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Academic writing: a practical guide

Assessment & feedback.

  • Academic writing
  • The writing process
  • Academic writing style
  • Structure & cohesion
  • Criticality in academic writing
  • Working with evidence
  • Referencing
  • Dissertations
  • Reflective writing
  • Examination writing
  • Academic posters

What markers are looking for in your work and using feedback to improve your writing.

Assessment criteria

Most written assignments are marked using assessment criteria, which show the areas the work is marked on and what's expected at each grade band. Each department has its own assessment criteria, and sometimes modules have a specific set of criteria too. 

Assessment criteria can be organised as a list of descriptions for each grade band, as a grid with descriptions for each marking area and grade band, or as marking areas rated on a scale.

basic illustration of different criteria formats

Marking areas

Criteria have different areas (or categories) that work is marked against. Marking areas can vary across departments or assignments, but there are some key areas that often appear. Here are some ideas of what markers may be looking for:

Content & relevance

This area looks at how far the assignment meets the task requirements and the relevance of the information included. 

Addressing the question/task

Make sure you read the assessment instructions carefully!

  • How far does the work address the question/task?
  • Are all parts of the question/task addressed?
  • Is the work within +/- 10% of the stated word count?

Relevance of content

  • Are points and sources relevant to the question/task?
  • Are the relevant ideas/principles from the module included?
  • For higher scores, does the work include relevant ideas from reading beyond the module content?
  • Are sources used relevant, up to date and reliable?

More information:

assignment assessment criteria

Argument & analysis

This category focuses on the quality of your argument and critical analysis relating to the topic. It's also sometimes called 'originality of thought' or 'engagement with ideas'.

An important aspect of academic writing is incorporating relevant previous research and thinking as well as your own findings. However, it's not enough just to describe or summarise this information - to get higher marks, you also need to critically analyse it. What does it mean in terms of your overall argument?  If the content is the 'what', the analysis and argument are more like 'so what?'.

Relating this to  Bloom's Taxonomy , this requires more complex processes; analysing, evaluating and creating.

Questions markers may ask:

  • Is the argument logical and well developed, with enough relevant supporting evidence?
  • Is the work analytical, rather than just descriptive?
  • Have connections or comparisons been made across sources?
  • Are source information and/or research findings evaluated in terms of the argument?

Critical analysis is spread throughout assignments in small critical comments and is also usually the major focus of the discussion or conclusion. To help you critically analyse source information or your own findings, ask questions like why?   how?  and  so what?

  • Why did paper A find different results to papers B and C?
  • How might this information influence policy? 
  • Plant A grew faster than Plant B - so what?

assignment assessment criteria

This area focuses on the structure and organisation of the assignment, which is important to help the reader follow the argument easily.

  • Is the overall structure and argument clear?
  • Are points logically ordered to create the argument?
  • Are paragraphs structured clearly, with one central idea?
  • Are ideas linked smoothly within and between paragraphs?
  • Does the work meet structural requirements for the type of writing (eg, does a report include section headings)?

Style & presentation

This area is about the surface aspects of your work - how does it look and feel?

Referencing style

  • Are citations and references formatted correctly in the required referencing style?
  • Is all source information acknowledged appropriately?

You can find examples of correctly formatted citations and references in our  practical guide to referencing styles .


  • Are the format and presentation appropriate to the task?
  • Have formatting guidelines or requirements been followed?
  • Is formatting consistent?

Use of language

  • Is an academic writing style used that is appropriate to the assignment?
  • Is spelling, grammar and punctuation correct?
  • Is the writing clear and concise?

What to do with assessment criteria?


Find your assessment criteria

Your module learning outcomes and assessment criteria could be found in your programme handbook, an induction or module VLE site, or the module catalogue.

assignment assessment criteria

Read & understand the criteria

You need to know what markers' expectations are, so read the criteria carefully. Consider: 

  • Which key areas is your work marked on?
  • What are the expectations at different grade bands?

Apply the criteria

You can use the criteria in a few ways to help improve your assignments:

  • Evaluate example assignments using the criteria - why were they awarded that grade?
  • Use with feedback on previous assignments to help identify strengths and areas to improve (also see the Feedback box).
  • Use them while writing assignments to remind you what markers are looking for.

If you have questions about the marking criteria, ask your module tutor, your academic supervisor, or book a Writing Centre appointment .

View this information in a new window: Assessment criteria [Google Doc]

Using feedback to improve writing

Feedback comes in many forms:

  • written comments about your work
  • highlighting sections of the assessment criteria
  • verbally in an audio or video clip, or in a conversation
  • model answers to compare your work to
  • advice on common issues (especially for formative work)


Feedback is an opportunity to develop and improve. It's not always nice to read, but  don't ignore it !

Feedback can... what you've done well.

The essay is structured well and your argument is easy to follow.

Your literature review comprises highly relevant studies, which you link back to in your discussion of the results.

