College of Arts & Sciences

Scoring Rubrics:

Constructing a Rubric

Constructing a rubric is not an event; it is a process. Rubrics are often best started with a simple check-list. The check-list contains the elements that you are looking for in the student product. For example, in a science lab report, you are looking for the hypothesis, a description of the methods to be used, the results of the experiment, and the conclusions. Other scientific elements could be drawings, diagrams, and tables or graphs for results. Other items on the check-list might be elements of written communication, such as clarity and grammar. As you read a student's paper, you both mentally and physically check off the elements as they appear. You might enter notes about quality.

Example: Philosophy Paper Checklist

Item Present? Comments


Check plus Original
Check minus Clear, needs better organization
Premises Support Thesis
Counter arguments
No None given


Check minus Did not discuss potential fallacies
Check Supported plausibility


Grammar and Mechanics
Check minus

A few major mistakes

From this example, you can see the evolution of the three key parts of a rubric:

  1. The dimensions. The dimensions of a rubric are the elements that you are looking for in the product. In a science lab report, they can include the hypothesis, the methods, and the conclusions. In a philosophy paper, they can include the argument, logic/fallacies, and communication style.
  2. The scale. The scale provides the performance levels, illustrating a progression of potential achievement from below expectations to above expectations. The scale is descriptive, for example Novice, Developing, Apprentice, and Expert, or Needs Improvement, Proficient, Exceptional. A descriptive scale may be generic, such as Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4. Although descriptive, points are usually associated with the scale levels. More about this in the section Converting Rubric Scores to Grades.
  3. The quality criteria. The quality criteria describe expectations of performance for each dimension and each performance level in the scale. It is best to describe what you want to see; however, lower levels are often characterized by what is missing from the product. For a science lab report, the expectations in order to achieve a Distinguished score for the methods section may be: Clear step-by-step description of experimental procedures; labeled diagrams/drawings of any apparatuses/devices used to carry out the experiment. The quality criteria for a score of Unsatisfactory may be: Description lacks more than two key details; no mention of apparatuses/devices used to carry out the experiment.

The dimensions and scale are used to create a table.

Scale Level 1 Scale Level 2 Scale Level 3 Scale Level 4
Dimension 1

Quality criteria for Dimension 1, Scale Level 3

Dimension 2 Quality criteria for Dimension 2, Scale Level 1
Dimension 3 Quality criteria for Dimension 2, Scale Level 2

Quality criteria are the toughest part of a rubric to write. Trying to write them out of the clear blue is impossible. You must have concrete examples of good products and unacceptable products to work from. That's where the notes column from a check-list becomes valuable. To start writing quality criteria, examine the notes that you write next to each element of your checklist. These notes are the key to what you expect to see, and what a product looks like when it does not meet expectations.

You can also check the Sample Rubrics on this website or check elsewhere on the web for similar rubrics and examine their quality criteria for parts that match what you're looking for.

Linda Siefert