TOEFL Writing-rubrics

Today’s word is ‘rubrics’. For those who work in the field of education, this word is quite a common word. However, to the rest of us, this may be the first time you have come across this word. So, what does it mean?

Well, to keep it simple, the word ‘rubrics’ is normally used to refer to two things. First, it just means the instructions in a test or exam. For instance, you may get these instructions for one part of a test:

‘Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices and match them to the type of organism to which they relate. TWO of the answer choices will NOT be used’.

Taken loosely, the above is sometimes referred to as ‘rubrics’, but in simple terms, they are just instructions or directions on what to do in a test.

Another area which uses the term ‘rubrics’ is marking. When examiners have to mark a paper, they are often given ‘rubrics’. These ‘rubrics’ are more than just instructions on how to answer a question (as seen above) but are specific instructions to the examiners on how to give marks to an answer. You may think that it is odd for examiners to need marking rubrics, but it is actually very important.

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Think about it. If a question is simple and you just need to answer A, B, C or D, then of course it is quite easy to mark. In fact, a computer can do it easily! However, when a test requires complex answers which are very subjective (such as an essay), then examiners need to be given ‘rubrics’, especially if there are many examiners involved. This is because test administrators need to ensure that every examiner’s scores are in line with set standards. For example, how is each main point in an essay scored? If one examiner gives half a mark for each main point but another gives 2 marks for each main point, can you see how the marks given by these two examiners will differ considerably for the same essay? That would be quite unfair, don’t you think? It would also leave your scores to chance! That means, if you are lucky, you will get an examiner who gives marks freely, and if you are unlucky, well, your scores will suffer.

That is why reputable exams such as TOEFL have ‘rubrics’ for their examiners. The good news is, these rubrics are available to us as well! This means that we can see what examiners look for when marking our essays so we can answer our test questions with this in mind so that we can get a higher score! It’s not a secret. It’s called studying smart.

Let’s consider the rubrics for the Writing Tasks in TOEFL (there are two writing tasks – the Integrated Writing and the Independent Writing). Each task in the TOEFL Writing section will be given a score from a scale of 0-5 only and the marks for these two tasks will then be converted to 0-30 marks to give you the overall marks for the Writing section. In order to get the highest score of 5 for the Independent Writing, for instance, you will need to:
• Address the topic and task
• Organise and develop your essay well, with appropriate explanations, examples and details
• Show unity, progression and coherence in your essay
• Show consistent use of language, with syntactic variety, appropriate word choice and idiomaticity
• Have no or minor lexical and grammatical errors

For full details of the rubrics of the TOEFL Writing tasks, you can visit the official TOEFL iBT webpage at

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