Overall, you demonstrate a good understanding of the quantitative statistical analyses you have conducted.

These comments help you understand the strengths of your writing. For example, If you know that your structure was clear, you can use the same approach in your next assignments.

Also, they make you feel good - give yourself a pat on the back!

...identify areas for improvement

You raise some (potentially) interesting points in your essay, but these are very often not supported with a reference to relevant evidence.

The third paragraph is quite off-topic, and doesn't help you answer the essay question.

Your arguments are not clear in several places due to errors in grammar and wording.

It might not be very nice to hear about aspects of your work that are not so good, but these comments are the most useful to help you improve!

This type of comment often includes phrases like:

  • [something positive], but/however [something to improve]
  • make sure you...
  • pay attention to...
  • you could have...
  • it would have helped to...
  • [some part of the assignment] could be more...

See the sections below for tips on dealing with some common problems identified in feedback. extend your understanding

What might be the implications of this policy for schools?

How far could your findings be generalised to other working environments?

You mention some theories of aggression, but don't go into detail - why are these particular theories relevant?

Comments like this can give you ideas to consider or further reading to help deepen your knowledge on a topic. This is especially useful if you want to explore this topic further in later modules or your dissertation. They could also highlight gaps in your understanding. In this case, it might be worthwhile to go back and revise the module content to help you in your later modules.

What to do with feedback?

1. read, 2. reflect, 3. do something!

Here's a handy three-step process to use your feedback to write better assignments. 

  • Read the feedback carefully. What are you doing well? What do you need to improve?
  • Look back at your assignment - can you find the good things and issues mentioned?
  • If the feedback isn't clear, ask your tutor to explain or book a Writing Centre appointment  to discuss it.
  • Look for patterns in feedback across assignments to identify what to focus on.
  • For areas to improve on, make a plan to address this. For example, if the structure needs to be clearer, you could spend more time planning next time.
  • For things you're doing well, how can you apply this to future assignments?

Do something!

  • Apply your plans from the Reflect stage when you write your next assignments.
  • When you get the feedback for these assignments, think about what you did differently - have you addressed the issues?

And then the cycle begins again!

You can use this template to review your feedback to identify areas for improvement and work out what you need to focus on:

Google Doc

Common feedback issues & how to avoid them

The issues below are often identified in feedback. Open each for advice on how to address them in your next assignments. Some are easier to deal with than others!

Proofreading, spelling and grammar errors

Work on improving the clarity of your writing, including grammar and choice of words.

There are numerous errors in spelling and grammar, eg 'the survey contain 10 questions'.

Make sure to proofread your work carefully, there are lots of typos.

Feedback like this is very common, as the mistakes are easy for markers to spot.

It shows you need to check your work carefully for small mistakes or typos in spelling, grammar, punctuation or word choice before you submit. This checking is often called ' proofreading '.

More detail & advice:

Google Doc

Referencing style errors

The format of your references in the text does not always follow the APA format. 

There are some instances of citing and referencing format being incorrect.

Pay attention to following Harvard style correctly.

Each referencing style has specific formatting requirements for in-text citations, footnotes and the reference list/bibliography (as used in that style). For example, in APA style (Tanaka & Smith, 2007) is correctly formatted, but (Tanaka and Smith 2007) is not. These can seem like small details, but they're very important to get right! 

To avoid making referencing style errors, check all of your citations and references carefully before you submit. Common errors include:

  • incorrect author names or missing out authors
  • missing out some information needed in the reference
  • not using the correct punctuation and text formatting, especially full stops, commas, ampersand (&) and italics
  • putting an in-text citation outside the sentence instead of before the full stop
  • citing a source in the text, but not including it in the reference list (or vice versa)

You can find examples of correctly formatted citations and references for each style in our practical guide to referencing styles . You can also use reference management software to generate citations and references from your sources - this can save a lot of time! They're not always 100% correct though, so you'll need to check them still.

assignment assessment criteria

More critical analysis/stronger argument needed

The style is often somewhat descriptive, and you could have added more critical discussion of the findings.

Relevant texts are reviewed, but there is only limited criticality towards their content.

The argument lacks development, with minimal indication of original thought.

Comments like this suggest that your writing focuses on the more descriptive processes - remembering, understanding and applying. To access higher marks, you also need to demonstrate more critical skills - analysis, evaluation and processing. This is considering what the information means in terms of your argument.

More information on what criticality is and how to add it to your work: 

Structure isn't clear

The argument wasn't always clear, so a more logical structure to the assignment would have helped.

Your results section could be more organised - it seems like you just report everything you found.

Some paragraphs contain unrelated information, which is a bit distracting.

Assignments need a clear overall structure. This usually means a linear structure, where paragraphs have one central idea and build on each other towards the final argument. You can think of this as a flight of stairs going from your title at the bottom to your conclusion at the top. A key way to improve your structure is to plan out your points and arrange them before you start writing.

