When providing assessment instructions to students, it’s important that we clearly describe the type and purpose of the assessment, as well as expectations, for its successful completion.

Ensure that this material is provided in multiple formats, such as by explaining instructions in class, addressing questions in tutorial and during office hours, and sharing a comprehensive written copy of the instructions and visual evaluation rubric online.

When students feel that they have been able to demonstrate their capability, and that this has been recognized by their instructor, they are more likely to feel that they have been fairly evaluated (Flint & Johnson, 2011).

Below, we share some further information about rubrics and additional resources you can use to enhance the explicitness of your assessment instructions.

Enhancing Explicitness through Assessment Rubrics

McMaster students have recommended rubrics be made available for assignments so that students can more fully understand what is being asked of them (de Bie, 2015, p. 13; McMaster Students Union, 2014, p. 7).

Some of the benefits of rubrics for both instructors and learners are listed below:

Benefits for Instructors Benefits for Learners
  • Reduces the emotional stress of graders/instructors when students are completing the assignment as expected rather than misunderstanding instructions
  • Supports the application of consistent and fair grades across students and across graders in large classes with multiple Teaching Assistants
  • Reduces time spent providing feedback on common assignment strengths and challenges – as these can be quickly indicated on the rubric
  • Increases time available for individualized student feedback
  • Provides a simple and structured way into conversations with students seeking grade clarification or re-grading
  • Reduces the need for students to ask questions or clarify expectations, which many non-traditional students are hesitant to do (Flint & Johnson, 2011), making the understanding of instructions more consistent and equitable across students
  • Improves student performance and decreases stress when instructions and expectations are more thoroughly understood
  • Contributes to student perceptions and experiences of fair evaluation
  • Increases recognition of areas needing improvement, facilitating learning and the incorporation of feedback into future work
  • Supports student communication with writing tutors, learning strategists, TAs, and instructors when evaluation of student learning is made more transparent

Resources to Accompany Assessments:

In addition to rubrics, students often appreciate and find it helpful when instructors provide:

  • Checklists with identified questions or steps that support effective preparation for class or completion of an assignment;
  • Vocabulary lists so that students can familiarize themselves with the meaning of words they will encounter on an exam or test;
  • Reviews that return to the “big picture” of the cumulative course content and summarize course themes;
  • Sample quiz questions or practice exercises from a textbook or previous years of a course; and
  • Instructions about what will be covered or included on a test or exam.

Helping students put material in context, organize their thoughts, and study effectively will support them in actually learning from an assessment rather than getting caught up in overwhelming and irrelevant details and distractions.

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