Rubrics: Useful Assessment Tool

Rubrics can be excellent tools to use when assessing students’ work for several reasons. You might consider developing and using rubrics if:

  • You find yourself re-writing the same comments on several different students’ assignments.
  • Your marking load is high, and writing out comments takes up a lot of your time.
  • Students repeatedly question you about the assignment requirements, even after you’ve handed back the marked assignment.
  • You want to address the specific components of your marking scheme for student and instructor use both prior to and following the assignment submission.
  • You find yourself wondering if you are grading or commenting equitably at the beginning, middle, and end of a grading session.
  • You have a team of graders and wish to ensure validity and inter-rater reliability.

What is a rubric?

A rubric is an assessment tool that clearly indicates achievement criteria across all the components of any kind of student work, from written to oral to visual. It can be used for marking assignments, class participation, or overall grades. There are two types of rubrics: holistic and analytical.

Holistic rubrics

Holistic rubrics group several different assessment criteria and classify them together under grade headings or achievement levels.

For a sample participation rubric, see the Appendix of this teaching tip. Our CTE Teaching Tip: Responding to Writing Assignments includes holistic rubrics specifically designed for writing assignments. 

Analytic rubrics 

Analytic rubrics separate different assessment criteria and address them comprehensively. In a horizontal assessment rubric, the top axis includes values that can be expressed either numerically or by letter grade, or a scale from Exceptional to Poor (or Professional to Amateur, and so on). The side axis includes the assessment criteria for each component. Analytic rubrics can also permit different weightings for different components.

See the VALUE Rubrics developed by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. They have open-access rubrics for 16 cross-cutting learning outcomes including creative thinking, teamwork, and written communication.

How to make a rubric

  1. Criteria: decide what criteria or essential elements must be present in the student’s work to ensure that it is high in quality. At this stage, you might even consider selecting samples of exemplary student work that can be shown to students when setting assignments.
  2. Levels: decide how many levels of achievement you will include on the rubric and how they will relate to your institution's definition of grades as well as your own grading scheme.
  3. Description: for each criterion, component, or essential element of quality, describe in detail what the performance at each achievement level looks like.
  4. Additional comments: Leave space for additional, tailored comments or overall impressions and a final grade.

Developing rubrics interactively with your students

You can enhance students’ learning experience by involving them in the rubric development process. Either as a class or in small groups, students decide upon criteria for grading the assignment. It would be helpful to provide students with samples of exemplary work so they could identify the criteria with greater ease. In such an activity, the instructor functions as facilitator, guiding the students toward the final goal of a rubric that can be used on their assignment. This activity not only results in a greater learning experience, it also enables students to feel a greater sense of ownership and inclusion in the decision making process.

How to use rubrics effectively

Develop a different rubric for each assignment 

Although this takes time in the beginning, you’ll find that rubrics can be changed slightly or re-used later.  If you are seeking pre-existing rubrics, consider Rhodes (2009) or the VALUE rubrics. Whether you develop your own or use an existing rubric, practice with any other graders in your course to achieve inter-rater reliability.

Be transparent

Give students a copy of the rubric when you assign the performance task. These are not meant to be surprise criteria. Hand the rubric back with the assignment.

Integrate rubrics into assignments

Require students to include the rubric in their assignment file when they hand it in. Some instructors ask students to self-assess or give peer feedback using the rubric prior to handing in the work. 

Leverage rubrics to manage your time

Highlight the achieved level of performance for each criterion on the rubric. This is where you will save a great deal of time, as no comments are required.

Include any additional specific or overall comments that do not fit within the rubric’s criteria.

Be prepared to revise your rubrics

Decide upon a final grade for the assignment based on the rubric. If you find, as some do, that presented work meets criteria on the rubric but nevertheless seems to have exceeded or not met the overall qualities you’re seeking, revise the rubric accordingly for the next time you teach the course. If the work achieves highly in some areas of the rubric but not in others, decide in advance how the assignment grade is actually derived. Some use a formula, or multiplier, to give different weightings to various components; be explicit about this right on the rubric. 

Consider developing interactive online rubrics in LEARN

While you can share your rubric as a PDF, you can also use our learning management system (LEARN) to create an interactive rubric. These rubrics are built in LEARN and can be linked to your discussion or dropbox to improve the grading process.  The scores from these rubrics are automatically entered into the associated grade item in your grade book. See Rubrics in the LEARN Help Knowledge Base for detailed how-to information.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.


  • Rhodes, T. (2009). Assessing outcomes and improving achievement: Tips and tools for using the rubrics. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.


CTE teaching tips

Other resources

  • Association of American Colleges & Universities VALUE rubrics
  • Huba, M. E., & Freed, J.E. (2000). Using rubrics to provide feedback to students. In Learner-centered assessment on college campuses (pp. 151-200). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. 
  • iRubric: an online rubric design system for using, adapting, creating, and sharing rubrics. 
  • Lewis, R., Berghoff, P., & Pheeney, P. (1999). Focusing students: Three approaches for learning through evaluation. Innovative Higher Education, 23(3), 181-196.
  • Luft, J. A. (1999). Rubrics: Design and use in science teacher education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 10(2), 107-121.
  • Stevens, D. & Levi, A. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (2nd ed.). Virginia: Sylus. 
  • Stevens, D., & Levi, A. Introduction to rubrics companion site.
  • Queen's University. (n.d.). Types of rubrics: holistic and analytic

Appendix: sample holistic participation rubric


  • Always prepared and attends nearly every class
  • Participates constructively in class, models leadership for others and on teams
  • Exhibits preparedness and punctuality in class/class work
  • Demonstrates initiative and improvement without prompting
  • Seeks to understand and acknowledge others’ thoughts
  • Often reaches full potential by challenging self
  • Exceptional content knowledge readily integrated into new problems or settings
  • Challenges his/her own thoughts and ideas


  • Usually prepared and attends most classes
  • Participates constructively in class, works well with others, and is a team player
  • Excellent content knowledge
  • Completes all class assignments; occasionally adds something extra
  • Demonstrates initiative and improvement with some prompting
  • Seeks to understand and acknowledge others’ thoughts
  • Stretches to reach full potential when prompted
  • Open to challenges to thoughts and ideas from others


  • Sometimes prepared and attends many classes
  • Average content knowledge
  • Occasionally or only challenges thought when encouraged by others
  • Assignments reflect average work
  • Sometimes an active participant in class; works fairly well with others
  • Occasionally accepts and attends to challenges and feedback


  • Rarely prepared and attends some classes
  • Rarely participates constructively in class
  • Assignments are late, incomplete, or not turned in at all
  • Low level of content knowledge
  • Inactive participant; works reluctantly with others
  • Sometimes shows a close-minded disposition with regard to feedback and challenge


  • Clearly unprepared and nearly always absent
  • No participation or harmful participation
  • No assignments turned in
  • No assignments available to assess content knowledge
  • Not present enough to judge participation and interaction, or undermining others
  • Close-minded disposition with regard to feedback, challenge, and course content

teachingtipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Rubrics: useful assessment tools. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.