Cohesion is also an important part of structure. There are lots of words and phrases that you can use to link your ideas more clearly. These phrases don't really add any information, but they make the links clear to the reader so it's easier for them to follow your argument

For more in-depth information, see our advice on structuring academic writing:

Writing style isn't academic enough

Very long sentences sometimes make the essay difficult to follow.

Personal remarks are inadequate for developing an academic argument.

There are numerous colloquialisms (‘the next thing to do’, ‘pour their knowledge into our heads’) in this work.

Academic writing uses a very different style to other types of writing. Some of the key features are:

  • being clear and concise
  • using neutral words and avoiding informal, conversational or colloquial language
  • avoiding personal language

For more in-depth information, see our advice on academic writing style:

Assignment doesn't meet task requirements

Your literature review is quite good, but the remainder of the assignment is not in the style of a research report.

The first part of the essay is relevant to the question, but the second half is largely off-topic.

You haven’t done any analysis, which was a central part of this assessment.

To get a good mark, you have to complete the assignment that was set! This means answering all parts of the task, staying relevant and using an appropriate structure and style. Make sure to read the assessment brief carefully to find out what you need to do.

For more information see our advice on understanding task requirements:

Use of source information / course content

There is heavy reliance on just a few references, which all come from the module reading list.

There are some up to date and relevant sources, but you could have used more recent references.

Your sources all support your argument. What about research with different findings?

In most assignments, you need to refer to information in sources to support your argument - without evidence from sources, your points are just your opinion, and it's very difficult to show any critical analysis.

Make sure you:

  • use sources that are credible, up-to-date and relevant to the task.
  • don't rely on just a couple of sources, as this will limit your argument.
  • extend module content and find some sources yourself.
  • don't ignore sources with different findings/points - be complete in your argument.

Find on choosing suitable sources and how to find them on these pages:

assignment assessment criteria

View this information in a new window: Using feedback to improve writing [Google Doc]

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Center for Teaching and Learning

Step 4: develop assessment criteria and rubrics.

Just as we align assessments with the course learning objectives, we also align the grading criteria for each assessment with the goals of that unit of content or practice, especially for assignments than cannot be graded through automation the way that multiple-choice tests can. Grading criteria articulate what is important in each assessment, what knowledge or skills students should be able to demonstrate, and how they can best communicate that to you. When you share grading criteria with students, you help them understand what to focus on and how to demonstrate their learning successfully. From good assessment criteria, you can develop a grading rubric .

Develop Your Assessment Criteria | Decide on a Rating Scale | Create the Rubric

Developing Your Assessment Criteria

Good assessment criteria are

  • Clear and easy to understand as a guide for students
  • Attainable rather than beyond students’ grasp in the current place in the course
  • Significant in terms of the learning students should demonstrate
  • Relevant in that they assess student learning toward course objectives related to that one assessment.

To create your grading criteria, consider the following questions:

  • What is the most significant content or knowledge students should be able to demonstrate understanding of at this point in the course?
  • What specific skills, techniques, or applications should students be able to use to demonstrate using at this point in the course?
  • What secondary skills or practices are important for students to demonstrate in this assessment? (for example, critical thinking, public speaking skills, or writing as well as more abstract concepts such as completeness, creativity, precision, or problem-solving abilities)
  • Do the criteria align with the objectives for both the assessment and the course?

Once you have developed some ideas about the assessment’s grading criteria, double-check to make sure the criteria are observable, measurable, significant, and distinct from each other.

Assessment Criteria Example Using the questions above, the performance criteria in the example below were designed for an assignment in which students had to create an explainer video about a scientific concept for a specified audience. Each elements can be observed and measured based on both expert instructor and peer feedback, and each is significant because it relates to the course and assignment learning goals.

assignment assessment criteria

Additional Assessment Criteria Resources Developing Grading Criteria (Vanderbilt University) Creating Grading Criteria (Brown University) Sample Criteria (Brown University) Developing Grading Criteria (Temple University)

Decide on a Rating Scale

Deciding what scale you will use for an assessment depends on the type of learning you want students to demonstrate and the type of feedback you want to give students on this particular assignment or test. For example, for an introductory lab report early in the semester, you might not be as concerned with advanced levels of precision as much as correct displays of data and the tone of the report; therefore, grading heavily on copy editing or advanced analysis would not be appropriate. The criteria would likely more rigorous by the end of the semester, as you build up to the advanced level you want students to reach in the course.

