sentence structure is choppy, incomplete, rambling or awkward.

Analytic Rubric

An analytic rubric separates the assessment into multiple criteria and describes the performance quality of each criterion separately, with clearly differentiated descriptors at each level. Analytic rubrics are useful, for example:

  • For formative assessments when targeted feedback is valuable for student learning,
  • Assignments with multiple discrete assessment criteria,
  • Assessment of multiple learning outcomes in one product, or
  • When feedback is provided for students on summative assessment.
Sample Analytic Rubric with Criteria, Performance Levels, and Descriptors
Criteria Excellent Proficient Developing Beginning
Organization Organization enhances and showcases the main idea. Organization is smooth with only a few issues. Some structure exists but the flow of ideas is difficult to follow. Organization cannot be identified and lacks a sense of direction.
Voice The writer's voice is compelling and engaging in  delivering the purpose and topic of the piece. The writer's voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery. The writer’s voice is difficult to identify although an attempt is present. The writer's voice seems indifferent, uninvolved or distanced from the topic or purpose.
Sentence Fluency Sentences are sophisticated with strong, varied sentence structure that invites expressive reading. Sentences are varied, structurally correct and flow well. Sentence structure is usually correct but sentences do not flow. Sentence structure is choppy, incomplete, rambling or awkward.

Single-Point Rubric

A single point rubric is like an analytic rubric in that it identifies discrete assessment criteria; however, it only describes the performance quality at one level, typically proficiency. Single point rubrics are especially useful, for example:

  • When simplified, accessible language is important,
  • For student self-assessment and reflection, or
  • When more flexible and open-ended feedback is being provided.
Sample Single-Point Rubric
Areas that Need Work
Standards for This Performance
Evidence of Exceeding Standards
Organization is smooth with only a few issues.
The writer's voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery.
  Sentence Fluency
Sentences are varied, structurally correct and flow well.

Generating Effective Rubrics

Steps to Creating a Rubric

Just as rubrics come in many shapes and sizes, there are different ways to create an effective rubric. Here are some things to consider:

  • Get clear on your objectives for the assignment. What do you want students to learn or be able to do? Make sure the rubric is aligned with the learning outcomes that the assignment is intended to assess.
  • If this is a new assignment, think about creating the rubric even before the assignment so you are clear about what you want it to assess.
  • Identify the specific criteria or categories against which student learning will be assessed, e.g., analysis, writing quality, organization, formatting, overall impression.
  • Describe what “exceptional” and “unacceptable” would look like for each criteria; decide how many gradients you want in between.
  • Use examples of feedback from previous comments on assignments or tests, and anything else that has helped you determine student performance to help shape your criteria.
  • For each attribute construct a descriptive scale (e.g. a four or five point scale from outstanding to poor, or two point scale with complete/incomplete).
  • Assign a weight to each criteria - what matters most?
  • Start with a simple set of core criteria and clear assignment expectations that can be developed and revised over time through trial and error.
  • Try out the rubric with a sample of student work and review it with colleagues. Ask yourself: What’s missing in my rubric? What is most important?

Core Elements to a Rubric

Most rubrics contain two core elements: assessment criteria and performance-level descriptors.

Effective assessment criteria are:
  • Appropriate – Each criterion clearly represents an aspect of an intended learning outcome.
  • Limited – Keep the number of criteria reasonable and digestible, e.g., 3 to 5.
  • Definable – Each criterion has a clear, agreed-upon meaning that both students and the instructor understand.
  • Observable – Each criterion describes a quality in the performance, behaviour, or product that can be perceived (seen, felt, heard) by someone other than the learner.
  • Distinct – Each criterion identifies a separate aspect of the learning outcome(s) the performance or product is intended to assess.
  • Variable – Each criterion can be described at a range of performance levels.
  • Complete – All the criteria together assess the whole of the learning outcome(s) the performance is intended to assess.
Effective performance level descriptors are:
  • Descriptive – Performance is described in terms of what is observed in the work. Find a balance between descriptors becoming overly rigid and too open to interpretation.
  • Clear – Both students and the instructor understand what the descriptors mean. Try talking with students in advance about what you expect at each level.
  • Logically arranged – For each criterion, performance is described from one end on the quality continuum to another.
  • Distinct – Descriptors are different enough from level to level such that the work can be assessed unambiguously as one or another.
  • Appropriate – Descriptors are appropriate to the assigned performance level.
  • Continuous – Performance descriptors at each level of the continuum for a given criteria describe different quality levels for the same aspect of the work.
Things to avoid...

