Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics


Whether you’re new to rubrics, or you just don’t know their formal names, it may be time for a primer on rubric terminology.

So let’s talk about rubrics for a few minutes. What we’re going to do here is describe two frequently used kinds of rubrics, holistic and analytic, plus a less common one called the single-point rubric (my favorite, for the record). For each one, we’ll look at an example, explore its pros and cons, and provide a blank template you can use to create your own.

Off we go!

Holistic Rubrics

A holistic rubric is the most general kind. It lists three to five levels of performance, along with a broad description of the characteristics that define each level. The levels can be labeled with numbers (such as 1 through 4), letters (such as A through F) or words (such as Beginning through Exemplary). What each level is called isn’t what makes the rubric holistic — it’s the way the characteristics are all lumped together.

Suppose you’re an unusually demanding person. You want your loved ones to know what you expect if they should ever make you breakfast in bed. So you give them this holistic rubric:


When your breakfast is done, you simply gather your loved ones and say, “I’m sorry my darlings, but that breakfast was just a 2. Try harder next time.”

The main advantage of a holistic rubric is that it’s easy on the teacher — in the short run, anyway. Creating a holistic rubric takes less time than the others, and grading with one is faster, too. You just look over an assignment and give one holistic score to the whole thing.

The main disadvantage of a holistic rubric is that it doesn’t provide targeted feedback to students, which means they’re unlikely to learn much from the assignment. Although many holistic rubrics list specific characteristics for each level, the teacher gives only one score, without breaking it down into separate qualities. This often leads the student to approach the teacher and ask, “Why did you give me a 2?” If the teacher is the explaining kind, he will spend a few minutes breaking down the score. If not, he’ll say something like, “Read the rubric.” Then the student has to guess which factors had the biggest influence on her score. For a student who really tries hard, it can can be heartbreaking to have no idea what she’s doing wrong.

Holistic rubrics are most useful in cases when there’s no time (or need, though that’s hard to imagine) for specific feedback. You see them in standardized testing — the essay portion of the SAT is scored with a 0-6 holistic rubric. When hundreds of thousands of essays have to be graded quickly, and by total strangers who have no time to provide feedback, a holistic rubric comes in handy.

[To download a free Microsoft Word template for a holistic rubric, click here.]


Analytic Rubrics

An analytic rubric breaks down the characteristics of an assignment into parts, allowing the scorer to itemize and define exactly what aspects are strong, and which ones need improvement.

So for the breakfast in bed example, an analytic rubric would look like this:


In this case, you’d give your loved ones a separate score for each category. They might get a 3 on Presentation, but a 2 on Food and just a 1 on Comfort. To make feedback even more targeted, you could also highlight specific phrases in the rubric, like, “the recipient is crowded during the meal” to indicate exactly what went wrong.

This is where we see the main advantage of the analytic rubric: It gives students a clearer picture of why they got the score they got. It is also good for the teacher, because it gives her the ability to justify a score on paper, without having to explain everything in a later conversation.

Analytic rubrics have two significant disadvantages, however: (1) Creating them takes a lot of time. Writing up descriptors of satisfactory work — completing the “3” column in this rubric, for example — is enough of a challenge on its own. But to have to define all the ways the work could go wrong, and all the ways it could exceed expectations, is a big, big task. And once all that work is done, (2) students won’t necessarily read the whole thing. Facing a 36-cell table crammed with 8-point font is enough to send most students straight into a nap. And that means they won’t clearly understand what’s expected of them.

Still, analytic rubrics are useful when you want to cover all your bases, and you’re willing to put in the time to really get clear on exactly what every level of performance looks like.

[To download a free template for an analytic rubric, click here.]


Single-Point Rubrics

A single-point rubric is a lot like an analytic rubric, because it breaks down the components of an assignment into different criteria. What makes it different is that it only describes the criteria for proficiency; it does not attempt to list all the ways a student could fall short, nor does it specify how a student could exceed expectations.

A single-point rubric for breakfast in bed would look like this:


Notice that the language in the “Criteria” column is exactly the same as the “3” column in the analytic rubric. When your loved ones receive this rubric, it will include your written comments on one or both sides of each category, telling them exactly how they fell short (“runny eggs,” for example) and how they excelled (“vase of flowers”). Just like with the analytic rubric, if a target was simply met,  you can just highlight the appropriate phrase in the center column.

If you’ve never used a single-point rubric, it’s worth a try. In 2010, Jarene Fluckiger studied a collection of teacher action research studies on the use of single-point rubrics. She found that student achievement increased with the use of these rubrics, especially when students helped create them and used them to self-assess their work.

The single-point rubric has several advantages: (1) It contains far less language than the analytic rubric, which means students are more likely to read it and it will take less time to create, while still providing rich detail about what’s expected. (2) Areas of concern and excellence are open-ended. When using full analytic rubrics, I often find that students do things that are not described on the rubric, but still depart from expectations. Because I can’t find the right language to highlight, I find myself hand-writing justifications for a score in whatever space I can find. This is frustrating, time-consuming and messy. With a single-point rubric, there’s no attempt to predict all the ways a student might go wrong. Similarly, the undefined “Advanced” column places no limits on how students might stretch themselves. “If the highest level is already prescribed then creativity may be limited to that pre-determined level,” says Fluckiger. “Students may surprise us if we leave quality open-ended.”

The main disadvantage of single-point rubrics is that using them requires more writing on the teacher’s part. If a student has fallen short in many areas, completing that left-hand column will take more time than simply highlighting a pre-written analytic rubric.

[We have two different templates for single-point rubrics: Template 1, which looks a lot like the one above, and Template 2, which includes space for a 1-4 score and a single column for comments.]

And how about you?

