Grading can be a complicated and time-consuming component of being an instructor. However, grading is an important process for both students and instructors. When we grade student work, we are not simply assigning a required letter grade; we are assessing their learning in our course. How an assignment is designed can affect how it is graded and whether or not the assignment is actively addressing the goals of the course. Issues like designing assignments to match learning outcomes, motivating students to do their best work, giving the students clear directions about the assignment and your expectations, and providing appropriate feedback on assignments can be challenging. However, employing a few useful techniques can help you communicate more effectively with your students, help your students learn the material, and help you receive better quality student work. Information about developing learning outcomes and designing assignments can be found on other pages. This page wants to help you grade student work to facilitate learning. To do this, we’ll provide examples of rubrics as well as tips and suggestions on fairness and increasing efficiency on your part to decrease time spent grading. In addition, we’ll point you to some reading materials that you might find helpful and some university support resources to help you as you grade.

Assessment versus Grading

Assessment is a term used to describe the process by which we understand whether or not students are getting what we want them to get out of a course, a program, or an institution. Assessment differs from grading in that instead of evaluating one individual or one assignment, it considers a group of students, performing in an aggregate. Based on large-scale goals, objectives, and outcomes, assessment specialists collect and analyze data to identify issues; change is then implemented to effectively “close the loop” and modify the students’ learning experience to better facilitate learning. For more information and useful resources on course-based assessment, please visit UCAT’s Assessment webpage:

Rubrics as a Tool to Grade for Learning

A well-written rubric is a great way to establish objectivity and fairness in your grading practices. It specifies what you are looking for and how you will award points to various components of an assignment. Rubrics can be made for the instructor’s use only, as a tool for grading, or they can also be shared with students. When shared with students, effective rubrics should be informative enough to help students understand the instructor’s expectations for assignments. Understanding what is expected of them can also help decrease any “surprises” when students receive grades. Additionally, rubrics are an excellent way to quantify features of an assignment and make grading more objective and straightforward since all assignments are graded on the same scale and by the same criteria.

From the student’s perspective, rubrics can be a helpful way of seeing the instructor’s explicit expectations for the assignment, whether a paper, presentation, project, or exam question. By identifying the components of an assignment that you want to see, you can help the students know how to focus their time and effort. Seeing the expectations can help students learn how to approach assignments, evaluate their own work, and identify how to improve. In this way, rubrics can be a helpful way to foster metacognition in students since students learn better when they know what the skills and expectations are for their learning. Rubrics can help students see where they need to improve, whether it be with spelling, writing a clear thesis statement, synthesizing their lab report, etc. So if you consider using rubrics to help yourself while grading, you can also think of the benefits to your students!

There are several different types of rubrics, and they all serve different purposes. The type of rubric you choose matters less than making sure the rubric is easy to use (and understand) and your expectations are clearly stated. For all rubrics, you develop a set of traits or criteria that you are looking for in a student’s response.  The traits you are grading in the student’s work are the criteria and expectations you establish as indicators of whether or not your student achieved the learning goals and objectives of the assignment. In other words, you use a rubric to determine whether students are able to demonstrate the skills (both practical and intellectual) that a successful student in your class should demonstrate.

There are three basic types of rubrics:

  • Basic or checklist rubric: it can be as simple as a list of traits that you check off as you evaluate the assignment. This can be a simple type of rubric to create and can be used for short assignments (like an essay question on an exam) or longer and more detailed assignments. However, the basic or checklist rubric can become unwieldy if too many traits are included at one time. An example of a basic/checklist rubric can be found here.
  • Minimal rubric: a minimal rubric contains a list of traits that you are looking for in the assignment, and then some type of scale to judge whether the students successfully, partially, or did not meet that goal. An example of a minimal rubric can be found here.
  • Scoring level rubric: which provides more guidance to students on the criteria for each rating. More detail accompanying each trait helps clarify what the students’ work would need to look like to achieve this rating. The most complete type of a scoring level rubric describes the qualities of student work at each level of the scale. (Students will be able to refer to the description of scoring levels to understand, for example, why they may have received a 4 instead of a 5). Examples of scoring level rubrics can be found here.

As you embark on your grading journey, remember:

  • Rubrics can eliminate worry about whether the grade you give to a student is the right one.
  • Rubrics provide a standard comparison for all the assignments instead of just making the best paper an A-level piece of work.
  • If students are provided with a rubric ahead of time they can self-evaluate their work according to the instructor’s standards and are likely to submit higher quality assignments.
  • Rubrics can be used in many different contexts for many different types of assignments.

For more information on rubrics and practice creating and using rubrics, make sure to sign up for our workshop on Fair & Efficient Grading!


Additional Resources

Sample Rubrics

Primary Trait Analysis

Tips for grading fairly and efficiently

Additional Resources