Meet ExamSoft’s Rubrics: Your New Secret Weapon for Easier Grading and Better Data

July 1, 2014 Kristen Hicks

Metaphorically speaking, teachers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when technology simplified the process of grading multiple-choice exams a few years back. The process of going through papers question by question, marking every erroneous answer, and adding it all up was tedious. Being able to let machines take over that part of the work freed up teachers to focus on more important things.

Of course, that technological breakthrough didn’t entirely rid educators of stacks of papers needing to be graded. Exams and homework assignments with multiple-choice questions have their place in education, but they’re just one piece of the larger assessment pie.

The Importance of Subjective Assessment

All of the more subjective, harder-to-pin-down skills students need to be picking up throughout their education require forms of assessment that go beyond what you can measure with the help of traditional bubble-sheet forms. Incorporating essay questions into exams, assigning research papers, and requiring group work are all important components to education that still require a more subjective, time-consuming, tedious grading process.

Including subjective assessment in education is important, but there’s no way to make the grading process for these types of assignments as simple as it is for objective assessments. There is a way to make it easier though.

Bringing Greater Ease to Subjective Grading

Designed specifically based on the needs and feedback of academic faculty, rubrics create a better-organized and more efficient grading process for subjective assignments.

When creating a test or assignment with subjective components, you can thoughtfully lay out the criteria you want to use for grading in advance. Whatever skills or learning objectives the assignment is meant to assess can be clearly mapped out in the rubric.

When it comes time to grade, the process is simplified. Just look at how well the students’ answers achieve each of the learning objects you’ve laid out, and score them on a scale from excellent to unacceptable. You can still leave any comments you feel would be helpful for the students, but the bulk of the grading process gains some of the ease of objective grading.

Better Feedback

Bringing a more objective process to grading subjective assignments can actually produce more detailed, useful feedback for students. Rubrics don’t just make things easier on professors; they also help empower students toward better learning practices.

For one thing, faculty members can let students know in advance what objectives their assignments will be graded on. If students know the criteria ahead of time, they can focus their study efforts to be better prepared.

Rubrics also allow faculty to tag each portion of the assignment with any categories, learning objectives, topic areas, or other criteria that could be helpful to students. This results in detailed reports for all students that clearly show them where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

If there’s a skill set a student especially needs help with, the tagging option in rubrics lets both the student and the professor identify it early enough to do something about it.

Eliminating Bias in Grading

The problem with personal biases is that they have little to do with good intentions. No matter how insistent a professor is about being fair to all students in the grading process, some bias can slip in unseen.

Rubrics allow for anonymous grading. You can judge each piece of writing based on the learning objectives you’ve selected, without putting any thought to whose writing it is.

Perhaps more importantly, you can better normalize the grading style of different people for subjective work. If you’ve got multiple TAs helping grade an essay test, you don’t want a student’s grade to be dependent on the personal preferences of the particular grader he or she gets.

You can’t eliminate subjective opinions entirely, but you can clearly communicate to everyone involved in the grading process what criteria to base their feedback and scores on. Rubrics help create consistency across the board in subjective grading so students get a more fair assessment of their work.

If you’d like to learn more about rubrics, let us know. We can schedule a tour to walk you through them.


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