Learning Services

Self-serve rubric support

What kind of rubric do I want?

  • When choosing between a holistic rubric and an analytic rubric consider if you are judging the work solely as a whole (holistically), or if you intend to mark each aspect of the assignment individually to get a total score (analytically).

  • The right rubric for you is the one that fits—there are no best practices that suggest that it should fit on one page, be a certain number criteria, or have an even or odd number of levels of achievement.

  • Consider the context—is this a formative assessment (for learning) or a summative assessment (of learning).  Put another way, is the assessment a check-up?  Or is it an autopsy?

  • Remember!  Rubrics illustrate levels of achievement—this means that rubrics don’t have negative scoring, or empty spaces.  A student should be able to see the rubric and match it to their work, and understand what improvement looks like. Additionally, there shouldn’t be “half marks.”  This means no circling the line between a 2 and 3 and calling it a 2.5.  If you want half points, write them into the rubric at the start, and define what exactly a 2.5 looks like. 

Design basics

Stevens and Levi (2013) describe 4 steps to building a rubric:

1. Reflecting

  • Why is this being assigned?
  • What exactly is being asked of the students? (What tasks are they completing?)
  • What to students need to have learned to successfully complete the assignment?

2. Listing

  • What are the specific learning goals of the assignment?
  • What does an exemplary result look like for each criteria?
  • What does failure look like for each criteria?

3. Grouping / Labeling

  • Which goals can be combined into criteria, and which should remain separate for distinct marking?
  • Considering the expectations for each learning goal above, begin to group these expectations together and consider how they would be classified. 

4. Application

  • Begin filling out the actual rubric itself (either a criteria based grid, or a holistic bullet list)
  • List the criteria for marking down the left column, and create column right for each level of achievement you would like.
  • A best practice is to start with the absolute extremes, the highest and lowest levels of achievement—these are the easiest to consider and describe.


  • Sample analytic rubric for Case Presentations

  • Sample holistic rubric for Case Presentations

  • AAC&U VALUE Project: The American Association of Colleges & Universities convened expert instructors from 100 universities and colleges in the United States to design sample rubrics in 16 different frequently covered subject areas.  These are available as a free download.  These work well as starting points that can be adjusted as your assignment needs. Learning Services has copies of these, and can assist you in adapting a VALUE rubric to your course.

Rubric FAQs

  • Certainly not required, but we strongly recommend you consider it.  A rubric is a way to reinforce what exactly is important, by assigning marks based on performance. Boud and Falchikov (2007) note how assessments send signals about what is important by what gets marks: “Assessment, rather than teaching, has a major influence on students’ learning. It directs attention to what is important. It acts as an incentive for study.”

    Rubrics can also serve as a defense against grade appeals. If students are provided expectations ahead of time with rubrics, they are far less likely to be able to challenge a grading decision.

  • No!  The rubric is about setting standards of achievement, and what that achievement looks like.  If the assessment is quantitative and has a strict answer, you can for example, create a criteria called “Arrives at Correct Answer”’ and have the performance be “Yes” or “No,” then have other criteria be about the process and steps.  If you only have quantitative questions and aren’t marking on process, a rubric may not be appropriate this time.

  • This is entirely dependant on the assessor (you) and the assignment.  There is no “magic” number or formula, nor is there a single “best practice.”  Some instructors prefer an odd number so there is a middle ground that most work should fall into, with tails on either side; some instructors prefer an even number to create a forced choice effect—decisions can’t be punted to a “safe” middle ground.

  • We understand that sometimes instructors would like to indicate to students where a critical error was made by indicating where points were subtracted.  Canvas won’t allow this because, technically, rubrics can’t have negative values.  Rubrics communicate earned levels of achievement to the student, which are explained in each box.  You can create a criteria where it is possible to earn 0 points, but you can’t have the box read -10 points.

  • If you would like to override the grade that the rubric comes up with, you will have to convert the rubric to “free-form comments.”  This setting is available in the settings for the rubric.  BE aware!  This setting must be done ahead of time, and eliminates the levels of achievement and descriptions in the boxes.  This moves the rubric closer to a scoring guide.

    If you find yourself questioning the output of the rubric frequently, you may want to consider changing the criteria, or what constitutes each level of achievement.

    A note about curving individual assignments: using rubrics while also curving individual assignments is not recommended, especially if marking with a rubric in Canvas.  The goals of marking with a rubric (criteria-based earned marks) clash strongly with the goals of curving (marking achievement based on others in the group.)

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