I'm a first year grad student, and I'm TAing for a freshman/sophomore level general science course. The professor who is in charge left it up to me whether I want to use a rubric to grade the students' lab reports, and whether I want to distribute it to them if I do. They already have a "suggested outline" that they can follow to write their reports, but it doesn't assign an actual point scale.

How important is it that I use a rubric, as opposed to simply grading based on my "feel" of how well they demonstrated understanding of the material and whether they turned in work that followed or is equivalent to the suggested outline that they were given? I feel like I can be reasonably fair in assigning grades, but I don't want to be inappropriately arbitrary. Is it very unusual for students to be graded in undergrad science labs without a rubric, whether or not they have access to it?

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    In regards to showing the students the rubric: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/30601/…
    – StrongBad
    Feb 12, 2016 at 17:46
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    Having a rubric can make grading faster for you. It also helps to cut down on the "did I give Mary 2 or 3 points for a good conclusion? Wait, I think Joe got 4...hmmm" and makes the grading more transparent for the students if you share it.
    – mkennedy
    Feb 12, 2016 at 18:18

2 Answers 2


Having a rubric will make your own work grading fairly simpler, in particular if what you are grading are reports/essays. It breaks down your mental process of coming up with a grade. For example, if you don't have a rubrik, you may have to think about whether as a whole the report should be worth 70 or 75 points. There are many dimensions involved, and you will find that you are juggling too many balls when trying to assess how 3 or 4 reports compare to each other. It's easier if you only have to assess them on one dimension, e.g., spelling/grammar, use of examples, clarity of exposition, correctness of formulas used, adequacy of citations. You would then assign a grade for each report for each of the categories in your rubrik, and the task of computing an overall grade is only one of adding up the points.

A rubrik will also make your life easier when students (as they always do) come to your office hours and ask why they got this grade and not that. If you grade based on a holistic view, it's often difficult to articulate how you arrived at a particular grade. It's easier if you can break the grading down for the student into individual categories. You make your argument why you gave the student a 70 instead of a 75 a lot easier if you can explain why they only got a 10 out of 20 in grammar, etc.

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    One important consideration (implicit in your answer) is that it helps to minimize bias.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 13, 2016 at 2:07
  • @vonbrand -- Yes, that too. Feb 13, 2016 at 3:05
  • I like this answer, but I would also like to see an answer in defense of not using a rubric (preferably, one with the line "people who use rubriks are such cubes"). I like the idea of grading holistically, but I don't know that I do it in a good way.
    – Kimball
    Feb 14, 2016 at 22:57

I usually use a rubric and it is typically very straightforward. You don't say how many lab reports you are grading or how many times students will turn them in per semester but, in my experience, a simple rubric with only a few categories and only a few levels combined with many uses is the best. People often get tripped up in false precision on grading assignments. Remember, at the end of the semester all of that grading gets turned into somewhere between 5 and 13 categories (A,B,C...) depending on what grading scale your school users.

Working your butt off designing a painstaking system to justify measurement to the individual percentage point on an assignment worth 10% or less of the final grade is a waste. Grade it on a 5 point scale according to a few objective criteria and move on. Grade electronically if you can. Any error you see 3 times is worth writing a detailed response to. Save that response somewhere (text file, write an autocompletion script, etc) and never write it out again.

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