This article provides an overview and links to resources on rubrics: Why use one; What is a rubric and How to write a rubric.
If you are writing a rubric for the first time, you might like to have it reviewed by a colleague or a learning designer. Comments welcome!
WHY use a rubric
A rubric for assessment:
- Clarifies standards for students and markers. Standards-based grading is in the Assessment Policy.
- Assists consistent and quicker marking decisions
- Facilitates fast, specific feedback
- Can be part of an integrated design of scaffolding for a task
- Can be used for peer review.
Rubrics need to be planned and well-structured. A poorly thought-out rubric or one that is not aligned or integrated with learning outcomes can cause confusion for students. Below are some tips on making the most of your rubrics.
Just providing a rubric can help students understand the standards required in an assessment task, but you can also use activities to help students understand the rubrics’ meaning, put its criteria in context, and apply the criteria to their own work.
- Generate questions
Using the rubric criteria, ask students to translate the descriptions into questions they can ask themselves as they complete the assessment, in order to guide themselves in their work. These can be shared and discussed with the class. For example, “Is the report written to a professional standard?” “Do the data sufficiently support the conclusion?”
- Evaluate before submission
Have students evaluate their own or others’ work based on the rubric, with opportunity to improve before final submission.
This can also be used as a pre-assessment activity where students are asked to review and rate a sample assessment against the provided criteria.
Note: The Workshop tool in iLearn (Moodle) can help with this.
- Students help set criteria
Depending on the level and type of activity, it may be appropriate to ask students to help define criteria and achievement descriptions. (Note that this activity might produce demanding or ambitious descriptors that you may need to moderate.)
WHAT is a rubric
Types of rubrics
See examples of analytic, holistic and single-point rubrics here.
Analytic rubric: Aligns marks with levels of achievement against multiple criteria. It may be used for marking or formative feedback without marks. See the illustrated structure below.
Holistic rubric: Offers a single description per level of achievement, which generally includes multiple elements.
Single-point rubric: Only offers one description for proficiency for each criterion and no other standards such as not achieved or advanced (an analytic rubric with just one standards column).
Checklist: Criteria that can be checked off as yes/no. For example, “Provided a table of contents.”
Each rubric type has its strengths and limitations. Probably the most commonly used type at Macquarie is the analytic rubric, which can take some time to create, but is more helpful for marking and targeted feedback.
A typical rubric is grid-based.
Criteria are the elements or characteristics on which the assessment will be evaluated. They should feed into the learning outcomes for the task.
Standards are levels of achievement.
Descriptors describe what is required to demonstrate achievement at each standard.
- A descriptor in an analytic rubric would correspond to one standard for one criterion, though it may describe multiple elements that make up that criterion. For example: a descriptor for a communication criterion might mention written expression, text structure as well as use of illustrations, graphs and principles of communication.
- Descriptors for a holistic rubric would tend to include multiple criteria together for each standard.
See the ‘How’ section below for advice on writing these elements for rubrics.
Examples of rubrics
Here are some resources and links to examples of rubrics:
- Also for MQ staff, take a look at the wiki resources and examples put together by Dr Susan Hoadley. These have a business focus but are useful guidance for other disciplines as well.
- Sites to find example rubrics:
Merlot.org – a site for sharing open educational resources.
iRubric – browse the available rubrics (without necessarily using their creation tool)
- Examples of rubrics used for assessments in the Bachelor of Science capstone unit.
Project Plan Rubric
The rubric on reflection was based on one from the University of Edinburgh’s Reflection Toolkit (a great resource for both staff and students)
- Designing an assessment rubric. This resource from TEQSA, authored by Emeritus Professor Janice Orrell of Flinders University, includes a generic rubric on its final pages with examples of descriptors, but starts by discussing frameworks such as Bloom’s Taxonomy as a basis for setting appropriate standards.
The new PLaCE Rubric Repository has examples of rubrics as well as further resources for developing and using rubrics.
HOW to write rubrics
(Adapted from Dr Susan Hoadley’s MQ wiki resources)
- Your criteria and descriptors should align with learning outcomes.
