Assess and give feedback to learners

Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

What can I do?

  • Provide students with detailed rubrics that align with learning objectives/outcomes well in advance of assessment deadlines
  • Present criteria in different rows and describe different standards for each criteria (from high to low) across each row
  • Use marking rubrics to prioritise the feedback you provide students

What is this about?

Rubrics in higher education refer to a set of criteria or standards used to evaluate student learning or performance. Rubrics can be used to assess a wide range of learning outcomes, such as written assignments, presentations, group projects, or exams, and can provide a clear and objective way to measure student progress and achievement. Rubrics typically include a set of criteria or standards, as well as a set of descriptors or levels of performance, such as excellent, satisfactory, or needs improvement. The goal of using rubrics in higher education is to provide students with clear expectations and feedback on their learning, and to help educators make more objective and consistent evaluations of student performance.

What's the evidence say?

A rubric is a detailed scoring tool that tells students (and instructors) what is important to consider when completing an assessment task.

Rubrics include three elements:

  1. Evaluative criteria — The factors that are important considerations for the assessment task (e.g., writing quality, argument, critical thinking, knowledge; the leftmost column below)
  2. Quality statements — A detailed description of what a student must do to demonstrate knowledge, proficiency, or skill in order to attain a particular level of achievement (e.g., poor/fail [column D below], fair/pass [column C below], good/credit [column B below], excellent/distinction+ [column A below])
  3. A scoring strategy — An approach for converting qualitative feedback into quantitive grades

An example of a rubric

How to use Rubrics and Grading Forms in Turnitin

Rubrics improve a number of desirable student outcomes (e.g., learning, motivation) while reducing undesirable ones (e.g., dissatisfaction, stress).

There are several effects of using rubrics reported in the literature.

  • These effects include:
  • Improved student learning
  • Improved student motivation
  • Improved students' self-regulatory behaviours
  • Reduced student stress
  • Improved instruction
  • Increased the consistency between markers

Description is better than evaluation. Allow students to be co-creators. Less is more.

  • Rubrics seem to have larger effects on student outcomes when they include descriptive language compared to evaluative language.
  • E.g. A rubric that includes language such as, "The writing is clear and succinct, and mostly free from errors" and "The writing is unstructured and includes a number of errors" is better than a rubric that includes language such as, "The writing is excellent and reflects a proficient writer" and "The writing is poor, making it difficult to understand the points being made".
  • Words like clear, detailed, critical, vague, and superficial (i.e., descriptive adjectives) are preferred over words like excellent, good, sound, and poor (i.e., evaluative adjectives).
  • Rubrics also seem to be more effective when they are 1) co-created with students and 2) include fewer criteria.
  • Co-creating rubrics provide students with a better understanding of the expectations of the assessment and clarity regarding terms and phrases. Including fewer criteria has two benefits:
  • (1) Well-designed rubrics usually map onto learning objectives, and most well-design assessments include a small number (2-5) of learning objectives. Hence, well-designed rubrics usually include 2-5 criteria because the assessment they're attached to include 2-5 learning objectives.
  • (2) Fewer criteria mean that the consistency of scores between markers is likely to be higher, as is the ability to discern between different levels of student work.
  • There are some limitations to using rubrics.
  • Student learning can be inhibited if rubrics lack objectivity, clarity, and detail, and when students are afforded very little opportunity to make good use of them. Additionally, there is some commentary in the literature about rubrics restricting students' creativity if they are too narrow or specific.

There are three mechanisms that explain why rubrics are effective.

  • Self-regulation: Providing students with clear and descriptive standards allows them to regulate and direct their efforts appropriately. For example, knowing that an expectation of an assessment is to contrast the fundamental arguments of two conflicting sources allows students to direct their efforts to addressing this standard. Without standards, students can get lost and, consequently, engage in activities that are unrelated to the learning activity.
  • Cognitive load: Continuing on from the above point, having specific standards allows students to direct their attentions to what is most important. This is particularly true if a rubric contains fewer criteria, as is suggested by the reviews that comprise this evidence summary. Having fewer criteria — while reflective of good learning design — means that students can hone their focus on critical learning points and develop deeper understanding, compared to spreading their attention broadly and shallowly.
  • Self-determination: A well-designed rubric also provides students with greater certainty and clarity about their learning and assessments. Rubrics not only inform students about what they're being assessed on but also indicate why it's important. This can promote a greater sense of self-determined forms of motivation and encourage sustained effort on tasks. Additionally, providing rubrics well in advance of assessment deadlines allows students to receive feedback on their work — either formatively from instructors or via self-assessment. This feedback can provide a sense of mastery and promote ongoing engagement.

What's the underlying theory?

There are several theories that help explain the effects of rubrics on student outcomes in higher education. Self-determination theory suggests that rubrics can help improve student outcomes by providing clear goals and expectations and giving students a sense of autonomy and control over their own learning. This can help students become more motivated and engaged in their learning, as they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their progress.

Social cognitive theory emphasises the role of social interactions and feedback in learning, and suggests that rubrics can help promote motivation and engagement by providing students with feedback on their progress. This can help students see the relevance and value of their learning, and can help them develop a sense of competence and self-efficacy.

Self-regulation theory focuses on the importance of self-monitoring and self-control in learning, and suggests that rubrics can help students develop these skills by providing clear expectations and guidelines for learning and performance. This can help students become more independent and self-directed learners, who are able to take ownership of their own learning and development.

Where does the evidence come from?

There are no meta-analyses on this topic, so caution is advised when applying the evidence.

There are seven reviews on rubrics included in this evidence summary, two of which are specific to higher education (and one that reviews criticisms of using rubrics). However, all of these reviews are qualitative, meaning that we don't have a strong or confident understanding of the effect of rubrics on student outcomes. Additionally, because of the nature of some of these reviews, information about the risk of bias of the studies included is not reported. That said, all seven reviews drew on a wide body of primary studies from various contexts, giving us some confidence that their conclusions about the effect of the rubric are valid.


Brookhart, S. M. (2018). Appropriate criteria: Key to effective rubrics. Frontiers in Education, 3.

Brookhart, S. M., & Chen, F. (2015). The quality and effectiveness of descriptive rubrics. Educational Review, 67(3), 343–368.

Cockett, A., & Jackson, C. (2018). The use of assessment rubrics to enhance feedback in higher education: An integrative literature review. Nurse Education Today, 69, 8–13.

Jonsson, A., & Svingby, G. (2007). The use of scoring rubrics: Reliability, validity and educational consequences. Educational Research Review, 2(2), 130–144.

Panadero, E., & Jonsson, A. (2020). A critical review of the arguments against the use of rubrics. Educational Research Review, 30, 100329.

Panadero, E., & Jonsson, A. (2013). The use of scoring rubrics for formative assessment purposes revisited: A review. Educational Research Review, 9(1), 129–144.

Reddy, Y. M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4), 435–448.

Additional Resources