There are some common pitfalls that can get in the way of creating an effective rubric. Try to avoid, for example:

  • Assessing criteria that are not related to the intended learning outcomes, e.g., neatness or presentation, unless these are explicitly identified as intended outcomes.
  • Assessing more than one criterion at a time without clearly differentiating them.
  • Assessing criteria students have not been asked to do or learn.
  • Assessing for work habits and following instructions rather than for demonstrated learning.
  • Conflating the assignment rubric with the assignment requirements, i.e., including a title page, double spacing, etc.
  • Assessing too many criteria so that the rubric is overwhelming for students, and it loses its value as a learning and feedback tool.

Related Assessment Tools

A rubric is different from other assessment tools such as checklists and rating scales. 

A checklist is a list of specific criteria which are assessed as present or absent, not by level of quality. Use a checklist when the presence of a specific attribute or characteristic is important or there is a clear right/wrong answer. Here is a sample checklist:

Element Yes No
Includes a topic sentence    
Includes three to five sentences    
Includes a concluding sentence    
All sentences start with a capital letter    
All sentences end with a period    

A rating scale is a list of specific criteria which are assessed by rating the degree to which the criteria is displayed, such as always-never, not by level of quality.  Use a rating scale when the frequency of demonstrating an attribute or characteristic is important. Here is a sample rating scale: 

Attribute Always Often Sometimes Never
Sentence start with a capital letter        
Sentences ends with a period        
Sentences are on topic        
Sentences follow the paragraph structure        



This guide is derived in part from information provided in the following publications: 

Brookhart, S. M. (2013). How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Gonzalez, J. (2014, May 1). Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics. Cult of Pedagogy. 

Stevens, D. D. & Levi, A. J. (2013). Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning. (2nd Edition). Stylus Publishing. 

Rubric Example & Demo

Watch the video below for an example of the development of a real rubric used in a History course.

Benefits of Using Rubrics

There are many benefits to using rubrics as part of assessment practices—for both students and instructors. Here is a sampling...

For Students

  • Communicate clear, transparent, and consistent expectations.
  • Allow students to self-assess their learning against specific, identifiable learning outcomes.
  • Provide targeted feedback on specific assessment criteria.
  • Help students learn how to self-identify strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Aid in developing specific knowledge and skills over time.
  • Co-constructing a rubric with students allows them to see the connection between the assignment and what they are learning.

For Instructors

  • Assess student learning against specific learning outcomes.
  • Shorten marking time by reducing the volume of generic written comments.
  • Reduce the number of follow-up questions from students trying to understand their marks.
  • Questions focus more on “How can I improve?” rather than “Where did I lose marks?”
  • Promote more consistent and transparent evaluation of student work.
  • Provide evidence to support a summative evaluation.
  • Can be used for both formative and summative assessment.
  • Useful for structuring peer assessment and feedback.

Other Tips and Considerations

Keep in mind that whatever rubric you create, it may never be perfect. As you use the rubric in your course, you will notice that a descriptor may need to be refined, criteria may be combined, separated, or cut entirely, performance levels might be assigned more (or less) precise weights, etc.

Language Matters

The language you use in a rubric should be considered carefully. For example, try to use “positive” language in your performance level descriptors. In other words, describe what a student did do to achieve a particular level, rather than what they didn’t do. The learner can look to the next level up in the rubric to see how they can improve. Remember also that the rubric is being used to assess learning as demonstrated in a particular product or performance. It is not the student that is being evaluated, it’s the work that they submitted which is being evaluated.

Keep Tweaking

A rubric is a living document that will probably (likely) change over time. Here are some strategies to make the most of your rubrics and keep them sharp, like any good tool:

  • Try co-creating a rubric with your students or invite student feedback on the rubric to ensure they understand the assessment criteria. Co-constructing can also get students invested in the assessment criteria as they take ownership of their learning.
  • Try providing a rubric for student self-assessment and/or peer assessment.
  • If you use a rubric in D2L, let students know that they can print it for use offline.
  • Continually compare your rubric with your assignment guidelines. Do they align? Often the process of constructing a rubric helps to refine the assignment guidelines (and vice versa) as priorities and expectations are clarified.

Sample Rubrics

Below are some examples of effective rubrics. Have a rubric you would like to share? Email and let us know. We can post it here! 

We now have some sample rubrics built right into the rubrics tool in D2L. Most are adapted from the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics. If you would like an adapted copy of one of these rubrics in your course, please email Monique Brewer in eLearning.