The resources in this section offer: 

  • Guidance on designing valid and reliable assessments  
  • Best practices for designing and grading exams 
  • Tips for making grading more efficient  
  • Suggestions and examples for creating and using rubrics, checklists, and rating scales  
  • Resources for using two grading tools:  
    • the Canvas (myCourses) Gradebook and  
    • Gradescope 

Grading Best Practices

Grades serve multiple purposes (Walvoord and Anderson, 1998): 

  • Evaluation. A grade should be a valid, fair, and trustworthy judgment about the quality of the student's work. 
  • Communication. The grade is a communication to the student, as well as to employers, graduate schools, and others.  
  • Motivation. Grading affects how students study, what they focus on, how much time they spend, and how involved they become in the course.  
  • Organization. A grade on a test or assignment helps to mark transitions, bring closure, and focus effort for both students and teachers. 

Grading Resources

Designing and Grading Exams 

Piontek (2008) offers an overview of best practices for designing and grading exams, including: 

  • Guidelines for designing valid and reliable exams 
  • Advantages and disadvantages of commonly used types of achievement test items 
  • General guidelines for developing multiple-choice and essay questions 
  • General guidelines for developing and scoring essay items 

Making Grading More Efficient and Effective 

Smith and Palenque (2015) offer suggestions for making grading more efficient and effective:   

  • Mention the error and explain how to correct it only once. If the error occurs again, highlight the word(s) or sentence, and use the application’s comment tool to draw attention to it succinctly rather than writing another full explanation. 
  • Use a comment bank to respond to frequent errors and organize comments in groups for easy access. 
  • Frontload feedback by writing comments that students can apply to future assignments. If students submit both a first draft and a final draft of an essay, focus on providing more detailed feedback on the first draft in order to hold students accountable for reading and using the feedback. If the same errors occur on the final draft, refer them to the feedback on the first draft rather than writing extensive comments a second time. 
  • Focus on global comments instead of making extensive local corrections on assignments on which students will have to make significant revisions. 
  • Use rubrics and make them available to students as they complete the assignment to students will know the grading criteria. 
  • To avoid over-intimidating students, focus on the most important areas rather than responding to everything that calls for adjustments. 
  • invite critical thinking and further conversation by asking students to rethink their approach rather than telling them what they did wrong. 

Using the SpeedGrader in Canvas can make it easier to evaluate individual student assignments and group assignments quickly. 


A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly describes the performance expectations for an assignment. Rubrics generally take the form of tables and include (Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017): 

  • A description of the task that is being evaluated, 
  • The criteria that are being evaluated (row headings), 
  • A rating scale that demonstrates different levels of performance (column headings), and 
  • A description of each level of performance for each criterion (within each cell of the table). 

Rubrics and Checklists Resources

Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments (papers, projects, oral presentations, artistic performances, group projects, etc.) and can be used as scoring or grading guides, to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts, or both (Eberly Center, Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University, 2020). 
There are two major categories of rubrics (Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017):

  • Holistic: A single score is provided based on raters’ overall perception of the quality of the performance. Holistic rubrics are useful when only one attribute is being evaluated, as they detail different levels of performance within a single attribute. Holistic rubrics allow for quick scoring at the expense of providing detailed feedback.  
  • Analytic: Scores are provided for several different criteria that are being evaluated. Analytic rubrics provide more detailed feedback to students about their performance. Scoring is usually more consistent across students and graders with analytic rubrics.

Rubrics utilize a scale that denotes level of success with a particular assignment, usually a 3-, 4-, or 5- category grid (Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017). For example:;

  • Poor…Minimal…Above Average…Excellent
  • Novice…Intermediate…Proficient…Distinguished…Master
  • Exemplary…Proficient…Needs Work…Not Evident
  • Unacceptable…Poor…Satisfactory…Good…Excellent

Creating Rubrics

DePaul University Teaching Commons (2020) provides step-by-step instructions for creating both holistic and analytic rubrics.

Examples of Rubrics 


Checklists and Rating Scales 

Checklists and rating scales are not rubrics because while they have criteria, they do not have descriptions of performance quality (Brookhart, 2013).  

A checklist is “a list of specific characteristics with a place for marking whether that characteristic is present or absent.” Checklists are useful when the learning outcome is defined as the existence of an attribute and not its quality, and as a way of helping students to ascertain that they have followed directions and completed all required elements of an assignment (Brookhart, 2013). 

A rating scale is “a list of specific characteristics with a place for marking the degree to which each characteristic has been displayed.” Frequency ratings identify the frequency with which some characteristic is observed; quality ratings are scales that list judgments of quality and are often confused with rubrics.  


Examples of Checklists and Rating Scales 

Grading Tools 

The Canvas guide to Grades provides detailed instructions for using the Canvas Gradebook. 

Gradescope is an application for seamlessly administering and grading all assessments, whether online or in-class, allowing faculty to provide detailed feedback with just one click.  

Getting Started with Gradescope 
Gradescope Help Center 


Brookhart, S. (2013). How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. 

DePaul University Teaching Commons. (2020). Rubrics. Retrieved from 

Eberly Center, Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University. (2020.) Grading and Performance Rubrics. Retrieved from 

Piontek, M. (2008). Best practices for designing and grading exams. CRLT Occasional Paper No. 24. Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from: 

Smith, V. and Palenque, S.M. (2015). Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading. Faculty Focus (February 2). Retrieved from 

Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (1998). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (2020). Considering Validity in Assessment Design. Retrieved from 

Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (2020). Developing Reliable Student Assessments. Retrieved from