Rating scales turn the grading criteria you have defined into levels of performance expectations for the students that can then be interpreted as a letter, number, or level. Common rating scales include

  • A, B, C, etc. (without or without + and -)
  • 100 point scale with defined cut-off for a letter grade if desired (ex. a B = 89-80; or a B+ = 89-87, B = 86-83, B- = 82-80)
  • Yes or no, present or not present (if the rubric is a checklist of items students must show)
  • below expectations, meets expectations, exceeds expectations
  • not demonstrated, poor, average, good, excellent

Once you have decided on a scale for the type of assignment and the learning you want students to demonstrate, you can use the scale to clearly articulate what each level of performance looks like, such as defining what A, B, C, etc. level work would look like for each grading criteria. What would distinguish a student who earns a B from one who earns a C? What would distinguish a student who excelled in demonstrating use of a tool from a student who clearly was not familiar with it? Write these distinctions out in descriptive notes or brief paragraphs.

​ Ethical Implications of Rating Scales There are ethical implications in each of these types of rating skills. On a project worth 100 points, what is the objective difference between earning an 85 or and 87? On an exceeds/meets/does not meet scale, how can those levels be objectively applied? Different understandings of "fairness" can lead to several ways of grading that might disadvantage some students.  Learn more about equitable grading practices here.

Create the Rubric

Rubrics Can Make Grading More Effective

  • Provide students with more complete and targeted feedback
  • Make grading more timely by enabling the provision of feedback soon after assignment is submitted/presented.
  • Standardize assessment criteria among those assigning/assessing the same assignment.
  • Facilitate peer evaluation of early drafts of assignment.

Rubrics Can Help Student Learning

  • Convey your expectations about the assignment through a classroom discussion of the rubric prior to the beginning of the assignment
  • Level the playing field by clarifying academic expectations and assignments so that all students understand regardless of their educational backgrounds.(e.g. define what we expect analysis, critical thinking, or even introductions/conclusions should include)
  • Promote student independence and motivation by enabling self-assessment
  • Prepare students to use detailed feedback.

Rubrics Have Other Uses:

  • Track development of student skills over several assignments
  • Facilitate communication with others (e.g. TAs, communication center, tutors, other faculty, etc)
  • Refine own teaching skills (e.g. by responding to common areas of weaknesses, feedback on how well teaching strategies are working in preparing students for their assignments).

In this video, CTL's Dr. Carol Subino Sullivan discusses the value of the different types of rubrics.

Many non-test-based assessments might seem daunting to grade, but a well-designed rubric can alleviate some of that work. A rubric is a table that usually has these parts:  

  • a clear description of the learning activity being assessed
  • criteria by which the activity will be evaluated
  • a rating scale identifying different levels of performance
  • descriptions of the level of performance a student must reach to earn that level.  

When you define the criteria and pre-define what acceptable performance for each of those criteria looks like ahead of time, you can use the rubric to compare with student work and assign grades or points for each criteria accordingly. Rubrics work very well for projects, papers/reports, and presentations , as well as in peer review, and good rubrics can save instructors and TAs time when grading .  

Sample Rubrics This final rubric for the scientific concept explainer video combines the assessment criteria and the holistic rating scale:

assignment assessment criteria

When using this rubric, which can be easily adapted to use a present/not present rating scale or a letter grade scale, you can use a combination of checking items off and adding written (or audio/video) comments in the different boxes to provide the student more detailed feedback. 

As a second example, this descriptive rubric was used to ask students to peer assess and self-assess their contributions to a collaborative project. The rating scale is 1 through 4, and each description of performance builds on the previous. ( See the full rubric with scales for both product and process here. This rubric was designed for students working in teams to assess their own contributions to the project as well as their peers.)

assignment assessment criteria

Building a Rubric in Canvas Assignments You can create rubrics for assignments and discussions boards in Canvas. Review these Canvas guides for tips and tricks. Rubrics Overview for Instructors What are rubrics?  How do I align a rubric with a learning outcome? How do I add a rubric to an assignment? How do I add a rubric to a quiz? How do I add a rubric to a graded discussion? How do I use a rubric to grade submissions in SpeedGrader? How do I manage rubrics in a course?

Additional Resources for Developing Rubrics Designing Grading Rubrics  (Brown University) Step-by-step process for creating an effective, fair, and efficient grading rubric. 

Creating and Using Rubrics  (Carnegie Mellon University) Explores the basics of rubric design along with multiple examples for grading different types of assignments.

Using Rubrics  (Cornell University) Argument for the value of rubrics to support student learning.

Rubrics  (University of California Berkeley) Shares "fun facts" about rubrics, and links the rubric guidelines from many higher ed organizations such as the AAC&U.

Creating and Using Rubrics  (Yale University) Introduces different styles of rubrics and ways to decide what style to use given your course's learning goals.

Best Practices for Designing Effective Resources (Arizona State University) Comprehensive overview of rubric design principles.

  Return to Main Menu | Return to Step 3 | Go to Step 5 Determine Feedback Strategy

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Designing Rubrics

Developing assessment criteria.

After you have decided which type of rubric you’ll use for your class, the next step is to decide which skills or knowledge you expect students to display in their papers.  Here are a few questions that may help develop criteria to assess student writing:

What is the purpose of the assignment? 

