A rubric is a tool for determining an assessment mark and associated feedback. Rubrics can be “analytic” involving a grid in which marking criteria, e.g. research, relevance, are placed in columns and performance level descriptors are placed in rows (or vice versa). The University’s General Assessment Guidelines for Written Work are an example of analytic rubrics. Rubrics can also be “holistic” whereby descriptors for different performance levels are set out. The specific assessment guidelines exemplars in the Module Guide template are examples of a holistic rubrics.

Rubrics are useful as they have been found to improve marking efficiency, as well as assessment reliability by reducing variability between markers, as well as over time. They are also helpful for students to see understand how their mark and feedback was determined.

Key Principles for Developing Rubrics

  • Consistent - Any specific assessment/marking criteria should mirror the expectations set out in the General Assessment Guidelines for Written Work. Qualitive feedback should mirror the terminology in the relevant rubric category of achievement.
  • Appropriate Challenge - If developing a bespoke analytic rubric, the Office for Students Sector-Recognised Standards should be consulted and appropriate terminology used. The Standards and Enhancement Office supports the development of rubrics for specific assessment types e.g. OSCEs, performance - Please send drafts for comment and approval.
  • Relevant - Rubrics must take relevant learning outcomes into account. They should make clear that as a minimum to pass, learning outcomes should be met (and in the case of written and oral work, satisfactory English used).
  • Student-Centred - Rubrics should be written in clear terms and shared with students in advance, to support academic and skills development.

Good Practice

Rubrics can be open to interpretation. Test the programme team understanding of rubric descriptors by marking a sample of assessments and comparing marks (standardisation activity) - See sub-section 1.5 Standardisation and calibration.

Provide opportunities for students to self and/or peer (anonymised) mark using a rubric to improve their understanding - See sub-section 2.5 Supporting Assessment Literacy - Add personalised feedback and areas for development.

Steps in Developing a Rubric


Step 1:

Type of Rubric - Select the type of rubric to be used, e.g., analytic or holistic; qualitative or quantitative, etc. The choice is likely to be influenced by the nature of the assessment instrument or task, e.g., essay, design specification, textile sample, etc. When selecting the type of rubric, you should also consider the grade bands to be used, e.g, below 30%, 30-39%, 40-49%, etc., and the descriptors for these, e.g. fail, satisfactory, good, etc. It is strongly recommended that specific rubrics follow the bands and vocabulary of the University’s General Assessment Guidelines.

Step 2:

Module Learning Outcomes - Identify the module learning outcomes that are to be assessed by the particular assessment instrument or task. These should be explicitly stated in the module specification.

Step 3:

Specific Assessment Criteria - For each learning outcome, ask yourself, “How specifically will the student demonstrate this learning outcome?”

Step 4:

Threshold Requirements - For each criterion, formulate minimum requirements for the student to demonstrate it in the assessment task at the relevant HE level. Ask yourself, “What are my minimum expectations here?” The University generic assessment criteria will be important here; subject benchmarks and SEEClevel descriptors can provide a useful informing role. Translate this into a simple, explicit description.

Step 5:

Grade Descriptors - The descriptions for each of the criteria developed for the threshold requirements are the grade descriptors for a pass and form the basis for the other grade descriptors. If a student fails to meet threshold requirements, then it is a fail (for that criterion). Other grade descriptors are developed by formulating expectations at higher levels. Ask yourself, “How specifically will a student demonstrate good/very good/excellent/exceptional performance for this criterion at this level?” It is often useful to move to the best work that you might expect at this level once you have established thresholds: at the University of Bolton, 85% and above typically signifies that the student is performing at the next HE level (for the particular criterion).

Step 6:

Guidance on Language - Use descriptive rather than evaluative language and be specific: so, describe what is expected in explicit terms and avoid terms such as “better”, “best”, “excellent”, etc. If the grade descriptor is for excellent, then what does this mean specifically? Use language that is meaningful to the student: for example, suitable for publication in a quality journal is unlikely to be helpful.

Step 7:

Get Feedback - if possible, discuss the first draft of your rubric with colleagues and students.

1 See https://seec.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/MDX_SEEC-Descriptors_Update-May-2021_Version-2_For-screen_AW13885.pdf

Further Reading

Advance HE (2013). Using Rubrics to Improve Marking Reliability and to Clarify Good Performance. [Online] available from https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/using-rubrics-improve-marking-reliability-and-clarify-good-performance

Dawson, P. (2017). Assessment Rubrics: Towards Clearer and More Replicable Design, Research and Practice, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 42 (3), pp 347-360. [Online] available from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02602938.2015.1111294

Office for Students (2022). General Ongoing Conditions of Registration [online]. Available from https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/media/084f719f-5344-4717-a71b-a7ea00b9f53f/quality-and-standards-conditions.pdf