Using Rubrics to Teach and Evaluate in Biology

Author: 
Janet Batzli and Michelle Harris, Biocore Program, UW-Madison
Description: 
This detailed rubric is not only designed to help connvey evaluation criteria to students and to help make feedback across sections of a large course consistent, but it's also clearly designed to help students learn the genre of an experimental research report in biology. 

Receiving Feedback

Writing is a process and even very experienced writers spend a lot of time rewriting.  Your TAs will give you feedback and suggestions on your papers to help you in this process.  Note, however, that it is not their responsibility to point out every flaw or to revise your papers for you.  Revising is your responsibility.  It pays to keep working at this.  The feedback we get from Biocore students years later is that the most valuable things they learned in Biocore were clear thinking and writing.  The two are very connected.

 

The Big Picture

TA comments (and your grade) will focus much more on “The Big Picture” than on editing details.   Here is what we mean by big picture: in evaluating your papers, the TAs ask:

1.     Did the Introduction convey why the experiment was performed and what it was designed to test?

2.     Did the Methods clearly describe how the hypothesis was tested?

3.     Did the Results clearly and effectively display relevant data?

4.     Did the Discussion present conclusions that make sense based on the data? 

As TAs and instructional staff are reviewing papers and making final decisions about individual grades, we constantly refer to these same four points.

 

Paper Review Rubric

All Biocore TAs use a detailed rubric to assess each section of your paper on a 1-4 scale.  We use this rubric to clearly state our expectations for your writing. The rubric is found below; you should refer to it both when writing your paper and whenever your graded papers are returned.  Note that the four “Big Picture” questions are imbedded within the rubric and the final row of the rubric focuses on overall organization, grammar and wording.  The goal is for you to use your TA’s written comments in tandem with your rubric ratings to improve your writing on subsequent revisions or new assignments. 

Biocore Lab Paper Review Rubric

*WM = Biocore Writing Manual

 

0 = inadequate 

(C, D or F) 

1 =adequate 

(BC) 

2 = good 

(B) 

3 = very good 

(AB) 

4 =  excellent 

(A) 

Title 

(See p. 5 in *WM)

 

Point of experiment cannot be determined by title.

Has two or more problems comparable to the following: Title is not concise, point of experiment is difficult to determine by title, most key information is missing.

 

Title could be more concise but still conveys main point of experiment; 2 or more key components are missing.

 

Title is concise & conveys main point of experiment, but 1 key component is missing.

 

Title is concise, conveys main point of experiment, and includes these key components: study system, variables, result, & direction.

 

Abstract 

(See p. 6 in WM)

Abstract is missing or, if present, provides no relevant information.

Many key components are missing; those stated are unclear and/or are not stated concisely.

Covers most key components but could be done more clearly and/or concisely.

Concisely & clearly covers all but one key component OR Clearly covers all key components but could be a little more concise.

Concisely & clearly covers all key components in 200 words or less: biological rationale, hypothesis, approach, result direction & conclusions.

 

Introduction 

(See p. 7 

 in WM)

BIG PICTURE: Did Intro convey why experiment was performed and what is was designed to test? 

 

Introduction provides little to no relevant information.  (This often results in a hypothesis that “comes out of nowhere.”)

Many key components are very weak or missing; those stated are unclear and/or are not stated concisely.  Weak/missing components make it difficult to follow the rest of the paper.

e.g., background information is not focused on a specific question and minimal biological rationale is presented such that hypothesis isn’t entirely logical.

Covers most key components but could be done much more logically, clearly, and/or concisely.

e.g., biological rationale not fully developed but still supports hypothesis.  Remaining components are done reasonably well, though there is still room for improvement.

Concisely & clearly covers all but one key component (w/ exception of rationale; see left) OR clearly covers all key components but could be a little more concise and/or clear.

e.g., has done a reasonably nice job with the Intro but fails to state the approach OR has done a nice job with Intro but has also included some irrelevant background information.

Clearly, concisely, & logically presents all key components: relevant & correctly cited background information, question, biological rationale, hypothesis, approach. 

 

Methods & Materials 

(See p. 10

in WM)

BIG PICTURE: Did Methods clearly describe how hypothesis was tested?

So little information is presented that reader could not possibly replicate experiment OR methods are entirely inappropriate to test hypothesis.

 

Procedure is presented such that a reader could replicate experiment but methods are largely inappropriate to test hypothesis.  OR Procedure is presented such that a reader could replicate experiment only after learning several more key details

Procedure is presented such that a reader could replicate experiment only after learning a few more key details.  OR Methods used are reasonably appropriate for study, though a more straight-forward approach may have been taken.

Concisely, clearly, & chronologically describes procedure used so that reader could replicate most of experiment with the exception of a few relatively minor details.  Methods used are appropriate for study.  Minor problems with organization OR some irrelevant/ superfluous information.

 

Concisely, clearly, & chronologically describes procedure used so that knowledgeable reader could replicate experiment.  Methods used are appropriate for study.

 

 

 

0 = inadequate 

(C, D or F) 

1 =adequate 

(BC) 

2 = good 

(B) 

3 = very good 

(AB) 

4 =  excellent 

(A) 

Results 

(See p. 13

in WM)

BIG PICTURE: Did the Results clearly & effectively display relevant data? 

Major problems that leave reader uninformed; narrative text is lacking entirely, tables & figures contain unclear and/or irrelevant information. e.g., “Results” contain no text, raw data are in a table w/ poor legend. 

