What Is a Rubric?

Kelly Roell

When kids get into high school and grades truly come to mean something, students begin to question the terms teachers have been using since they were in elementary school. Phrases like "weighted scores" and "grading on a curve", which used to be just teacher talk, are now being called into question since those GPAs are so important 9th grade and beyond. Another question teachers get asked a lot is, "What is a rubric?" Teachers use them a lot in class, but students want to know how they are used, how they can help students' grades, and what sorts of expectations come with them.

What Is a Rubric?

A rubric is simply a sheet of paper that lets students know the following things about an assignment:

  • The overall expectations for the assignment
  • The criteria, arranged in levels of quality from excellent to poor, that a student must meet
  • The points or grades a student can earn based on the levels

Why Do Teachers Use Rubrics?

Rubrics are used for a few different reasons. Rubrics allow teachers to evaluate assignments like projects, essays, and group work where there are no "right or wrong" answers. They also help teachers grade assignments with multiple components like a project with a presentation, an essay portion, and group work. It's easy to determine what an "A" is on a multiple-choice exam, but it's much more difficult to determine what an "A" is on a project with multiple facets. A rubric helps students and the teacher know exactly where to draw the line and assign points.

When Do Students Get the Rubric?

Ordinarily, if a teacher is passing out the grading rubric (which he or she should do), a student will get the rubric when the assignment is handed over. Typically, a teacher will review both the assignment and the rubric, so students know the types of criteria that must be met and can ask questions if necessary. *Note: If you've received a project, but have no idea how you'll be graded on it, ask your teacher if you can have a copy of the rubric so you'll know the difference between grades.

How Do Rubrics Work?

Since rubrics offer the exact specifications for an assignment, you'll always know which grade you'll get on the project. Simple rubrics may merely give you the letter grade with one or two items listed next to each grade:

  • A: Meets all assignment requirements
  • B: Meets most assignments requirements
  • C: Meets some assignment requirements
  • D: Meets few assignment requirements
  • F: Meets no assignment requirements

More advanced rubrics will have multiple criteria for assessment. Below is the "Use of Sources" portion of a rubric from a research paper assignment, which is clearly more involved. 

  1. Researched information appropriately documented
  2. Enough outside information to clearly represent a research process
  3. Demonstrates the use of paraphrasing, summarizing and quoting
  4. Information supports the thesis consistently
  5. Sources on Works Cited accurately match sources cited within the text

Each one of the criteria above is worth anywhere from 1 – 4 points based on this scale:

  • 4—Clearly a knowledgeable, practiced, skilled pattern
  • 3—Evidence of a developing pattern
  • 2—Superficial, random, limited consistencies
  • 1—Unacceptable skill application

So, when a teacher grades the paper and sees that the student displayed an inconsistent or superficial level of skill for criteria #1, "Researched information appropriately documented," he or she would give that kid 2 points for that criteria. Then, he or she would move on to criteria #2 to determine if the student has enough outside info to represent a research process. If the student had a great number of sources, the kid would get 4 points. And so on. This portion of the rubric represents 20 points a kid could earn on the research paper; the other portions account for the remaining 80%.

Rubric Examples

Check out this list of rubric examples from Carnegie Mellon University for a variety of projects.

  • Philosophy Paper This rubric was designed for student papers in a range of philosophy courses at CMU. 
  • Oral Exam This rubric describes a set of standards for assessing performance on an oral exam in an upper-division history course.
  • Engineering Design Project This rubric describes performance standards on three aspects of a team project: Research and Design, Communication, and Team Work.

Rubrics Summary

Having clear expectations is great for both teachers and students. Teachers have a clear way of assessing students' work and students know exactly what sorts of things are going to earn them the grade they want.

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Your Citation
Roell, Kelly. "What Is a Rubric?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-rubric-p2-3212064. Roell, Kelly. (2021, February 16). What Is a Rubric? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-rubric-p2-3212064 Roell, Kelly. "What Is a Rubric?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-rubric-p2-3212064 (accessed March 21, 2023).

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