What skills or knowledge do you want students to display?  Returning to the “purpose” section of your prompt  may be helpful here. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University suggests considering whether your assignment is designed for students to demonstrate the following:

  • Thoroughness
  • Demonstration of Knowledge
  • Critical Inquiry

You might also consider:

  • Demonstration of Research Skills
  • Awareness of Disciplinary Conventions
  • Synthesis of Information

How have you already discussed the assignment with students?

Revisiting the  writing guides  and the “criteria” section of your prompt can provide you with ready-made terminology for evaluation criteria. You might also check our list of precise language for describing writing tasks. 

Can you adapt an existing rubric? 

Our list of further resources and model rubrics  includes links to several rubrics that you may want to adapt for your assignment.

What, if any, are the criteria you will repeat on each rubric? 

You may choose to have a section of your rubric that you use for each assignment for the semester, so that students know that they will always be expected to, for example, use disciplinary conventions in their writing, or include a counterargument.  The capstone rubrics designed by the departments can be particularly helpful in choosing reusable criteria. 

How many criteria do you need? 

Most rubrics tend to identify somewhere between three and eight criteria for evaluation.

What’s the worst-case scenario? 

If you’re assigning value, it’s useful to think in terms of minimum requirements.  How important is each section of your rubric?  If you’re comfortable with a student making an A on a paper that includes multiple grammatical mistakes (and there may be assignments where this is the case) then five points out of a hundred might work fine.  If not, then maybe that section should be worth ten or fifteen points.

Do you want to involve your class? 

The authors of “On the ‘Uses’ of Rubrics” suggest including a wild-card slot in your rubric or involving your class in the creation of the rubric.  Spending fifteen or twenty minutes as a class discussing and establishing the important criteria for grading can certainly build student involvement in an assignment and help build a sense of fairness in evaluation.

“Creating and Using Rubrics.”    The Assessment Office.  The University of Hawaii at Mānoa .  18 December 2013.  Web. 1 June 2014.

“Creating Grading Criteria. ”   The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning .  Brown University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Grading Student Work.”   Center for Teaching.  Vanderbilt University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

Linder, Katherine.  “How to Develop a Rubric.”   Ohio State Writing Across the Curriculum Resources .  Ohio State University. 16 November 2011. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types.”   Teaching Commons .  DePaul University. n.d. Web. 1 June 2014.

“Rubric Development.”    Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment .  University of West Florida.  24 April 2014.  Web. 1 June 2014.

Tierny, Robin and Marielle Simon.   “What’s Still Wrong with Rubrics: Focusing on the consistency of performance criteria across scale levels.”    Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation , 9(2).  Web. 1 June 2014.

Turley, Eric and Chris W. Gallagher.  “On the ‘Uses’ of Rubrics: Reframing the Great Rubric Debate.”   The English Journal  97.4 (2008): 87-92.

The Teaching Knowledge Base

  • Digital Teaching and Learning Tools
  • Assessment and Feedback Tools

Assessment Criteria and Rubrics

An introduction.

This guide is an introduction to:

  • Writing an assessment brief with clear assessment criteria and rubrics
  • Grading tools available in Turnitin enabling the use of criteria and rubrics in marking.

Clear and explicit assessment criteria and rubrics are meant to increase the transparency of the assessment and aim to develop students into ‘novice assessors’ (Gipps, 1994) and facilitating deep learning.  Providing well-designed criteria and rubrics, contributes to communicating assessment requirements that can be more inclusive to all (including markers) regardless of previous learning experiences, and or individual differences in language, cultural and educational background.  It also facilitates the development of self-judgment skills (Boud & Falchikov, 2007).

  • Assessment brief
  • Assessment criteria
  • Assessment rubric
  • Guidance in how to create rubrics and grading forms
  • Guidance on how to create a rubric in Handin

Terminology Explored

The terms ‘assessment brief’ , ‘assessment criteria’ and ‘assessment rubrics’ however, are often used interchangeably and that may lead to misunderstandings and impact on the effectiveness of the design and interpretation of the assessment brief.  Therefore, it is important to first clarify these terms:

Assessment Brief

An assessment (assignment) brief refers to the instructions provided to communicate the requirements and expectations of assessment tasks, including the assessment criteria and rubrics to students.  The brief should clearly outline which module learning outcomes will assessed in the assignment.

NOTE: If you are new to writing learning outcomes, or need a refresher, have a look at Baume’s guide to “Writing and using good learning outcomes”, (2009).  See list of references.

