Center for Teaching Excellence




CTE Tip: What is a Rubric?*

A rubric is a scoring tool that lays out the specific expectations for an assignment.

It should be approximately one page in length.

Rubrics can be used for…

  • research papers;
  • book critiques;
  • discussion participation;
  • laboratory reports;
  • portfolios;
  • group work;
  • oral presentations;
  • and more.

Why Use a Rubric?


  • provide timely feedback;
  • prepare students to use detailed feedback;
  • encourage critical thinking;
  • facilitate communications with others;
  • help us refine our teaching skills;
  • level the playing field.

Do You Need a Rubric?

You might need a rubric if…

  • You're getting carpal tunnel from writing the same comments on every student's paper.
  • You're already four weeks behind in grading, it's 3 a.m., and you have a stack of papers on your desk.
  • Students are always complaining that they can't read the comments you worked so hard to produce.
  • You have graded all of your papers, but worry that the last ones may have been graded differently than the first ones.
  • You have a complex assignment to give that incorporates all of the work over the term and are unsure how to communicate the varied expectations easily and clearly.
  • You want your students to self-reflect on their work.
  • You are using the whole class period to explain a carefully planned assignment.
  • You give a long description of your assignment in the syllabus, but students continually ask 2–3 questions per class about your expectations.
  • You work with your colleagues to collaborate on designing the same assignment for program courses, yet you wonder if your grading scales are different.
  • You've been disappointed by whole assignments because all or most of your class turned out to be unaware of your expectations.
  • You have worked hard to explain the complex end-of-term paper, yet the students are starting to regard you as an enemy out to trick them with incomprehensible assignments.
  • You're starting to wonder if they're right.

What Are the Parts of a Rubric?

1. Task Description
The task description usually involves a performance of some kind (i.e., paper, poster, presentation), and is usually found in the course syllabus as well. The description of the task at hand should be at the top of the rubric. It may also be on a separate sheet of paper if the task is longer than a paragraph.

2. Scale
The scale is specific terms used to describe the levels of performance. The terms should be precise and clear. There are typically between 3-5 descriptive terms.

For example:

  • Mastery, Partial Mastery, Progressing, Emerging
  • Excellent, Competent, Needs Work
  • Exemplary, Proficient, Marginal, Unacceptable
  • Distinguished, Proficient, Intermediate, Novice
  • Advanced, Intermediate High, Intermediate, Novice

3. Dimensions or Components
The rubric can clarify for students how their task can be broken down into components (i.e., grammar, analysis, factual content, research techniques, organization) as well as how much weight each component carries. By adding percentages or points to each component, each aspect of the task is further emphasized according to your expectations. Components should not describe quality (i.e., Organization, not Good Organization).

4. Description of Dimensions/Components
The description tells the students what you expect to see in each component of the task relative to your grading scale. It further explains your expectations.

How Is a Rubric Constructed?

Four Stages:

1. Reflecting
Take the time to reflect on what you want from your students, why we created this assignment, what happened last time we gave this assignment, and what are expectations are.

2. Listing
Focus on the particular details of the assignment and what specific learning objectives we hope to see in the completed assignment.

3. Grouping and Labeling
Organize the results of our reflections in stages 1 and 2, grouping similar expectations together in what will probably become the rubric dimensions.

4. Application
Apply the dimensions and descriptions from stage 3 to the final form fo the rubric, using a grid format.

*Rubric information adapted from Danielle Stevens and Antonia Levi, Introduction to Rubrics, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2005.

Grading Rubric Tables

Contact Information

For more information about the Center for Teaching Excellence, please contact:

Becky Kasper, Ph.D., Director
SUNY Plattsburgh
301 Feinberg Library, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-3043
Fax: (518) 564-5100