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Essay Rubric: Grading Students Correctly

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Dr. Helen Johnson
  • Icon Calendar 10 July 2024
  • Icon Page 2897 words
  • Icon Clock 14 min read

Lectures and tutors provide specific requirements for students to meet when writing essays. Basically, an essay rubric helps tutors to analyze an overall quality of compositions written by students. In this case, a rubric refers to a scoring guide used to evaluate performance based on a set of criteria and standards. As such, useful marking schemes make an analysis process simple for lecturers as they focus on specific concepts related to a writing process. Moreover, an assessment table lists and organizes all of the criteria into one convenient paper. In other instances, students use assessment tables to enhance their writing skills by examining various requirements. Then, different types of essay rubrics vary from one educational level to another. Essentially, Master’s and Ph.D. grading schemes focus on examining complex thesis statements and other writing mechanics. However, high school evaluation tables examine basic writing concepts. In turn, guidelines on a common format for writing a good essay rubric and corresponding examples provided in this article can help students to evaluate their papers before submitting them to their teachers.

General Aspects

An essay rubric refers to a way for teachers to assess students’ composition writing skills and abilities. Basically, an evaluation scheme provides specific criteria to grade assignments. Moreover, the three basic elements of an essay rubric are criteria, performance levels, and descriptors. In this case, teachers use assessment guidelines to save time when evaluating and grading various papers. Hence, learners must use an essay rubric effectively to achieve desired goals and grades, while its general example is:

What Is an Essay Rubric and Its Purpose

According to its definition, an essay rubric is a structured evaluation tool that educators use to grade students’ compositions in a fair and consistent manner. The main purpose of an essay rubric in writing is to ensure consistent and fair grading by clearly defining what constitutes excellent, good, average, and poor performance (DeVries, 2023). This tool specifies a key criteria for grading various aspects of a written text, including a clarity of a thesis statement, an overall quality of a main argument, an organization of ideas, a particular use of evidence, and a correctness of grammar and mechanics. Moreover, an assessment grading helps students to understand their strengths to be proud of and weaknesses to be pointed out and guides them in improving their writing skills (Taylor et al., 2024). For teachers, such an assessment simplifies a grading process, making it more efficient and less subjective by providing a clear standard to follow. By using an essay rubric, both teachers and students can engage in a transparent, structured, and constructive evaluation process, enhancing an overall educational experience (Stevens & Levi, 2023). In turn, the length of an essay rubric depends on academic levels, types of papers, and specific requirements, while general guidelines are:

High School

  • Length: 1-2 pages
  • Word Count: 300-600 words


  • Length: 1-3 pages
  • Word Count: 300-900 words

University (Undergraduate)

  • Length: 2-4 pages
  • Word Count: 600-1,200 words


  • Length: 2-5 pages
  • Word Count: 600-1,500 words


  • Length: 3-6 pages
  • Word Count: 900-1,800 words
Essay rubric


Thesis StatementA well-defined thesis statement is crucial as it sets a particular direction and purpose of an essay, making it clear what a writer intends to argue or explain.
IntroductionAn introduction captures a reader’s interest and provides a framework for what a paper will cover, setting up a stage for arguments or ideas that follow after an opening paragraph.
ContentHigh-quality content demonstrates thorough understanding and research on a specific topic, providing valuable and relevant information that supports a thesis.
OrganizationEffective organization ensures author’s ideas are presented in a clear, well-structure, and logical order, enhancing readability and an overall flow of a central argument.
Evidence and SupportProviding strong evidence and detailed analysis is essential for backing up main arguments, adding credibility and depth to a final document.
ConclusionA strong conclusion ties all the main numbers together, reflects on potential implications of arguments, and reinforces a thesis, leaving a lasting impression on a reader.
Grammar and MechanicsProper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are vital for clarity and professionalism, making a whole text easy to read and understand.
Style and ToneCorrectness in writing style and author’s tone appropriate to a paper’s purpose and audience enhances an overall effectiveness of a particular text and engages a reader.
Citations and ReferencesAccurate and complete citations and references are crucial for giving credit to sources, avoiding plagiarism, and allowing readers to follow up on the research.

Note: Some elements of an essay rubric can be added, deled, or combined with each other because different types of papers, their requirements, and instructors’ choices affect a final assessment. To format an essay rubric, people create a table with criteria listed in rows, performance levels in columns, and detailed descriptors in each cell explaining principal expectations for each level of performance (Steven & Levi, 2023). Besides, the five main criteria in a rubric are thesis statement, content, organization, evidence and support, and grammar and mechanics. In turn, a good essay rubric is clear, specific, aligned with learning objectives, and provides detailed, consistent descriptors for each performance level.

Steps How to Write an Essay Rubric

In writing, the key elements of an essay rubric are clear criteria, defined performance levels, and detailed descriptors for each evaluation.

