Tips & Tricks for Creating Rubrics

Rubrics ensure grading consistency from student to student, section to section, and grader to grader.

Although you may have a clear vision of what an “A” paper looks like, students may not share that insight. Specific, detailed instructions help, but rubrics add the clarity students need to guide their work. Rubrics outline the criteria students must meet to receive a high score while also identifying what constitutes a low score, showing students the precise areas where they lost points. If students have the criteria for where they fell short, they may feel less inclined to send you an email questioning their grade. 

Anatomy of a Rubric

Criteria or Tasks Highest Performance Level Next Performance  Level Next Performance Level Lowest Performance Level
Criterion #1 description

Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Criterion #2 description

Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Criterion #3 description

Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Specific description of attributes


Creating Your Rubric

Utilize these four easy steps to craft a rubric that is clear and concise for your students!

Decide on Your Criteria

Rubric criteria specify the learning outcomes to be measured, which must align with the learning objectives. Review the assignment instructions, and align the rubric criteria (rows of the rubric table) to match. If there are several sections or parts to the assignment, you might have one criterion for each section. You may also want to include one or two “generic” criteria such as “Overall Organization” or “Composition” (spelling/grammar).

Define Levels of Performance

Levels of performance explain to students how they can complete each criterion. The levels of performance can be the same across all criteria or be different for each criterion depending on your needs. Examples of performance levels include:

  • Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor
  • Exemplary, Proficient, Acceptable, Needs Improvement
  • Outstanding, Good, Needs Improvement, Unacceptable
  • Target, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory
  • Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Developing
  • Professional, Competent, Acceptable, Inadequate
  • Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Beginning

The advantage of using an even number of performance levels is that you are then forced to make the distinction more carefully between adjacent levels and are less likely to default to the “middle” one.

A positive practice is to list the highest level of performance in the first performance column to the right of the criteria column, and then list lower levels to the right. That way, the students view that maximum expectation first, setting the tone for quality work.

Describe Performance in Measurable Terms

Be sure your descriptions will make it clear to students (and graders) exactly what attributes represent each performance level. Using adjectives such as clearly, expertly, and appropriately leave room for interpretation. Adjectives that contain specific attributes for each category provide better distinction between performance categories.


Example: Poor Performance Level Distinction

Criteria  Exemplary Proficient Acceptable Needs Improvement
Identify workplace problem Clearly articulates the workplace problem.  Articulates the workplace problem.  Somewhat describes the workplace problem.  Fails to identify the workplace problem.

Example: Good Performance Level Distinction

Criteria  Exemplary Proficient Acceptable Needs Improvement
Identify workplace problem Articulates the workplace problem using cause-and-effect language, and provides at least two examples.   Describes workplace problem, and provides at least one example.  Generally describes workplace problem.   Fails to identify the workplace problem.

Set Reasonable Point Values

Point values, percentages, letter grades, or ranges for each performance level on each criterion are required for a completed rubric. Remember, not all criteria are created equal! You may choose to award 10 points for the top performance for one criterion or task and four points for the top performance for a less-important criterion. You may also choose to specify ranges of points for each level of performance. 

Regardless of the method you choose and the distribution of points among criteria that you choose, be sure that the points awarded match the description of the performance level. For instance, say you use a simple 3-2-1-0 scale for a four-level rubric. This would result in a performance “rating” of 100% for the top level, but only 67% of the maximum number of points for the second-lowest performance–possibly lower than you really intend! Perhaps a more appropriate scale would be  4-3-2-(1/0), since the second-lowest rating would then be 75% of the maximum score. (The “(0/1)” designation provides the flexibility for awarding either a 0 or a 1 for the lowest performance level–helpful if that criterion was not addressed at all by the student’s work.)

Helpful Rubric Strategies

Use the same or similar rubrics for similar assignments. This not only aids in grading the assignments efficiently, it also builds competence in students by helping them develop the “habits of mind” outlined by the rubric for those tasks or criteria.