This is just an overview of some basic rubrics, but lots of variations are running around out there, living perfectly happy lives of service to teachers and students. If you work with other kinds of rubrics, or have seen upgrades on these that are really good, please share them with us in the comments.



Fluckiger, J. (2010). Single point rubric: A tool for responsible student self-assessment. Teacher Education Faculty Publications. Paper 5. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/tedfacpub/5.

Mertler, C. A. (2001). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 7(25). Retrieved April 30, 2014 from http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=7&n=25.

Know Your Terms is my effort to build a user-friendly knowledge base of terms every educator should know. New items will be added on an ongoing basis. If you heard some term at a PD and didn’t want to admit you didn’t know what it meant, send it to me via the contact form and I’ll research it for you. 


Keep in touch.
Join the Cult of Pedagogy mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration—in quick, bite-sized packages—all geared toward making your teaching more effective and fun. You’ll get access to my members-only library of free downloadable resources, including my e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half, which has helped thousands of teachers spend less time grading!



Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

Latest posts by Jennifer Gonzalez (see all)

Jennifer Gonzalez

Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.


  1. Jen,
    This is an awesome, thoughtful post and idea. I’m using this in my class with a final project the kids are turning in this morning. I’m excited about the clarity with which I can evaluate their projects.

  2. Rubrics are great tools for making expectations explicit. Thanks for this post which gives me some vocabulary to discuss rubrics. Though, I could use some resources on rubric scoring, b/c I see a lot of teachers simply adding up the number of squares and having that be the total point value of an assignment, which leads to incorrect grades on assignments. I’ve found some converters, but haven’t found a resource that has the math broken out.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jeremey! You are not the first person to request a clearer breakdown on the math for this rubric (or others), and you’re right, teachers definitely have different approaches to this. I have some good ideas on this, so I will plan a post on it for the near future.

    • There is no such thing as an appropriate converter. Levels are levels and points and percentages are points and percentages and never the twain should meet.

  3. This post was so helpful! I am struggling right now with assigning Habits of Work grades to my Spanish students in middle and high school. I was using an analytic rubric for both my assessment and the students’ self-assessment, but it’s possible the quantity of words was exacerbating the problem of students scoring themselves in the best column out of reflex or habit. I’m going to try a single-point rubric to see if that can lead us to some more reflective thought.

  4. LOVELY post. So didactic and useful. After reading some quite dense posts on rubrics, I’ve enjoyed this a lot. You have now convinced me to use rubrics!
    THANK YOU Jenny and CONGRATS!!!

  5. I have not seen or heard of single point rubrics. I’m really excited to try that out. Less wordy and easier for students to see what is expected of them and get meaningful feedback.

  6. Oooh! I never thought I’d like a post on rubrics, but this was awesome! Thanks for your great explanations. I’m currently working my way through your Teacher’s Guide to Tech/Jumpstart program and I wanted to take a minute and tell you how much I appreciate your site and podcasts too. Everything is so concise, interesting and helpful!

    • Sariah, thank you!! I haven’t gotten a ton of feedback on the JumpStart program, so it’s really nice to hear that! Let me know if you have any questions!

  7. I am Master of Mathematics Education student and I am busy compiling my assignments on rubrics. Your notes are well explained and straight to the point. However, my Professor have instructed as to look up on primarily rubrics and multi-trait rubrics that i seems not to get. Do you care to differentiate them for me? Thank you.

    • Hi Martha. I was not familiar with those two terms, so I did a bit of reading in this post: http://carla.umn.edu/assessment/vac/improvement/p_5.html
      It seems to me that a primary trait rubric focuses on a single, somewhat broad description of how well the student achieved a certain goal. Multi-trait rubrics allow teachers to assess a task on a variety of descriptors. To me, the primary trait seems very much like the holistic rubric, and the multi-trait rubric seems a lot like an analytic rubric. If anyone else reading this knows the finer points of the differences among these four, I would love to hear them!

  8. Thank you so much for this humorous and informative approach to rubrics. It seems to me that the single-point rubric, which I agree makes the most sense for assignment specific rubrics, is really just a clear set of assignment instructions / expectations with the addition of over/under columns to make it rubric-ish.

  9. I love to have students help create rubrics. By the end of the year, we often create the entire rubric together as a class, but often I allow them to start by assigning one “open” section that they think I should grade on for which I help them write “exceeds, meets, doesn’t meet” standards. Then we move on to them assigning points for each standard that I’ve written (this is fascinating for me to see what they weight more heavily), and finally on to writing their own categories for which I write the standards, and then we reverse so that I write the categories and they write the standards. I give a lot of writing and speaking assignments and they really like being involved in how and what and how much we grade. (I never find they are too easy on themselves, either.) I love the single-point rubric especially for assignments I come up with off the cuff and don’t have time to write an elaborate rubric for!

  10. If you’re moving away from traditional grades, the single-point rubric is a perfect instrument for delivering specific feedback.

  11. This is a great site and I really liked the one example used with the multiple rubric styles so we could really understand the difference in them.
    I am confused about the difference between a Single Point rubric and a Primary Trait rubric. You didn’t mention the Primary Trait rubric so I am wondering if they are the same.
    Thank you,

  12. I do a sort of analytic + single point. I don’t include lots of writing on an analytic rubric. I give them the thick descriptions printed out earlier and I go over them (so each category actually does have detailed descriptions), but the rubric I mark is made up of lots of space and numbers 1-10. I keep it to ten categories. I leave lots of space for comments and comment on every category (even if it’s just one word). I conference with each student briefly when I hand back the rubrics. Each student is given two attempts – first for feedback, second for growth and a final score. (I taught high school theatre, so this method worked the best for me.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *