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Exams help us determine whether students have learned, provide feedback to students about what they have learned, drive students to study, and help discriminate among students. However, writing challenging yet fair exam questions is one of the most difficult things we do as instructors. Luckily, we can use research on learning and data from our own exams to write better questions and make exams learning experiences as well as assessment tools. 



Imagine for a moment the perfect chocolate chip cookie. What would it be like? Would it be big and chewy or small and crisp? Would it have lots of chips, or fewer chips and just a touch of salt to complement the sweetness? each of us has a vision of our ideal chocolate chip cookie, just like we all as instructors have a vision of what high quality student work should look like.

How does this relate to rubrics? Rubrics are tools for making the elements of a learning task clear: what is the desired performance (i.e., the ideal chocolate chip cookie) and at what levels this performance can be achieved (e.g., some chocolate chips are necessary, but the ideal ratio of chip to cooke is...). For example, the idea of "class participation" or "writing a journal-style research paper" may be clear to us as instructors, and rubrics can make transparent what we are looking for. Specifically, rubrics:

  • Create a common framework and language for assessment for students and instructors
  • Can expedite the process of evaluating complex or ill-structured products or behaviors
  • Enable multiple raters to apply the same criteria and standards
  • Are criterion references rather than norm references - raters ask, "Did the student meet the criteria for level 4 of the rubric?" rather than "How well did this student do compared to other students?"
  • Can promote shared expectations and grading practices among faculty when they collaborate to develop a rubric