  • Identify a Specific Purpose and Goals: Determine main objectives of an essay’s assignment and consider what skills and knowledge you want students to demonstrate.
  • List a Key Criteria: Identify essential components that need to be evaluated, such as thesis statement, introduction, content, organization, evidence and support, conclusion, grammar and mechanics, writing style and tone, and citations and references.
  • Define Performance Levels: Decide on a particular scale you will use to measure performance (e.g., Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor) and ensure each level is distinct and clearly defined.
  • Create Descriptors for Each Criterion: Write detailed descriptions for what constitutes each level of performance for every criterion and be specific about what is expected at each level to avoid misunderstanding.
  • Assign Number Values: Determine a specific range for each criterion and performance level and allocate numbers in a way that reflects an actual importance of each criterion in an overall assessment.
  • Review and Revise: Examine a complete rubric to ensure it is comprehensive and clear and adjust any descriptions or number values that seem unclear or disproportionate.
  • Test a Working Essay Rubric: Apply a grading scheme to a few sample compositions to see if it effectively differentiates between different levels of performance and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Involve Peers for Feedback: Share marking criteria with colleagues or peers for feedback and insights on clarity and fairness that you might have overlooked.
  • Provide Examples: Include examples of complete papers or writing excerpts at each performance level and help students to understand what is expected for grading.
  • Communicate With Students: Share a complete rubric with students before they begin an assignment and explain each criterion and performance level so they understand how their work will be evaluated and what they need to do to achieve highest marks.

Essay Rubric Example


Excellent/8 points: A submitted essay contains stiff topic sentences and a controlled organization.

Very Good/6 points: A paper contains a logical and appropriate organization. An author uses clear topic sentences.

Average/4 points: A composition contains a logical and appropriate organization. An author uses clear topic sentences.

Needs Improvement/2 points: A provided text has an inconsistent organization.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): A complete document shows an absence of a planned organization.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: A submitted essay shows the absence of a planned organization.

Very Good/6 points: A paper contains precise and varied sentence structures and word choices. 

Average/4 points: A composition follows a limited but mostly correct sentence structure. There are different sentence structures and word choices.

Needs Improvement/2 points: A provided text contains several awkward and unclear sentences. There are some problems with word choices.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): An author does not have apparent control over sentence structures and word choice.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: An essay’s content appears sophisticated and contains well-developed ideas.

Very Good/6 points: A paper’s content appears illustrative and balanced.

Average/4 points: A composition contains unbalanced content that requires more analysis.

Needs Improvement/2 points: A provided text contains a lot of research information without analysis or commentary.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): A complete document lacks relevant content and does not fit the thesis statement. Essay rubric rules are not followed.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: A submitted essay contains a clearly stated and focused thesis statement.

Very Good/6 points: A paper comprises a clearly stated argument. However, a particular focus would have been sharper.

Average/4 points: A thesis statement phrasing sounds simple and lacks complexity. An author does not word the thesis correctly. 

Needs Improvement/2 points: A thesis statement requires a clear objective and does not fit the theme in a paper’s content.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): A thesis statement is not evident in an introduction paragraph.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: A submitted is clear and focused. An overall work holds a reader’s attention. Besides, relevant details and quotes enrich a thesis statement.

Very Good/6 points: A paper is mostly focused and contains a few useful details and quotes.

Average/4 points: An author begins a composition by defining an assigned topic. However, a particular development of ideas appears general.

Needs Improvement/2 points: An author fails to define an assigned topic well or focuses on several issues.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): A complete document lacks a clear sense of a purpose or thesis statement. Readers have to make suggestions based on sketchy or missing ideas to understand an intended meaning. Essay rubric requirements are missed.

Grade: ___ .

Sentence Fluency

Excellent/8 points: A submitted essay has a natural flow, rhythm, and cadence. Its sentences are well-built and have a wide-ranging and robust structure that enhances reading.

Very Good/6 points: Presented ideas mostly flow and motivate a compelling reading.

Average/4 points: A composition hums along with a balanced beat but tends to be more businesslike than musical. Besides, a particular flow of ideas tends to become more mechanical than fluid.

Needs Improvement/2 points: A provided text appears irregular and hard to read.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): Readers have to go through a complete document several times to give this paper a fair interpretive reading.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: An author demonstrates proper use of standard writing conventions, like spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, and paragraphing. A person also uses correct protocols in a way that improves an overall readability of an essay.

Very Good/6 points: An author demonstrates proper writing conventions and uses them correctly. One can read a paper with ease, and errors are rare. Few touch-ups can make a submitted composition ready for publishing.

Average/4 points: An author shows reasonable control over a short range of standard writing rules. A person also handles all the conventions and enhances readability. Writing errors in a presented composition tend to distract and impair legibility.

Needs Improvement/2 points: An author makes an effort to use various conventions, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar usage, and paragraphing. A provided text contains multiple errors.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): An author makes repetitive errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, and paragraphing. Some mistakes distract readers and make it hard to understand discussed concepts. Essay rubric rules are not covered.

Grade: ___ .


Excellent/8 points: A particular form and presentation of a text enhance an overall readability of an essay and its flow of ideas.

Very Good/6 points: A chosen format has few mistakes and is easy to read.

Average/4 points: An author’s message is understandable in this format.

Needs Improvement/2 points: An author’s message is only comprehensible infrequently, and a provided text appears disorganized.

Unacceptable/0 (zero): Readers receive a distorted message due to difficulties connecting to a presentation of an entire text.

