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Grading Rubrics

This blog post is partially based on the Kaneb Center’s workshop on rubrics: https://kaneb.nd.edu/programs/workshops-we-can-offer/using-grading-rubrics/

Imagine you’re staring at a pile of essays to grade — or presentations, or projects, or lab reports. It’s a mixed bag. Some are written superbly well but are riddled with factual errors and leaps of logic. Others hit all the points spot-on, but misspellings and run-ons abound. Some presenters speak eloquently about their first point, use up their whole presentation time, and have to cram the most relevant material into the last five minutes. Some projects are technically correct but only skim the surface of the issue at hand.

How to make sense of all this — and assign it a grade?

One tool that will simplify the grading of any assignment is the grading rubric. A grading rubric not only breaks your grading process into smaller, more manageable steps, but also communicates your expectations — and the learning goals of the assignment — more clearly to your students.

A grading rubric has two essential parts: the criteria of the assignment and the levels of mastery for each criterion.

First, what are the criteria of your assignment? In other words, what dimensions of learning does this assignment test? Content? Delivery? Writing skill? Organization? Use of sources?

Next, what scale will you use to assess your students’ level of mastery? Some examples:
Advanced/Intermediate High/Intermediate/Novice
Mastery/Partial Mastery/Progressing/Emerging

Once you have determined both the criteria and levels of mastery for the assignment, choose a format in which to present your material and compose descriptions of each level of mastery for each criterion. Perhaps the most straightforward format is a table:

Exceeds Expectations

Meets Expectations

Below Expectations


Clear, compelling analysis of the material. Ample use of evidence, no factual errors.

Analysis is largely accurate and clearly supported with evidence; few if any factual errors.

Significant factual errors or misinterpretation of the material


Speaker varies volume to fit message, keeps a smooth pace, keeps audience actively engaged

Easy to hear speaker, consistent pace, keeps audience attention and eye contact

Difficult to hear speaker, too slow or too fast, little connection with audience


Excellent, clear organization; seamless transitions from one part of the argument to the next

Solidly organized, relatively clear. Possibly a rough transition or two.

Meanders, lacks clear structure or organization

When you finally turn to that pile of student assignments, you can readily assess each assignment using the descriptions you have already written up — and students, with the rubric in hand, will have a clear idea of what they can do to improve their work next time.

For more resources about how to compose a grading rubric, take a look at Effective Grading by Barbara Walvoord: https://www.amazon.com/Effective-Grading-2e-Barbara-Walvoord/dp/0470502150.

For some examples of rubrics for a host of different assignments, including papers, projects, oral presentations, and class discussion, see: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/assesslearning/rubrics.html

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