Usually by the time you write your rubric, the learning outcome(s) and assessment task will already be in the Curriculum Management System (CMS) and documented in the unit guide. Any changes or updates to assessments or learning outcomes should go through curriculum planning processes, information available from the MQ wiki.
- If possible, check if there is an existing rubric that you can adapt – search online or ask your colleagues: looking over how others have worded descriptions can provide useful ideas and a head start on your own descriptions. (Of course, acknowledge and give credit to original authors!)
You might write the rubric in collaboration with a colleague; certainly have someone review it before you use it.
- Reuse it! If there are relevant common learning outcomes across a degree, such as employability skills, whole rubrics or constituent criteria might be reusable in multiple units.
- Ask your department/school/faculty if they have any guidelines for rubric writing.
- Note that if a rubric is too detailed, you may find students do not read it in full. Try for balance.
- Keep to a manageable number: 4-6 is good.
- Focus on what is most relevant to the learning outcome(s) for the task.
- Keep in mind the skills/course-level goals the assessment is targeting.
- Name the criteria simply and concisely
- eg ‘Structure.’ Use the descriptors for details.
- Avoid reference to quality in the criteria by avoiding adverbs (eg logically) and adjectives (eg effective).
- Include only one property or characteristic in each criterion.
- Use the grades (HD D Cr P F) supplied in the MQ Assessment policy as your standards and corresponding mark ranges
- Consider reducing the number of standards columns if that fits your purpose, for example: Not Achieved, Achieved, Exceeds Expectations.
- Aim to be precise and specific. Don’t write descriptors that are too detailed or complex.
- Pitch descriptors at an appropriate level: a Pass standard descriptor should be the minimum demonstration of achievement of the relevant learning outcome; a High Distinction standard descriptor should not go beyond the relevant learning outcome, which should correspond to the level of the unit. For example, a 3000-level pass descriptor might correspond to a distinction in a 1000-level unit.
- Use adjectives or adverbs sparingly to define achievement at the different standards (eg many, some, comprehensive, none, critical, appropriate, analytical). Be aware that certain adverbs can be too vague to be very useful, ie the difference between some and little can be difficult for students to determine.
- Use language that is appropriate to the standard eg limited or basic rather than weak or poor for the Pass standard.
- Specify demonstrable outcomes where possible (eg identifies major issues).
- Frame descriptors positively (ie what is required, rather than what is to be avoided) so that students know what they are aiming for.
- Use or and and/or strategically to make the rubric more workable (Eg Sources used are insufficient and/or irrelevant).
- Don’t write overly specific descriptors that trivialise complex learning outcomes (e.g. finds 17 sources on the topic).
- Tips for writing descriptors. The last page of this short document from The University of Queensland contains helpful examples of good and bad descriptors Writing_Criteria_Standards.doc (link to MQ wiki)
- Wordbanks for writing descriptors. word-banks-handout-.doc (link to MQ wiki). This comes from a useful resource created by the University of Tasmania.
Technical resources – iLearn (Moodle)
You can provide rubrics as a downloadable file and/or as an integrated Turnitin or Assignment tool.
Setting up and sharing rubrics in Turnitin
Workshop – for calibrating rubric understanding
The majority of the writing rubrics section is derived – or lifted directly – from Dr Susan Hoadley’s wiki resources. The wiki illustration is adapted from one in those resources. Thank you, Susan.
Thanks also to Dr Karina Luzia for feedback on the draft article.
Header photo by Tim Johnson on Unsplash.
References and academic resources
Armstrong, S., Chan, S., Malfroy, J. and Thomson, R. (2008) Assessment Guide: Implementing criteria and standards based assessment. University of Western Sydney Teaching Development Unit.
Flinders University. Good Practice Guide – Rubrics. Retrieved online at https://staff.flinders.edu.au/learning-teaching/good-practice-guides/gpg-rubrics
Hughes, C. (2007). Quickbite: Practical guidelines for writing assessment criteria & standards [Electronic Version]. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from www.uq.edu.au/teaching-learning/…/WritingCriteriaStandards.doc
Stevens, D. D., Levi, A. J., & Walvoord, B. E. (2012). Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning. Stylus Publishing, LLC. Available as an eBook from the Macquarie University library.