Grade: ___ .

Final Grade: ___ .

Grading Scheme

  • A+ = 60+ points
  • A = 55-59
  • A- = 50-54
  • B+ = 45-49
  • B = 40-44
  • B- = 35-39
  • C+ = 30-34
  • C = 25-29
  • C- = 20-24
  • D = 10-19
  • F = less than 9

Differences in Education Levels

An overall quality of various types of texts changes at different education levels. In writing, an essay rubric works by providing a structured framework with specific criteria and performance levels to consistently evaluate and grade a finished paper. For instance, college students must write miscellaneous papers when compared to high school learners (Harrington et al., 2021). In this case, assessment criteria will change for these different education levels. For example, university and college compositions should have a debatable thesis statement with varying points of view (Mewburn et al., 2021). However, high school compositions should have simple phrases as thesis statements. Then, other requirements in a marking rubric will be more straightforward for high school students (DeVries, 2023). For Master’s and Ph.D. works, a writing criteria presented in a scoring evaluation should focus on examining a paper’s complexity. In turn, compositions for these two categories should have thesis statements that demonstrate a detailed analysis of defined topics that advance knowledge in a specific area of study.


When observing any essay rubric, people should remember to ensure clarity and specificity in each criterion and performance level. This clarity helps both an evaluator and a student to understand principal expectations and how a written document will be assessed (Ozfidan & Mitchell, 2022). Consistency in language and terminology across an essay rubric is crucial to avoid confusion and maintain fairness. Further on, it is essential to align a working scheme with learning objectives and goals of an essay’s assignment, ensuring all key components, such as thesis, content, organization, and grammar, are covered comprehensively (Stevens & Levi, 2023). Evaluators should also be aware of the weighting and scoring distribution, making sure they accurately reflect an actual importance of each criterion. Moreover, testing a rubric on sample essays before finalizing it can help to identify any mistakes or imbalances in scores. Essentially, providing concrete examples or descriptions for each performance level can guide students in understanding what is expected for each grade (Taylor et al., 2024). In turn, an essay rubric should be reviewed, revised, and updated after each educational year to remain relevant and aligned with current academic standards. Lastly, sharing and explaining grading assessment with students before they start their composition fosters transparency and helps them to put more of their efforts into meeting defined criteria, ultimately improving their writing and learning experience in general.

Common Mistakes

  • Lack of Specificity: Descriptions for each criterion and performance level are too vague, leading to ambiguity and confusion for both graders and students.
  • Overcomplicating a Rubric: Including too many criteria or overly complex descriptions that make a scoring assessment difficult to use effectively.
  • Unbalanced Weighting: Assigning disproportionate number values to different criteria, which can mislead an overall assessment and not accurately reflect an actual importance of each component.
  • Inconsistent Language: Using inconsistent terminology or descriptors across performance levels, which can confuse users and make a rubric less reliable.
  • Not Aligning With Objectives: Failing to align a particular criteria and performance levels with specific goals and learning outcomes of an assignment.
  • Omitting Key Components: Leaving out important criteria that are essential for evaluating a paper comprehensively, such as citations or a conclusion part.
  • Lack of Examples: Not providing examples or concrete descriptions of what constitutes each performance level, making it harder for students to understand expectations.
  • Ignoring Grammar and Mechanics: Overlooking an actual importance of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, which are crucial for clear and professional writing.
  • Not Updating an Essay Rubric: Using outdated rubrics that do not reflect current educational standards or specific assignment needs.
  • Insufficient Testing: Failing to test a grading scheme on some sample documents to ensure it effectively differentiates between levels of performance and provides fair assessments.

Summing Up

Essay rubrics help teachers, instructors, professors, and tutors to analyze an overall quality of compositions written by students. Basically, an assessment scheme makes an analysis process simple for lecturers, and it lists and organizes all of the criteria into one convenient paper. In other instances, students use such evaluation tools to improve their writing skills. However, they vary from one educational level to the other. Master’s and Ph.D. assessment schemes focus on examining complex thesis statements and other writing mechanics. However, high school grading criteria examine basic writing concepts.  As such, the following are some of the tips that one must consider when preparing any rubric.

  • Include all mechanics that relate to essay writing.
  • Cover different requirements and their relevant grades.
  • Follow clear and understandable statements.


DeVries, B. A. (2023). Literacy assessment and intervention for classroom teachers. Routledge.

Harrington, E. R., Lofgren, I. E., Gottschalk Druschke, C., Karraker, N. E., Reynolds, N., & McWilliams, S. R. (2021). Training graduate students in multiple genres of public and academic science writing: An assessment using an adaptable, interdisciplinary rubric. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 9, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2021.715409

Mewburn, I., Firth, K., & Lehmann, S. (2021). Level up your essays: How to get better grades at university. NewSouth.

Ozfidan, B., & Mitchell, C. (2022). Assessment of students’ argumentative writing: A rubric development. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 9(2), 121–133. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/1064

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. (2023). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Taylor, B., Kisby, F., & Reedy, A. (2024). Rubrics in higher education: An exploration of undergraduate students’ understanding and perspectives. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2023.2299330

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