When writing an assessment brief, it may be useful to consider the following questions with regards to your assessment brief:

  • Have you outlined clearly what type of assessment you require students to complete?  For example, instead of “written assessment”, outline clearly what type of written assessment you require from your students; is it a report, a reflective journal, a blog, presentation, etc.  It is also recommended to give a breakdown of the individual tasks that make up the full assessment within the brief, to ensure transparency.
  • Is the purpose of the assessment immediately clear to your students, i.e. why the student is being asked to do the task?  It might seem obvious to you as an academic, but for students new to academia and the subject discipline, it might not be clear.  For example, explain why they have to write a reflective report or a journal and indicate which module learning outcomes are to be assessed in this specific assessment task.
  • Is all the important task information clearly outlined, such as assessment deadlines, word count, criteria and further support and guidance?

Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria communicate to students the knowledge, skills and understanding (thus in line with the expected module learning outcomes) the assessors expect from students to evidence in any given assessment task.  To write a good set of criteria, the focus should be on the characteristics of the learning outcomes that the assignment will evidence and not only consider the characteristics of the assignment (task), i.e., presentation, written task, etc.

Thus, the criteria outlines what we expect from our students (based on learning outcomes), however it does not in itself make assumptions about the actual quality or level of achievement (Sadler, 1987: 194) and needs to be refined in the assessment rubric.  

When writing an assessment brief, it may be useful to consider the following questions with regards to the criteria that will be applied to assess the assignment:

  • Are your criteria related and aligned with the module and (or) the course learning outcomes?
  • What are the number of criteria you will assess in any particular task?  Consider how realistic and achievable this may be.
  • Are the criteria clear and have you avoided using any terms not clear to students (academic jargon)?
  • Are the criteria and standards (your quality definitions) aligned with the level of the course?   For guidance, consider revisiting the  Credit Level Descriptors (SEEC, 2016) and the QAA Subject Benchmarks in Framework for the Higher Education Qualifications that are useful starting points to consider.

Assessment Rubric

The assessment rubric, forms part of a set of criteria and refers specifically to the “levels of performance quality on the criteria.” (Brookhart & Chen, 2015, p. 343)

Generally, rubrics are categorised into two categories, holistic and or analytic. A holistic rubric assesses an assignment as a whole and is not broken down into individual assessment criteria.  For the purpose of this guidance, the focus will be on an analytic rubric that provides separate performance descriptions for each criterion.

An assessment rubric is therefore a tool used in the process of assessing student work that usually includes essential features namely the:  

  • Scoring strategy – Can be numerical of qualitative, associated with the levels of mastery (quality definitions). (Shown as SCALE in Turnitin)
  • Quality definitions (levels of mastery) – Specify the levels of achievement / performance in each criterion.

 (Dawson, 2017).

The figure below, is an example of the features of a complete rubric including the assessment criteria. 

When writing an assessment brief, it may be useful to consider the following questions with regards to firstly, the assessment brief, and secondly, the criteria and associated rubrics.

  • Does your scoring strategy clearly define and cover the whole grading range?  For example, do you distinguish between the distinctions (70-79%) and 80% and above?
  • Are the words and terms used to indicate level of mastery, clearly outlining and enabling students to distinguish between the different judgements?  For example, how do you differentiate between work that is outstanding, excellent and good?
  • Is the chosen wording in your rubric too explicit?  It should be explicit but at the same time not overly specific to avoid students adopting a mechanistic approach to your assignment.  For example, instead of stating a minimum number references, consider stating rather effectiveness or quality of the use of literature, and or awareness or critical analysis of supporting literature.

NOTE: For guidance across Coventry University Group on writing criteria and rubrics, follow the links to guidance.

 POST GRADUATE Assessment criteria and rubrics (mode R)

 UNDER GRADUATE Assessment criteria and rubrics (mode E)

Developing Criteria and Rubrics within Turnitin

Within Turnitin, depending on the type of assessment, you have a choice between four grading tools:

  • Qualitative Rubric – A rubric that provides feedback but has no numeric scoring.  More descriptive than measurable.  This rubric is selected by choosing the ‘0’ symbol at the base of the Rubric.
  • Standard Rubric – Used for numeric scoring.  Enter scale values for each column (rubric score) and percentages for each criteria row, combined to be equal to 100%.  This rubric can calculate and input the overall grade.  This rubric is selected by choosing the % symbol at the base of the Rubric window.
  • Custom Rubric – Add criteria (row) and descriptive scales (rubric), when marking enter (type) any value directly into each rubric cell.  This rubric will calculate and input the overall grade.  This rubric is selected by choosing the ‘Pencil’ symbol at the base of the Rubric window.
  • Grading form – Can be used with or without numerical score.  If used without numerical score, then it is more descriptive feedback.  If used with numerical scoring, this can be added together to create an overall grade.  Note that grading forms can be used without a ‘paper assignment’ being submitted, for example, they can be used to assess work such as video submission, work of art, computer programme or musical performance.

Guidance on how to Create Rubric and Grading Forms

Guidance by Turnitin:

University of Kent – Creating and using rubrics and grading form (written guidance):

Some Examples to Explore

It is useful to explore some examples in Higher Education, and the resource developed by UCL of designing generic assessment criteria and rubrics from level 4 to 7, is a good starting point.

