Students, especially in online courses, want specific feedback on their assignments to understand why they received the grade assigned by an instructor and how they could improve.

There are a few different formats for communicating your expectations (e.g., articulating in detail as part of assignment instructions), but rubrics have become increasingly common in higher education. Rubrics provide clear criteria regarding what is expected for an assignment and guide specific feedback on why a certain grade has been given. Rubrics may also make it more efficient for faculty members to provide specific and detailed feedback.

"Every time I introduce rubrics to a group of teachers the reaction is the same: instant appeal ("Yes, this is what I need!"), followed closely by panic ("Good grief, how can I be expected to develop a rubric for everything?"). When you learn what rubrics do — and why — you can create and use them to support and assess student learning without losing your sanity." - Author Heidi Goodrich Andrade in her article Understanding Rubrics

Rubrics are particularly useful for problem-solving or application-based assessments because a rubric can list a different category for each component of the assessment that needs to be included, thereby accounting for the complexity of the task. For example, a rubric for a research paper could include categories for organization, writing, argument, sources cited, depth of content knowledge, and more. A rubric for a presentation could include categories related to style, organization, language, content, etc. Students benefit from receiving rubrics because they learn about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Best Practices and Advice

A "rubric" cubeConsider rubrics for activities that make up a significant portion of the grade (e.g., summative assessments or shorter activities that provide opportunities for feedback that will improve students’ performance on summative assessments). A rubric is a detailed articulation of the criteria against which student work will be judged. Rubrics help students understand what is expected, how they will be assessed, and how to improve.


Why Use Rubrics?

Rubrics can help improve student performance by making an instructor's expectations clear and by showing students how to meet those expectations. The result is often marked improvements in the quality of student learning. Thus, the most common argument for using rubrics is that they help define "quality."

Rubrics also help students become more thoughtful judges of the quality of their own and others' work. When rubrics are used to guide self- and peer-assessment, students develop the ability to spot and solve problems in their work.

Rubrics that are completed with comments can provide students with more informative feedback about their strengths and areas to improve. They also add fairness to the assessment process, helping students to understand why they received a particular grade, score, or rating. Studies have found that students feel rubrics clarify expectations and are especially useful as they prepare assignments.

Rubrics take time to develop, but they make it easier to judge student work and provide feedback over the long-run. If developed well, they can reduce the amount of time evaluating student work.

Tip: Write feedback for each level of performance for a rubric in advance that can be pre-inserted in digital rubrics or pasted into a document version of a rubric. This feedback can be tailored to each student, if preferable, or linked to the assignment guidelines to provide more explanation of how to achieve the assignment.

University of Wisconsin–-Madison instructors discuss how they use rubrics: