Designing Grading Rubrics

Rubrics can help instructors communicate their expectations to students and assess student work fairly and efficiently. Rubrics can also provide students with informative feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and prompt students to reflect on their own work. This page describes how to create and use a grading rubric.

How to Create a Grading Rubric1

1. Define the purpose of the assignment/assessment for which you are creating a rubric.

Consider the following:

  • What exactly is the assigned task? Does it break down into a variety of different tasks? Are these tasks equally important? What are the learning objectives for this assignment/task? What do you want students to demonstrate in their completed assignments/performances?
  • What might an exemplary student product/performance look like? How might you describe an acceptable student product/performance? How might you describe work that falls below expectations?
  • What kind of feedback do you want to give students on their work/performance? Do you want/need to give them a grade? Do you want to give them a single overall grade? Do you want to give them detailed feedback on a variety of criteria? Do you want to give them specific feedback that will help them improve their future work?
2. Decide what kind of rubric you will use: a holistic rubric or an analytic rubric? Holistic and analytic rubrics use a combination of descriptive rating scales (e.g., weak, satisfactory, strong) and assessment criteria to guide the assessment process.

Holistic rubric

A holistic rubric uses rating scales that include the criteria. For example, 
Weak: thesis is unclear due to writing style, organization of ideas, and/or grammatical errors. 
Satisfactory: overall thesis is clear, writing style and organization mostly support the thesis. 
Strong: Introduction includes a thesis statement, writing style and organization offer ample evidence to support the overall thesis.


  • Emphasis on what the learner can demonstrate (rather than what she cannot)
  • Saves time by minimizing the number of decisions made
  • Can be used consistently across raters, provided there has been training


  • Does not provide specific feedback for improvement
  • Can be difficult to choose a score when student work is at varying levels across the criteria
  • Criteria cannot be weighted

Analytic rubric

An analytic rubric uses a rating scale to evaluate each criterion separately, forming a grid or table in which the rating scale is presented in the top row and each criterium is listed down the leftmost column. 


  • Provides feedback on areas of strength or weakness
  • Each criterion can be weighted to reflect its relative importance


  • More time consuming to create and use than a holistic rubric
  • May not be used consistently across raters, unless extremely well defined
3. Define the criteria.

Ask yourself: what knowledge and skills are required for the assignment/assessment? Make a list of these, group and label them, and eliminate any that are not critical. The list should contain no more than 6-7 criteria, but need not include that many.

Helpful strategies for defining grading criteria:

  • Review the learning objectives for the course; use the assignment prompt, existing grading checklists, peer response sheets, comments on previous work, past examples of student work, etc.
  • Try describing A/B/C work
  • Work with co-teachers/TAs
  • Talk with colleagues
  • Brainstorm and discuss with students

Consider the effectiveness of the criteria:

  • Can they be observed and measured?
  • Are they important and essential?
  • Are they distinct from other criteria?
  • Are they distinct from other criteria?

Revise the criteria as needed. Consider how you will weight them relative to each other.

4. Design the rating scale.

Most rating scales include 3-5 levels.

Consider the following:

  • Given what students are able to demonstrate in this assignment/assessment, what are the possible levels of achievement?
  • Will you use numbers or descriptive labels for these levels?
  • If you choose descriptive labels, what labels are most appropriate? Will you assign a number to those labels?
  • In what order will you list these levels – from lowest to highest or vice versa?
5. Write descriptions for each level of the rating scale.

Create statements of expected performance at each level of the rubric. For an analytic rubric do this for each particular criterion of the rubric. These descriptions help students understand your expectations and their performance in regard to those expectations. Well-written descriptions:

  • describe observable and measurable behavior.
  • use parallel language across the scale.
  • indicate the degree to which the standards are met.
6. Create your rubric.

Develop the criteria, rating scale and descriptions for each level of the rating scale into a rubric. Space permitting, include the assignment at the top of the rubric. For reading and grading ease, limit the rubric to a single page, if possible. Consider the effectiveness of your rubric and revise accordingly.

  • Get collegial feedback.
  • Ask your TA for feedback.
  • Ask your students for feedback.
  • Try it out on a sample of student work.

After you use the rubric, analyze the results and consider its effectiveness, then revise accordingly.

How to Use a Grading Rubric

In addition to using the rubric to grade an assignment/assessment, you may wish to:

  • distribute the rubric with the assignment.
  • ask students to use the rubric to evaluate their own work.
  • ask students to use the rubric for peer review.

1 This webpage draws heavily from Assessment: What is a Rubric? from DePaul University’s Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment; and Dannelle D. Stevens & Antonia J. Levi, An Introduction to Rubrics (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2005), which is available as an online Brown Library resource and in the Center’s library.