Guidance on how to Create Rubric in Handin

Within Handin, depending on the type of assessment, you have a choice between three grading tools, see list below, as well as the choice to use “free-form” grading that allows you to enter anything in the grade field when grading submissions.

  • None = qualitative
  • Range = quantitative – can choose score from range
  • Fixed = quantitative – one score per level

Guide to Handin: Creating ungraded (“free-form”) assignments

Guide to Handin: Creating rubrics

References and Further Reading

Baume, D (2009) Writing and using good learning outcomes. Leeds Metropolitan University. ISBN 978-0-9560099-5-1 Link to Leeds Beckett Repository record:

Boud, D & Falchikov, N. (2007) Rethinking Assessment in Higher Education. London: Routledge.

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

Dawson, P. (2017) Assessment rubrics: Towards clearer and more replicable design, research and practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), pp.347-360.

Gipps, C.V. (1994) Beyond testing: Towards a theory of educational assessment. Psychology Press.

Sadler, D.R. (1987) Specifying and promulgating achievement standards. Oxford Review of Education, 13(2), pp.191-209.

SEEC (2016) Credit Level Descriptors. Available:

UK QAA Quality Code (2014) Part A – Setting and Maintaining Academic Standards. Available:

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  • Rubrics for Assessment

A rubric is an explicit set of criteria used for assessing a particular type of work or performance (TLT Group, n.d.) and provides more details than a single grade or mark. Rubrics, therefore, will help you grade more objectively.

Have your students ever asked, “Why did you grade me that way?” or stated, “You never told us that we would be graded on grammar!” As a grading tool, rubrics can address these and other issues related to assessment: they reduce grading time; they increase objectivity and reduce subjectivity; they convey timely feedback to students and they improve students’ ability to include required elements of an assignment (Stevens & Levi, 2005). Grading rubrics can be used to assess a range of activities in any subject area

Elements of a Rubric

Typically designed as a grid-type structure, a grading rubric includes criteria, levels of performance, scores, and descriptors which become unique assessment tools for any given assignment. The table below illustrates a simple grading rubric with each of the four elements for a history research paper. 

Criteria identify the trait, feature or dimension which is to be measured and include a definition and example to clarify the meaning of each trait being assessed. Each assignment or performance will determine the number of criteria to be scored. Criteria are derived from assignments, checklists, grading sheets or colleagues.

Examples of Criteria for a term paper rubric

  • Introduction
  • Arguments/analysis
  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Internal citations

Levels of performance

Levels of performance are often labeled as adjectives which describe the performance levels. Levels of performance determine the degree of performance which has been met and will provide for consistent and objective assessment and better feedback to students. These levels tell students what they are expected to do. Levels of performance can be used without descriptors but descriptors help in achieving objectivity. Words used for levels of performance could influence a student’s interpretation of performance level (such as superior, moderate, poor or above or below average).

Examples to describe levels of performance

  • Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor
  • Master, Apprentice, Beginner
  • Exemplary, Accomplished, Developing, Beginning, Undeveloped
  • Complete, Incomplete
Levels of performance determine the degree of performance which has been met and will provide for consistent and objective assessment and better feedback to students.

Scores make up the system of numbers or values used to rate each criterion and often are combined with levels of performance. Begin by asking how many points are needed to adequately describe the range of performance you expect to see in students’ work. Consider the range of possible performance level.

Example of scores for a rubric

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 2, 4, 6, 8


Descriptors are explicit descriptions of the performance and show how the score is derived and what is expected of the students. Descriptors spell out each level (gradation) of performance for each criterion and describe what performance at a particular level looks like. Descriptors describe how well students’ work is distinguished from the work of their peers and will help you to distinguish between each student’s work. Descriptors should be detailed enough to differentiate between the different level and increase the objectivity of the rater.

Descriptors...describe what performance at a particular level looks like.

Developing a Grading Rubric

First, consider using any of a number of existing rubrics available online. Many rubrics can be used “as is.” Or, you could modify a rubric by adding or deleting elements or combining others for one that will suit your needs. Finally, you could create a completely customized rubric using specifically designed rubric software or just by creating a table with the rubric elements. The following steps will help you develop a rubric no matter which option you choose.

