Tips From an Anaheim Private Tutor: How to Use Rubrics to Get Perfect Grades

You are likely familiar with grading rubrics from many of your classes.  Whether it’s for an English essay, a history project, a science lab report, or an open-ended math test, rubrics are ever-present in classrooms.  Rubrics are used for two main purposes: to provide a guideline to help teachers grade students fairly and consistently, and to allow students to understand better their grade and how they could have improved it.

Without a rubric, grading can be more subjective, and grades can be harder to understand.  Have you ever gotten a graded essay back with just a big “80” circled in red with no other marks on it?  It can be frustrating to receive grades without also receiving feedback on why you got a certain grade.  A rubric is one common method of remedying this situation.

However, a rubric can be a valuable tool even before your work is graded.  Ideally, you should not be waiting to have your assignment returned before checking the designations on the rubric.  Instead, you should be proactively using the rubric to guarantee you receive the best score (don’t wait for your first failed test to book your private in-home Anaheim tutor).

Look at the real rubric below for a secondary school art project:


Here, we have five criteria and five different levels for each (a 5×5 rubric).  We can see that students will be graded on creativity, use of elements and principles, craftsmanship, understanding and completion, and effort and participation.  We can also see how this project will be graded based on points: each category has a maximum of 20 points for a total of 100.

As a student, you should be focused on the points and the descriptions of the top point categories.  Doing this can help you notice where points are allocated in places you might not expect.  For example, to earn the full 20 points in effort and participation, you must have “participated in all class discussion” as opposed to the “participated in the most class discussion” in the 15-point category.  You may not have realized this about the art project, but failing to participate in class could lose you up to 20 points on your art project that you didn’t realize required participation.

Similarly, we could pick up on other cues in the 20-point categories, such as “exceptional care and attention to detail,” “explores several different options,” and “complete and consistent.”  These may not have been factors you were considering when beginning the project.  However, you can now use these to help craft an ideal project.  It is important to know, for example, that your neatness and carefulness accounts for the same point total as your overall creativity.

These tactics follow for other rubrics, as well.  Many teachers even include concrete criteria, such as “includes three examples of figurative language,” “has two or fewer spelling and grammar mistakes,” or “clearly lists all relevant equations at the start of the problem.”  These are what you should be taking advantage of.  Your teacher will be referring to the rubric while grading, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them to see that you are in the top categories.

For the example are rubric above, you would want to make sure that your teacher can see: 1. That you had a unique idea or that you took risks and used several options, 2. That you understand and utilized elements, you learned in class, 3. That your work is neat and has fine details, 4. That you followed and completed the assignment thoroughly, and 5. That you participated in every class and visibly strived for success.

This may seem like restating the rubric, but the idea is to focus on as many concrete, literal ideas as you can – even for something as subjective as an art project.  Your job is to make it obvious to the teacher which category your work should be in.  This may mean adding or altering your work to make certain areas more clearly fit the rubric.  Remember, a project, essay, or answer doesn’t have to follow a rubric can still be a great piece of work – but if you want the easiest path to the best grade, the rubric is where you should be looking from the start.

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Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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