Designing Lab Report Assessment Rubrics With Examples

Well-designed assessment instruments will help instructors inform their expectations to students and assess student lab reports fairly and efficiently. A rubric can be an excellent assessment instrument for engineering lab reports. It identifies the instructor’s expectations from an assigned lab report and then explicitly states the possible levels of achievement along a continuum (poor to excellent or novice to expert).

The rubric can be constructed for individual labs or an entire course.

Step 1: Define the purpose of the lab report assignment/assessment for which you are creating a rubric

The first step is to clarify the purpose of the assignment and identify the student’s learning outcome(s) from lab report writing.


Step 2: Choose a Rubric Type: Analytical vs. Holistic

Instructors need to select one out of two types of rubrics: analytical vs. holistic.


Step 3: Define the Criteria

Instructors need to define grading criteria, which are the individual elements of a learning outcome that will be evaluated. Make a list of knowledge and skills required for the lab report assignment. They must be unambiguous, measurable. Before finalizing, eliminate any that are not critical.


Step 4: Design the Rating Scale

Instructors need to define the levels of quality for student performance. Most rating scales include: 3 levels (below; meet; above), 4 levels (fail; fair; pass; exceed), 5 levels (never; sometimes; usually; mostly; always), or 6 levels (limited-low; limited-high; acceptable-low; acceptable-high; proficient-low; proficient-high). More rating points can provide more detail; however, more rating points can also make grading more difficult and time-consuming.


Step 5: Write Performance Descriptors for Each Rating (Step 3 + Step 4)

This step is basically to mix the outcomes of Steps 3 and 4. Write descriptions of expected performance at each level to finalize the rubric. Your descriptions need to be 1) observable and measurable behaviors, 2) use parallel language across the scale, and 3) indicate the degree to which the standards are met. It is recommended to write the performance descriptor of the highest rate first. Writing those for lower rates will become easy.


Step 6: Build and Revise the Rubric

Steps 1 to 5 can be repeated for other student outcomes. Construct a table-formatted rubric for single or multiple student outcomes to a single page for reading and grading ease. After getting feedback from colleagues, teaching assistants, or students, consider the effectiveness of the rubric and revise accordingly.


Instructor: Assessment

Analytic Engineering Lab Writing Rubric Example

A rubric based on the lab writing learning objectives is provided here for general use.

Lab Writing Learning Objectives

Holistic Engineering Lab Writing Rubric Example

A rubric with holistic description of high, medium, and low performance is provided here as another approach you might take. 

Instructor: Assessment

A holistic rubric from a 300-level electrical engineering lab (the Digital Devices and Logic Design lab of the Mississippi State University) by Powe and Moorehead (2006)

Conducting assessment (prepared for teaching assistants or group grading) 

When the labs have graders separately from lab instructors who provide the assessment pieces (rubrics), the lab report graders need to use them accurately. The following "norming" process will assist the lab report graders in conducting grading more accurately. 


CoP Meeting Feedback - Assessment Rubric Design:

1.      Images are small

2.      Comments for tables are misplaced

3.      It might be good to provide features to implement tables/information/rubrics directly into Canvas

4.      It is known that some other instructors are not comfortable using rubrics as provided in the module, with the thought that some students may use the rubric to complete assignments that provide only the details listed in the rubric, without taking other requirements onto account

5.      Introduction could be improved by addressing common problems in addressing expectations to students

6.      The challenge of the courses should not be figuring out the task, but instead completing the task

7.      The four levels of performance in rubrics are better when compared to the three performance category rubrics

8.      One of the links does not work in the module, faculty development reference link

9.      Links should be avoided in the module, as links change and information could be lost

10.   IMRDC is used in the module, but not initially defined

11.   More rubric examples, specifically a holistic rubric example would be nice

The following comments were moved from Assignment Design - JL

Images of example rubrics in Step 2 are very small and also don’t contain alt text. Would be better implemented as an embedded table and not a picture of a table, if emphasis was able to be retained.


This link on this page “Creating a Rubric: an Online Tutorial for Faculty, the Center for Faculty Development at the University of Colorado Denver,“ does not take you to the online tutorial, nor is it obvious from this page how to find the tutorial.

I have found four levels of performance to be preferable to three. A “nearly meets expectations” tells me more than simply “does not meet”


Step 4 has a display error—heading is showing up below feedback.


Higher level issue—this discusses implementing a print-oriented rubric that would be on a piece of paper or a word document. Could this discuss how to implement a rubric directly into a CMS? (it can be a pain to move a Word document rubric into Canvas)


Also high level—introduction could be improved by addressing common objections or concerns about using rubrics, and doing a little more persuasive work on why these are a good idea. (Address students min-maxing grade and why transparent and concrete expectations are good. The more consistent your grading system is, the clearer a path student has to meeting or exceeding your expectations.)


Note that you don’t have to strictly grade inside your boxes—you can give people halfway marks


Link #3 is not useful and can be omitted (see note above)


Define “IMRDC” acronym upon first use on the website or hyperlink it to a more detailed explanation


Can there be more rubric examples, including analytical and holistic


Is it worth including blank templates of several sizes? A generic template plus a couple examples of it being filled out?


Some pages have a “download this as a pdf” button—should this site have one?


An example with 9 outcomes may be misleading – this would be overwhelming in sophomore labs ---- but this is a comprehensive list, so it is good to include, but not as an example for a single assignment (making it clear that actual rubrics should simpler/fewer)


Include example of 2-level rubric (good enough or not) - there is no “excellent” way to flip a light switch – either you can or cannot achieve it.