I recently discovered one of those words that describe something you are familiar with but have never heard of or used before.

When I was in high school and university, the teachers always used the term 'assessment criteria' to refer to the standards by which our assignments would be graded. Until I recently went through some materials relating to teaching (pedagogical learning resources) that I came across the term 'rubric'.

I have never heard of people using this term outside the context of teaching, so I was wondering if this is more commonly used in particular countries or context.

  • It gets a fair amount of usage in academica in general. You'll see it in the humanities disciplines (history, sociology, philosophy, literary criticism, etc.), although it's not nearly as popular as "paradigm". It's conceivable that this currency of usage arose from the fact that many people involved in these fields are themselves educators. Commented May 30, 2016 at 12:44
  • It's not only used in academia. People who have an interest in writings of the middle ages tend to use it because, of course, the original meaning of the word is from that time.
    – Al Maki
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 2:20

4 Answers 4


Whenever I've heard the word, it's been in a non-academic context and means either 'category' or 'criteria' - which roughly matches the following definition.


  • a name or heading under which something is classified

  • an explanation or a set of instructions at the beginning of a book, a test, etc.


"Under this new rubric, all 30-minute shows are considered comedies and all hour-long programmes go into the drama categories."

"Many sanctions are imposed under the rubric of executive orders, and not always black and white for lawyers interpreting them."

"...and two plays by Terrence McNally, “Ravenswood” and “Dunelawn,” staged together in 1974 under the rubric “Bad Habits.”" (Here it means literally 'title'.)

"Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ... announced that he “did not regard the petition as falling under the rubric of free speech.”"


Yes, the term is mainly used in educational contexts:

  • Rubrics have become popular with teachers as a means of communicating expectations for an assignment, providing focused feedback on works in progress, and grading final products.

  • Although educators tend to define the word “rubric” in slightly different ways, Heidi Andrade’s commonly accepted definition is a document that articulates the expectations for an assignment by listing the criteria, or what counts, and describing levels of quality from excellent to poor.

  • Rubrics are often used to grade student work but they can serve another, more important, role as well: Rubrics can teach as well as evaluate.

  • Students should be able to use rubrics in many of the same ways that teachers use them—to clarify the standards for a quality performance, and to guide ongoing feedback about progress toward those standards.



  • A rubric is a heading or a category in a chart, or a rule of conduct. A teacher's grading rubrics may include participation, homework completion, tests, quizzes, and papers.
  • A rubric can also mean a rule or a procedure. If you use "might makes right" as the rubric for the formation of a list of classroom rules, you'll have a different-feeling classroom culture than if your rubric is "everyone deserves respect."



The term rubric from the Norman French rubrique simply means something written in red. Of course the way rubric is used today does not literally mean it is in red. This can apply to lots of things, headings, important notes to the text, feedback comments etc.

The OED list of definitions, with the examples missing runs as follows:

A. n. I. Something traditionally written in red, and related uses. Cf. red letter n. 1.a. A direction in a liturgical book as to how a church service should be conducted, traditionally written or printed in red ink. Also fig.

b. An established custom; a set of rules, an injunction; a general prescription.

†c. The rule of a religious order. Obs. rare—1.

d. An explanatory or prescriptive note introducing an examination paper.

2.a. A heading of a chapter or other section in a book or manuscript, written or printed in red, or otherwise distinguished in lettering; a particular passage or sentence marked in this way. Also in extended use.

b. The heading of a statute or section of a legal code.

c. fig. A descriptive heading; a designation, a category.

†3. A calendar of saints; an entry in red letters of a name in such a calendar. Also in extended use. Obs. (rare after 17th cent.).

  1. In Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking contexts: a decorative flourish attached to a signature; (also) a mark used in place of a signature. Now chiefly hist.

    II. A substance used for marking in red.

†5. Red ochre, ruddle. Obs.

†6. A preparation for reddening the complexion. Obs. rare—1.


a. Of lettering: written or printed in red. Also fig. The example in quot. ?c1475 may represent the noun.

b. Designating a pillar or post inscribed with the titles of books for sale. Now hist.

  1. a. Chiefly poet. Red, ruddy. Now rare. In quot. 1921 with punning allusion to sense B. 1a.

†b. Designating certain lake pigments. Obs.

  • "Which is why the rubricator's job was such an illuminating one," Tom quipped rosily.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 4:25

The term "rubric" just tends to be popular among students and educators. I think people can use it in any way relating to evaluation, rating, giving feedback and other related matter in terms of one's performance or work.

  • So just like the word pedagogy tends to be popular among teachers and educators right? Commented May 30, 2016 at 6:16
  • Yes, that's right.
    – Michelle
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 1:12

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