Rubrics as a guide to student writing and staff grading

Assessment can be a very stressful experience for any student, no matter what their level of study or ability. In an attempt to remove some of the unnecessary stress from our students without compromising academic standards, we have developed holistic assessment rubrics that are given to students at the same time as they receive their assignments. These rubrics provide students with guidelines about the format of their assignment, including subject-specific academic conventions, without over specifying the structure and content and thus either “spoon-feeding” students or suppressing originality. These have been beneficial to both students and academic staff, and they can also help with quality assurance processes.

What is a holistic assignment rubric?

The term rubric has various meanings, but broadly speaking it is a short document that sets out the criteria for an assessment and describes varying levels of ability from excellent to poor for each criteria. There are two main types – an analytic rubric which is typically a marking grid specifying specific scores, grades or percentages, and a holistic rubric which does not specify grading but rather makes students aware of marking criteria in advance of assessment. It is this latter model that we chose because we wanted to provide students with guidance about academic conventions and standards, rather than just assigning marks to particular aspects of an assignment.

What we did

We developed a very basic grid, with rows for each criterion (see example below). We also developed some exemplar rubrics which we make accessible for all staff. We provide teaching staff with the blank grid and ask them to fill them out for each piece of assessed work that they set for students. Students receive this rubric at the same time as they receive their assignment and can use them as a guide. We have developed out rubrics with three levels of quality, but you might decide to include more.

You can download a copy of this table here.

Rubrics for Writing: Benefits to Students

Students who have been given these rubrics tell us that they help to remove some of the stress caused by uncertainty because they have a clearer appreciation of marker expectations, and the literature supports this point of view.  Demystifying the process of grading allows students to focus on critical areas without worrying unduly. This practice also allows students to become autonomous as, rather than having to wait for feedback from a teacher, they can use the rubric in order to assess their own work and make improvements.

Rubrics for Grading: Benefits to Staff

Writing a rubric from scratch can take time, especially for academic staff who are not used to producing rubrics. So, in one sense, it would be wrong to suggest that using rubrics will save staff time. However, what we have found is that they reduce the amount of queries from students – so they free up staffs’ inboxes. The real benefit to staff, however, comes when marking assignments. Using rubrics helps staff to mark more efficiently, as the marking criteria have already been made explicit. Rubrics can also help with consistency of grading when multiple markers are involved, and thus help with moderation of markers and quality assurance processes.

How to write a rubric

I’m often asked how to write a rubric. Here are some considerations that have helped me:

  • Look at examples. Ask your colleagues for examples of rubrics that they have used.
  • List all of the criteria that you can think of. Now try to group them together. Ensure that you have clear links to the assessment objectives and outcomes.
  • Are there any particular issues that reoccur when you are marking? Consider pre-empting these when setting up your rubrics. Maybe your students need prompts to remind them about proper formatting, or correct referencing, for example.
  • Articulate levels of quality. Bloom’s Taxonomy can be a useful way of sketching out each level of performance.
  • Use clear and unambiguous language. Consider asking a colleague to read through your rubric and give feedback.

In conclusion

We’ve found that by introducing rubrics at the time of handing out assignments to our students, student levels of stress are reduced because they have a clearer understanding of what is expected of them. We think it’s worth it for this alone, and the benefits to staff and monitoring processes are an added incentive.


Sarah Honeychurch CMBE is a Teaching Fellow for the Teaching Excellence Initiative in the Adam Smith Business School (ASBS), University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on the importance of peer interaction for learning and the development of learning designs that facilitate peer learning. Her current work in ASBS focuses specifically on assessment and feedback.