Has 3-5 problems comparable to the following: narrative text & tables/figures are minimal and mostly uninformative, some relevant data are present but are mixed in with much unnecessary information, trends are not immediately apparent in figures and are not explicitly noted in text, tables & figures lack legends, variation around mean values is not indicated in either text or figures, conclusions about hypothesis are emphasized.

Has presented findings with a reasonably good narrative text & informative tables/figures, but has 2-3 problems comparable to the following: most relevant data are present but are mixed in with some unnecessary information, trends are shown in figures but are not explicitly noted, tables & figures have very brief legends that leave out key details, variation around mean values is not indicated in figures, conclusions about hypothesis are briefly made.

Has presented both a concise, narrative text & informative tables/figures without biological interpretation, but has made a few minor omissions or has other relatively small problems.  e.g., relevant data & trends are summarized well and without biological interpretation, but tables & figures have very brief legends that leave out some key details.

 

Contains a concise, well-organized narrative text & tables/figures that highlight key trends/ patterns/output from statistical tests without biological interpretation.  Tables & figures have appropriate legends/ labels & can stand on their own.

 

 

Discussion 

(See p. 16

 in WM)

BIG PICTURE Did the Discussion present conclusions that made sense based on the data? 

Most key components are missing or very weakly done. 

e.g., illogical conclusions made based on data, no ties to biological rationale are made, no literature cited, little to no evaluation of experimental design/data.

Many key components are very weak or missing; those stated are unclear and/or are not concise. 

e.g., fails to explicitly reject or support hypothesis and so conclusions are vague and incompletely tied to rationale, literature is minimally cited, presents unranked laundry list of problems instead of logical evaluation of design and data, suggests flashy new experiments that would not clearly shed light on current question. 

Covers most key components but could be done much more logically, clearly, and/or concisely.

e.g., clearly states that hypothesis is rejected or supported and develops a good argument that refers to biological rationale, but fails to logically and objectively evaluate the experimental design and data reliability.  Remaining components are done reasonably well, though there is still room for improvement.

Concisely, clearly, & logically covers all but 1-2 key components (w/ exception of rationale) OR clearly covers all key components but could be more concise and/or clear. e.g., has done a reasonably nice job with the Discussion but fails to clearly tie biological rationale from the Intro into the conclusions made OR has done a nice job with the Discussion but has also included an extensive laundry list of experimental problems without discussing their impact on the conclusions.

Clearly, concisely, & logically presents all key components: supports or rejects hypothesis, formulates argument for conclusions referring back to biological rationale & by comparing with relevant findings in literature, evaluates experimental design, evaluates reliability of data, states implications of results, suggests next investigation steps, and ends paper with final conclusion.

 

Literature Cited 

(See p. 19 in WM)

Background information is presented but is consistently not cited; final citation list is missing.

Very few references are cited in text of paper; final citation list is largely incomplete and/or is not formatted appropriately.

References within body of paper & references in final citation list are done appropriately for the most part, but there are consistent exceptions. e.g., citations are used sparingly throughout the paper when background information is presented OR there are consistent formatting errors in text and final citation list.

References within body of paper are cited appropriately; references in final citation list are formatted appropriately and listed alpha. by author using WM guidelines, but there are 1-2 exceptions. e.g., citations are done well except that one or two references listed in text do not appear in the final list OR there are a few minor formatting errors in the final citation list.

References within body of paper are cited appropriately; references in final citation list are formatted appropriately and listed alphabetically by author using WM guidelines.

 

 

 

 

Overall grammar, organization, wording 

All poorly organized, interrupted flow of ideas leading to lack of clarity, can not follow thought progression, many grammatical errors.

Problematic organization of some section resulting in loss of clarity; awkward wording at times; some grammatical errors.

Organization somewhat problematic but can still follow thought progression e.g. explanation of methods in the results section; wording awkward at times, some grammatical errors.

Organization was good with few to no problems, wording awkward in a few places, few grammatical errors.

Excellent organization and paper flow, appropriate word choice, few to no grammatical errors.

Rubric Conversion to Letter Grade

The TAs use the following rubric conversion key along with the four Big Picture Questions to assign final grades to your papers.

 

Biocore Paper Review Rubric Conversion to Letter Grade

 

Letter Grade 

Minimum Criteria 

 

A 

 

“4” in at least 3 of the main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion);  “4” in overall grammar, organization, wording; no less than “3” in remaining sections.

 

 

AB 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for an “A”, but has “3” or better in each of the four main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion) and in overall grammar, organization, & wording.  Has a “2” or better on Title, Abstract, and Literature Cited.

 

 

B 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for an “AB”, but has “2” or better in each of the four main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion) and in overall grammar, organization, & wording.  Has a “1” or better on Title, Abstract, and Literature Cited.

 

 

BC 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for a “B”, but has “1” or better in all four main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion) and in overall grammar, organization, & wording.  Has no more than one zero in remaining sections.

 

 

C 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for a “BC”, but has “1” or better in all four main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion) and in overall grammar, organization, & wording.  Has no more than two zeros in remaining sections.

 

 

D 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for a “C”, but has “1” or better in at least two of the four main sections (Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion) and “1” or better in overall grammar, organization, wording.

 

 

F 

 

Does not meet minimum criteria for a “D.”