Designing Grading Rubrics Guide

Designing Grading Rubrics

Communicate your expectations for students before they begin working on an assignment, and provide detailed feedback after they have completed it.

This guide explains how rubrics are generally structured and aligns different types of rubrics with goals for providing feedback—all to prepare you to design your own grading rubrics so that they enable you to provide your students with the feedback they need.

Rubric Components

A rubric, which is typically formatted as a grid or table, communicates what you’re going to look for in students’ work when you assess it. Consider that your assessment might include any or all of the following assignment elements:

  • components students need to include, 
  • topics they should cover,
  • problems they need to solve,
  • questions they should answer, and/or 
  • guidelines or requirements they should follow. 

These elements become grading criteria that you will list in your rubric, and you will evaluate each criterion at a level of quality or performance. A rubric is laid out as a table, with its Criteria listed in rows and its performance levels listed in columns. 

A checklist grading rubric from the Canvas learning management system with rows labeled as "criteria" and columns labeled as "levels"
An example of a checklist grading rubric that has been set up in the Canvas learning management system

Rubric Types

Rubrics come in a few different types: checklist, holistic, and analytic. Before you create one, you’ll want to decide which type of rubric will work best for your assignment.


A checklist rubric is the most simple type of rubric since it has only two levels, which you can frame as complete/incomplete, pass/fail, yes/no, present/absent, etc. Checklists work well when you want to grade an assignment for completeness

Example checklist grading rubric for a discussion forum that has been set up in Canvas
Example checklist grading rubric for a discussion assignment that has been set up in Canvas


  • Most instructors are clear on what top and bottom performances look like, but the middle can get fuzzy and be challenging to accurately describe. Therefore, checklist rubrics are generally easier to design.
  • Checklist rubrics have the potential to raise the rigor of students’ performance when they understand that evaluation will be based on all-or-nothing decisions.


  • You may find that you can’t easily convert every performance element you are looking for into a checklist format. 
  • Checklists “lose the middle,” so they don’t provide an easy way to award credit for partially meeting a criterion.  


With a holistic rubric, you’ll evaluate students’ level of performance across all criteria at once rather than awarding points separately for each criterion. Holistic rubrics work well when you want to emphasize what a learner is able to demonstrate rather than what they can’t do. 

Example holistic grading rubric for a discussion forum that has been set up in Canvas
Example holistic grading rubric for a discussion assignment that has been set up in Canvas


  • Grading with a holistic rubric may save you time because it minimizes the number of decisions you have to make while grading.
  • Like a checklist, a holistic rubric won’t require you to define the “fuzzy middle” levels of performance for each criterion.


  • Students won’t receive specific feedback for improvement from the rubric.
  • When the level of a student’s work varies across criteria, you may find it difficult to select the single best rating. 
  • Criteria aren’t weighted, so they appear to all have the same importance.


For an analytic rubric, you’ll need to define points values—and preferably also provide descriptions—for middle levels of performance (i.e., the B and C ranges). An analytic rubric is useful when you want to give targeted feedback for each specific criterion you’ll be considering as you grade students’ work. 

Example analytic grading rubric for a discussion forum that has been set up in Canvas
Example analytic grading rubric for a discussion forum that has been set up in Canvas


  • The feedback you provide through an analytic rubric identifies specific points of improvement for each student.
  • You can set a different point value for each criterion to reflect its importance.


  • This type of rubric is the most difficult to design because it can be challenging to accurately describe middle levels of performance.

Other Considerations

Be strategic: Many instructors find it useful to vary their use of rubrics, using an analytic or checklist rubric to provide formative feedback on practice assignments or drafts, then they set up the same criteria in a holistic rubric for a high-stakes or final version of an assignment.

Leverage your LMS: In many learning management systems, including Brightspace and Canvas, you can add your rubric to an assignment or discussion, then utilize it to calculate students’ overall scores. This will save you time since you won’t have to add up their scores manually.