What Are Rubrics and Why Use Them?

A rubric is any tool that is used to communicate the criteria and standards for evaluating student work. Rubrics tell students and instructors what it is that is being used to measure achievement in student work. When used appropriately rubrics can be effective teaching tools for the purpose of clarifying expectations for students. They can also save significant time in marking.

Why Use a Rubric? 

Clarify expectations for students and instructors

In addition to supporting instructors, rubrics also provide key guidance to students on what is expected of them in an assignment. For this reason, it is important to provide rubrics to students BEFORE they submit an assignment, and ideally whenever the assignment is first introduced to students. Students should have access to grading criteria upfront in order to support them in completing the assignment in a successful way.  

Make grading more efficient and consistent 

Because a rubric provides clear guidelines to reference, instructors are able to focus on these guidelines, toggling between the assignment and the rubric to make grading decisions. Although they require time upfront in designing and building, rubrics can save significant time when it comes to grading student work. Once built, rubrics can also be reused and iterated on easily, saving time when designing future or similar courses and assignments.

Provide a shared understanding of criteria in post-assessment conversations

Rubrics can be used in conversations when students are struggling to understand why they received the feedback and grade that they did.  A rubric can be a shared point of understanding and reference point in these conversations.

Increase student success and metacognition 

Students who have access to clear grading criteria have the advantage of crafting their assignments accordingly, increasing their potential for success. Having students use rubrics to self-evaluate their own work using a rubric encourages metacognitive processes in reflecting on their work, and making appropriate changes.

Impact teaching and course design 

Designing rubrics upfront encourages instructors to reflect deeply on what it is they are evaluating in student work.  This can influence the design process and help to keep learning outcomes and teaching experiences aligned with assessment.

Types of Rubrics

Since rubrics are any tool that is used to communicate grading standards, there are many different types. However, some standard examples include analytic, holistic, checklist, and single-point. Which rubric you choose depends on the type of artifact you are grading, and the nature of what you are looking to assess. 

Click on the name of each rubric type in the table below to look at an example of this kind of rubric.

Analytic Analytic rubrics are often in a table/matrix format with 3-4 levels and descriptions of criteria per each level. Columns represent various levels of achievement, and rows represent the assessment criteria.  Analytic rubrics are used when an instructor wants to break down an assignment into various categories, and assess criteria in each one.  In this way, analytic rubrics assess the breadth of quality for different components within an artifact
HolisticHolistic rubrics combine all of the criteria for assessment into one category and scores student work against that category. In this way, holistic rubrics assess student work as a whole artifact. 
ChecklistA checklist rubric may be used when there is not a continuum of quality, but rather a yes/no or complete/incomplete dichotomy within an assignment. For example, in the rubric below, appropriate protective clothing must be worn.  Cylinders are either secured or not. There is no in-between here. The nature of this assessment is that the criteria is achieved or not achieved, there is not a gradient of quality. Students are assessed on whether or not the steps have been followed or achieved.
Single PointThe single-point rubric has been gaining favour among educators because of its simple design and ability to suggest criteria but also provide qualitative feedback.  The single-point is like an analytic rubric, but only describes the criteria for what is proficient or acceptable. These rubrics work well in pass-fail situations, and when instructors do not want to list all the ways in which a student may achieve or not achieve the criteria. 

Tips for Designing and Using Rubrics

Give rubrics to students before they start the assignment

It is important to provide students with rubrics before they start their assignments so that they know what they will be graded on. In this way, instructors are not testing students on how well they can guess how they will be graded, or what is valuable to their instructor. Knowing the criteria upfront helps students work toward creating the best assignment they can. 

Encourage students to self-assess using the same rubric 

Having students complete a self-assessment using the rubric encourages students to consider the criteria deeply, and apply it meaningfully to their assignment. Simply providing students with a rubric beforehand does not necessarily mean students will use it well. Encouraging students to self-assess with the rubric can contribute to higher student success as they revise and adjust their assignment accordingly.

Co-create criteria with your students

Using class time to generate criteria for a rubric with your students is an effective way to support students being engaged and successful with an assignment. Co-creating encourages students to reflect on the assignment deeply and consider what is important to demonstrate. Additionally, this process creates buy-in to the assignment and can help students understand an assignment from a more embedded and situated perspective.

Reflect on your rubrics (no rubric is perfect)

A rubric can be a valuable tool to instructors, but it is not perfect. One disadvantage to rubrics is that they may not account for all the ways a learner can achieve excellence or fall short. As efficient as they are, rubrics can fail to provide rich, personal feedback. However, using a hybrid approach where a rubric helps determine the main areas of performance, coupled with feedback related to those areas, can provide a balance of efficiency and personalization.  

Rubrics in VIULearn

VIULearn has a rubric tool that can be used to create analytic or holistic rubrics.  Once created, these rubrics can be attached to an assignment and used to evaluate artifacts submitted online. More on how to create and use rubrics in VIULearn here.

Rubrics used in VIULearn, however, cannot be used by students as a self assessment.  To enable students to self-assess on an assignment using a digital rubric in VIULearn , an instructor’s options include:

  • Turning the rubric into a fillable PDF and uploading for students
  • Turning the rubric into a word document and uploading for students to complete

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