For instance, you can create a rubric for scoring discussion posts to use throughout the course. It might look something like this:

Criteria Target Needs Improvement Below Expectations
Initial post Answers prompt with specific course-related terminology, and provides at least one example

Answers prompt using some course-related terminology, but no examples.

Does not specifically answer prompt, OR fails to use course-related terminology.

Replies to peers' posts

Replies to at least two peers’ posts with additional example or clarifying question. 

Replies to one peer’s post with additional example or clarifying question. 

Does not reply to peers, OR fails to provide additional example or clarifying question.

Consider collaborating with your colleagues to develop and implement similar (or the same) rubrics for specific types of assignments throughout the student’s program. Think of the impact on the student experience if the same rubric is used for every student presentation, for example, across multiple courses!

  • Apply your rubric to a student submission you graded previously for this same assignment. Does it produce the type of score you expected? If not, your rubric may need revising.
  • If your course will have multiple graders, use a sample set of student submissions to conduct an inter-rater reliability check. Have each grader use the rubric to score one or two of the same papers, then compare those scores to what you would have given the papers. Discuss discrepancies and clarify expectations with the graders.
  • Provide opportunities for students to use the rubric to critique each other’s work on major assignments before submission for grading. Be certain to establish “ground rules” to keep the critiquing environment “friendly.” For example, require them to refer to the grading rubric to provide two specific positive comments and one specific suggestion on another student’s work.
  • Most importantly, keep your rubric specific and avoid ambiguity. 

Rubric Example 1

Tasks Target Acceptable Unacceptable
Original Post Provides detailed responses to all questions and relates to present classroom teaching. (3 points)

Makes general comments about all questions. (2 points)

Does not comment on all questions. (0-1 points)


Replies with substantive comments or feedback that helps forward the conversation to at least two colleagues. (2 points)  

Replies with substantive comments or feedback to at least one colleague. (1 point)

Does not reply to colleagues or does not provide substantive enough reply. (0 points)

Rubric Example 2

Critieria Superior Average Poor
Analysis / Interpretation The message uses evidence-based concepts/analysis, including outside as well as required reading. The opinions, feelings, impressions and hearsay of the student are balanced with evidence.

Some messages use concepts, analysis, or interpretation well, but a significant number do not. Too many consist only of opinions, feelings, impressions, hearsay, and not enough evidence.

Messages generally show little evidence based on concepts/analysis. They consist instead of opinions, feelings, impressions, and hearsay that are not accurate.

Scholarly Dialogue

All sources cited use peer reviewed articles and correct APA format. Argumentation is from the evidence and thoughtful analysis of the material related to one’s opinion and emotion. Sentences are clear and wording is unambiguous. Correct word choice, correct spelling, and correct grammar are used. Writing style can still be conversational rather than formal.  

Citations are sometimes missing or are not in APA format, or are from a poor source (e.g., an internet site or encyclopedia). Argumentation is skewed by opinion and emotion. Ordinary, good writing. Lapses are regular and patterned, but do not undermine the communication or the persuasiveness of the argument.

Messages consistently lack any citation or use incorrect APA format and poor sources (e.g., Nursing Spectrum). Arguments are from opinion and emotion only and not from evidence. Grammar, spelling, and/or word choice errors are frequent enough that the sense of the message is lost or muddled.

Participation Messages contribute to ongoing conversations and replies to questions or comments. Student does not start a topic or pose a question and then abandon it. Initiates posts, responds to students consistently, and is an active contributor to the dialogue of the group.

Some messages contribute to ongoing conversations, but others sometime seem disconnected. Posts and responds during the assigned time fame and is an active contributor to the dialogue of the group.

Messages are unconnected with what others are saying, as if there is no conversation. Student does not post or respond during the first 75% of the time. Posts are late and in isolation. Student is not an active contributor to the dialogue of the group.