  • Select a performance/assignment to be assessed. Begin with a performance or assignment which may be difficult to grade and where you want to reduce subjectivity. Is the performance/assignment an authentic task related to learning goals and/or objectives? Are students replicating meaningful tasks found in the real world? Are you encouraging students to problem solve and apply knowledge? Answer these questions as you begin to develop the criteria for your rubric.
Begin with a performance or assignment which may be difficult to grade and where you want to reduce subjectivity.
  • List criteria. Begin by brainstorming a list of all criteria, traits or dimensions associated task. Reduce the list by chunking similar criteria and eliminating others until you produce a range of appropriate criteria. A rubric designed for formative and diagnostic assessments might have more criteria than those rubrics rating summative performances (Dodge, 2001). Keep the list of criteria manageable and reasonable.
  • Write criteria descriptions. Keep criteria descriptions brief, understandable, and in a logical order for students to follow as they work on the task.
  • Determine level of performance adjectives.  Select words or phrases that will explain what performance looks like at each level, making sure they are discrete enough to show real differences. Levels of performance should match the related criterion.
  • Develop scores. The scores will determine the ranges of performance in numerical value. Make sure the values make sense in terms of the total points possible: What is the difference between getting 10 points versus 100 points versus 1,000 points? The best and worst performance scores are placed at the ends of the continuum and the other scores are placed appropriately in between. It is suggested to start with fewer levels and to distinguish between work that does not meet the criteria. Also, it is difficult to make fine distinctions using qualitative levels such as never, sometimes, usually or limited acceptance, proficient or NA, poor, fair, good, very good, excellent. How will you make the distinctions?
It is suggested to start with fewer [score] levels and to distinguish between work that does not meet the criteria.
  • Write the descriptors. As a student is judged to move up the performance continuum, previous level descriptions are considered achieved in subsequent description levels. Therefore, it is not necessary to include “beginning level” descriptors in the same box where new skills are introduced.
  • Evaluate the rubric. As with any instructional tool, evaluate the rubric each time it is used to ensure it matches instructional goals and objectives. Be sure students understand each criterion and how they can use the rubric to their advantage. Consider providing more details about each of the rubric’s areas to further clarify these sections to students. Pilot test new rubrics if possible, review the rubric with a colleague, and solicit students’ feedback for further refinements.

Types of Rubrics

Determining which type of rubric to use depends on what and how you plan to evaluate. There are several types of rubrics including holistic, analytical, general, and task-specific. Each of these will be described below.

All criteria are assessed as a single score. Holistic rubrics are good for evaluating overall performance on a task. Because only one score is given, holistic rubrics tend to be easier to score. However, holistic rubrics do not provide detailed information on student performance for each criterion; the levels of performance are treated as a whole.

  • “Use for simple tasks and performances such as reading fluency or response to an essay question . . .
  • Getting a quick snapshot of overall quality or achievement
  • Judging the impact of a product or performance” (Arter & McTighe, 2001, p 21)

Each criterion is assessed separately, using different descriptive ratings. Each criterion receives a separate score. Analytical rubrics take more time to score but provide more detailed feedback.

  • “Judging complex performances . . . involving several significant [criteria] . . .
  • Providing more specific information or feedback to students . . .” (Arter & McTighe, 2001, p 22)

A generic rubric contains criteria that are general across tasks and can be used for similar tasks or performances. Criteria are assessed separately, as in an analytical rubric.

  • “[Use] when students will not all be doing exactly the same task; when students have a choice as to what evidence will be chosen to show competence on a particular skill or product.
  • [Use] when instructors are trying to judge consistently in different course sections” (Arter & McTighe, 2001, p 30)


Assesses a specific task. Unique criteria are assessed separately. However, it may not be possible to account for each and every criterion involved in a particular task which could overlook a student’s unique solution (Arter & McTighe, 2001).

  • “It’s easier and faster to get consistent scoring
  • [Use] in large-scale and “high-stakes” contexts, such as state-level accountability assessments
  • [Use when] you want to know whether students know particular facts, equations, methods, or procedures” (Arter & McTighe, 2001, p 28) 

Grading rubrics are effective and efficient tools which allow for objective and consistent assessment of a range of performances, assignments, and activities. Rubrics can help clarify your expectations and will show students how to meet them, making students accountable for their performance in an easy-to-follow format. The feedback that students receive through a grading rubric can help them improve their performance on revised or subsequent work. Rubrics can help to rationalize grades when students ask about your method of assessment. Rubrics also allow for consistency in grading for those who team teach the same course, for TAs assigned to the task of grading, and serve as good documentation for accreditation purposes. Several online sources exist which can be used in the creation of customized grading rubrics; a few of these are listed below.

Arter, J., & McTighe, J. (2001). Scoring rubrics in the classroom: Using performance criteria for assessing and improving student performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2005). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group (n.d.). Rubrics: Definition, tools, examples, references.

Selected Resources

Dodge, B. (2001). Creating a rubric on a given task.

Wilson, M. (2006). Rethinking rubrics in writing assessment. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Rubric Builders and Generators (2011). Rubric/scoring guide.

General Rubric Generator.

RubiStar (2008). Create rubrics for your project-based learning activities.

Creative Commons License

Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Rubrics for assessment. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from

  • Active Learning Activities
  • Assessing Student Learning
  • Direct vs. Indirect Assessment
  • Examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Formative and Summative Assessment
  • Peer and Self-Assessment
  • Reflective Journals and Learning Logs
  • The Process of Grading

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