Using Rubrics: Tips and Examples

Rubrics are a tool for effective assessment of student work. A rubric identifies specific expectations from a given assignment, as well as how the successful completion of these elements contributes to a grade.

For instructors, rubrics:

  • Help the grading / feedback reflect the assignment / class goals
  • Remove bias from grading (including across graders / TAs)
  • Save time

For students, rubrics:

  • Ensure students know the expectations of an assignment(s) rubrics should be shared with students in advance
  • Clearly justify grades for students

Rubrics can be used to evaluate progress, as well as to assess final products and assign grades. There are different types of rubrics, depending on the needs of the assignment:

Checklist Rubrics

Checklist rubrics assess completion of the parts of an assignment. The student is not assessed on how well each element is executed, but just on completion. Checklists can be done by the instructor, but can also be done by students themselves to self-assess their progress/product.An instructor can choose to give partial credit if an element of the assignment is partially completed. For example, for the UWS proposal assignment, a checklist rubric may look like this:

Proposal Elements
Literature Review (~2 pages)
Library Research Plan (~1 page)
Motive (1 paragraph)
Weekly Timeline
Annotated Bibliography (minimum of 3 sources)

Narrative / Holistic Rubrics

Narrative/holistic rubrics provide overall descriptions of [insert text here]

For example, this holistic rubric (Source: "Holistic Rubrics," Virginia Commonwealth University) refers to an assignment where students contributed to an online discussion board. As you can see from the left-hand column, the assessment can be done in various ways, as a letter grade, as a subjective measure, or as a numerical rating.

Figure 1 portrays a sample structure for a holistic rubric. The left side lists possible grades, but particular points values could be easily added here as well. The second column shows a description of the expectations for that grade. So, for the assignment that corresponds to this rubric, the instructor would consider: what would an assignment that earned an A look like, versus one that earned a B? And so on.

Table depicting a possible template for a holistic rubric.
Figure 1: Sample structure for holistic rubric

Figure 2 shows a completed example of a holistic rubric. This was created for a hypothetical discussion board activity in an English literature classroom. You’ll notice that, in the right-hand column, grades and points values are listed, as well as a brief descriptor of the overall performance like “outstanding” or “average.” The second column contains a detailed description of what qualities an assignment would have in order to earn an A or B, etc.

* This table is an image that needs to be typed out. ***

Table depicting a sample holistic rubric.
Figure 2: Completed sample of a holistic rubric for discussion board in English literature course

Narrative/Holistic Rubrics can be easier for instructors to create and use. However, for students, these sorts of rubrics often provide less specific feedback. A student may not know where exactly their writing fails to meet expectations. Narrative / holistic rubrics thus should be used in tandem with specific comments that articulate where the student needs improvement. Often, when an instructor is using a narrative / holistic rubric, there is a sort of analytical rubric (see below) going on behind the scenes, which helps inform the final grade. This behind-the-scenes thinking should be communicated to students. 

Analytical / Developmental Rubrics

Similar to holistic rubrics but they break down the elements of the assignment into pieces. The benefit of this approach is that students see exactly where they are and are not succeeding with their writing. These rubrics can be time consuming to produce, but are effective in both communicating expectations and justifying grades. Some instructors opt to return each writing assignment with the rubric attached, highlighted or otherwise marked to show progress. Other instructors may opt to use detailed marginal and block comments to refer to the elements of the rubric.

Assignment Elements
A (Exceeding Standard)The major claim of the essay is complex, insightful, and unexpected.
B (Proficient): The major claim is clear and arguable but lacks complexity or is too narrow in scope.
C (Progressing): The major claim of the essay is weak, i.e., vague, simple, or obvious.
D (Not meeting standard): The major claim is missing or unclear.
A: Strong evidence is used in supportive and creative ways.
B: Most ideas are supported by evidence, but not the best evidence.
C: Evidence may be lacking or irrelevant.
D: There is little to no appropriate evidence.
A: Ideas develop over the course of the essay.
B: The argument is mostly logical and structured.
C: The argument does not develop over the course of the essay.
D: Argument shows no clear structure.
A: Extensive & effective revision beyond instructor’s comments.
B: Extensive revision.
C: Some evidence of revision.
D: Little evidence of revision.


Elissa Jacobs and Paige Eggebrecht