Using Rubrics in Higher Education: What’s in a Rubric?

–Dr. Rebecca M. Reese–

What are Rubrics?

A rubric is a document that describes varying levels of quality for a specific assignment and typically to two pages in length. The use of rubrics in higher education is predominantly as a summative grading tool. However, rubrics are multidimensional scoring guidelines that can be used to formatively assess a learning activity or element based on a predefined set of criteria. A rubric divides the work into component parts, typically referred to as criteria. Criteria provide clear descriptions of the characteristics necessary for completion of an activity. A range of mastery levels are associated with each criteria.

Why Should I Use Rubrics?

Rubrics help learners see that learning is about gaining specific skill sets, and allows them to reflect on the learning process. By incorporating rubrics, learners have a concrete set of directions about what makes a good project/assignment. In addition, rubrics provide learners with informative feedback about their strengths and areas for improvement within a learning activity. In this way, learners are able to utilize rubrics as a form of self-assessment in which they can be applied to subsequent revisions or activities.

Rubrics are great for learners because they:

  • Provide informative feedback about works in progress.
  • Demystify the grading process.
  • Offer a detailed evaluation of activities/projects.
  • Acknowledge their strengths while supporting weaknesses.
  • Support learning and the development of skills.

And, rubrics are great for instructors because they:

  • Increase inter-rater reliability.
  • Reduces subjectivity in the grading process.
  • Help authentically monitor learner development.
  • Provide a guide for lesson/activity revisions.
  • Rubrics are easy to use and to explain.
  • Save time because the feedback is built into the rubric.

What are the types of rubrics?

Essentially there are two main types of rubrics; analytic and holistic, and can be used to measure general or specific tasks. Analytic rubrics divide the activity objective into its component parts (criteria and levels of performance). The criteria are scored independently using a rating scale and the final score is comprised of tallying the criteria scores. Holistic rubrics consist of a single scale with all criteria to be considered jointly. From this, a single score is assigned and the instructor scores the overall project or assignment as a whole, without assessing the criteria as separate parts.

Analytic Rubrics:

  • Advantages: provides discrete feedback on areas of strength and weakness and criterion can be weighed to reflect the relative importance of each criteria.
  • Disadvantages: takes more time to develop and unless each criterion is well-defined, instructors may assess different scores.

Holistic Rubrics:

  • Advantages: emphasis is on what the learner is able to demonstrate and saves time in grading by minimizing the number of decisions the rater must make.
  • Disadvantages: does not provide discrete feedback for improvement and criteria cannot be weighed.

How Do I Create a Rubric?

Educators generally agree that rubrics expedite the grading process and clarify expectations. However, determining it can be a lengthy process. First order of business is to determine what evidence of learning or thinking you want to see in the final product. You should list the most important evaluative points in a given task or activity. These points will become your criteria. Then decide what criteria is ‘non-negotiable’. Ideally you will have three to five performance criteria. If you have trouble deciding, try prioritizing the criteria by asking:

  • What are the learning objectives of this module?
  • Which objectives will be used in the rubric?
  • Which skills are essential at competent or proficiency for the task to be complete?
  • How important is the overall completion of the task to show competency in the course?

It is important to note that reusing or repurposing another instructor’s rubric is perfectly acceptable. If you do choose to develop one from scratch, there are several websites that can assist you e.g., Rubistar, Teach-nology, iRubric, and Rubric Generator. Once you have determined what criteria must be evaluated in a specific task or assignment, then

  • Review previous examples of satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance of a task or activity.
  • List all essential criteria for successfully completing the task or activity.
  • Review, revise and rewrite the criteria – this will help you to keep from creating criteria that are too overarching and reveal essential criteria that may be lost within a larger set.
  • Articulate the levels of performance quality for each criterion (typically four levels).
  • Create a draft of the rubric that includes all elements.
  • Have colleague(s) review the draft (or even former/current learners).
  • Revise the draft based on feedback.
  • Congratulations – you are the proud owner of a shiny new rubric!

Sample Rubrics

Take a look at the following rubrics that were developed by Carnegie Mellon faculty and other institutions. Even though your subject or exact activity type may not be represented, examining rubrics of complementary activities can provide you with a starting point for developing your own rubric.

Paper Assignments


  • Example 1: Capstone Project in DesignThis rubric describes the components and standard of performance from the research phase to the final presentation for a senior capstone project in the School of Design, CMU.
  • Example 2: Engineering Design ProjectThis rubric describes performance standards on three aspects of a team project: Research and Design, Communication, and Team Work.

Oral Presentations

Class Participation/Contributions

  • Example 1: Discussion ClassThis rubric assesses the quality of student contributions to class discussions. This is appropriate for an undergraduate-level course, CMU.
  • Example 2: Advanced SeminarThis rubric is designed for assessing discussion performance in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar.



Association of American Colleges and Universities, Oral Communication Value Rubric, retrieved August, 15, 2011, from munication.pdf.

Andrade, H. (1999). The effects of instructional rubrics on student writing. Manuscript in preparation.

Andrade, H., & Ying, D. (2005). Student perspectives on rubric-referenced assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 10(3), 1-11.

Arter, J. & McTighe, J. (2001). Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Goodrich, H. (1996). Student self-assessment: At the intersection of metacognition and authentic assessment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Wolf, K. and Stevens, E. (2007). The role of rubrics in advancing and assessing student learning. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 7, (1), pp. 3-14.



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