What is a Graphic Rating scale?

graphic rating form

Business students majoring in organizational psychology or human resources will likely come across the term graphic rating scale. The graphic rating scale method is based on the Likert rating scale and is used for employee performance evaluations. Although there are several other performance appraisal rating methods, the graphic rating scale performance appraisal method is the preferred method by many employers because of its simplicity.

What Does it Measure?

The graphic rating scale method can be used to measure a broad range of employee behaviors. Forms can be standardized, or they may be created to suit a specific job or a group of similar jobs. Behaviors that are typically measured are those that are necessary for employees to perform their jobs efficiently. Examples of desired behaviors that are commonly measured on a graphic rating scale are as follows:

  • Gets along with coworkers
  • Takes initiative
  • Displays motivation
  • Meets deadlines
  • Works well in teams
  • Turns in quality work

How is it Formatted?

A graphic rating scale can be formatted in several ways depending on the employer’s needs. But no matter what format the employer may choose to use, the form will list several questions alongside a rating scale with two extremes on either end and several possible choices between the two extremes. Some of the more common graphic rating scale example formats:

  • Numbered Scale (1-10 with 1 being needs improvement and 10 being excellent)
  • One-Word Scale (excellent, good, okay, fair, poor)
  • Short Comment Scale (performs above expectations, meets expectations, could improve in some areas, performs below expectations)
  • Mixed Standards Scale

In a number scale, ratings typically consist of a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale.  The scale can be a continuous scale, with a number line and number of each end.  A rating of a 1 indicates that improvement is needed, or the individual is not meeting expectations.  A 10 would indicate exceptional performance.  The evaluator is encouraged to indicate where an employee ranks on the spectrum.

In a word scale, instead of numbers, performance related terms are used to evaluate the performance of an employee.  The scale might look like this:

“How would rate ability of the employee to complete weekly deliverables on time?”

  1. Exceptional
  2. Excellent
  3. Very Good
  4. Good
  5. Fair
  6. Poor
  7. Very Poor

A comment scale is another popular type of graphic rating scale.  Instead of a single word, a longer comment is used to evaluate performance.

“How well does the employee management their time?”

  1. Very poor performance (fails to meet deadlines, not punctual)
  2. Needs improvement (occasionally misses deadlines)
  3. Average (average time management skills)
  4. Good (is aware of deadlines and works within time parameters)
  5. Excellent (always meets deadlines and uses their time effectively)

In a mixed standard scale, the evaluator uses mixed statements that represent performance.

What are the Benefits of Graphic Rating?

Although graphic rating can be a bit subjective, there are many great reasons employers choose to use them to measure employee performance.  Using a graphic rating scale is often the preferred choice when objective data is either not available or not relevant to the situation. A journal published by the American Psychological Association explains the relevance of graphic rating scales and their many benefits. Just a sample of the benefits discussed in the article are listed below.

  • It is easy to use and understand
  • It does not take a lot of time to fill out forms
  • It is easily standardized for multiple positions
  • It can be personalized to one specific position
  • It makes the employee appraisal system less complicated

What Makes a Good Graphic Rating Scale?

Having a good graphic rating scale can be a great way to assess employee performance.  Your graphic rating scale should:

  • Be customized to your industry, company, and type of job performed
  • Have clearly defined criteria that must be met to achieve a specific rating
  • Avoid ambiguity-leave out vague terms
  • Be precise and never an overall figure or a rounded number
  • Be relevant to the behavior being measured

Limitations of a Graphic Rating Scale in the Workplace

The graphic rating scale method does have its limitations.  We discuss some of the most common pitfalls HR managers can succumb to when using the graphic rating scale system.

Recency Effect:

It’s important to look at overall work history rather than recent performance to get an accurate performance evaluation.  Recent excellent work performance could result in a prior history of poor performance being overlooked on the evaluation.  Recent poor performance could cloud a history of favorable work performance.  The recency effect is a psychological principle that says we tend to remember the most recent information we receive the best.  Being aware of the recency effect can help managers make sure they complete an objective review that can measure performance over the entire review period.


We all have cultural biases and prejudices that can lead to stereotyping in the workplace.  It’s important the employee’s performance review team have a diverse makeup.  Men and women should be included, as well as individuals of other races.  A diverse evaluation team can help keep the rating scale objective and control for any bias or stereotyping in the workplace.

Halo Effect:

The halo effect is a cognitive bias that comes into play when we form an opinion of someone on one positive attribute.  We then make a positive generalization about the individual.  This can happen when an employee dresses exceptionally well or speaks in an eloquent manner.  It can also happen if an employee came highly recommended by a friend or colleague.  The halo effect can come in to play during a performance evaluation.  The evaluation team might over-inflate a review, giving the individual higher markings than they deserve.

What About the Employees in the Middle?

The graphic rating scale does a great job of identifying the best and the worst employees…but what about average employees?  Scoring each item in the middle or giving them an “average” score doesn’t do much to communicate where improvements can be made.  Employees have different strengths and weaknesses and may score high in one area and low in another.  Unfortunately, when averaging scores, these employees will have similar scores to those scoring in the middle on each item.  When a graphic rating scale doesn’t provide much information, it’s important to go back and look at each item for insight.  It might be helpful to use another tool be used when planning goals for the next year.

While these biases and challenges can be hard to overcome, it’s not impossible.  When preparing for a performance evaluation, be aware of:

  • Your beliefs about the individual
  • The evidence you have to support these beliefs

What Characteristics Should be Included?

To ensure that the graphic rating form is consistent and effective, behaviors measured should be relevant to the specific job roles of the employees being assessed. Behaviors also need to be specific. Vague behaviors such as dependable or trustworthy should be avoided. Better choices would be shows up for work on time and trustworthy when dealing with large amounts of cash.

One way to improve the accuracy of a performance appraisal is to use a graphic rating scale alongside another performance appraisal method.  Since the graphic rating method allows behaviors to be quantified, using a tool to capture qualitative data, like the essay performance appraisal method, can be helpful when making decisions about salary adjustments.


An important aspect of any business is regular employee performance appraisals. Evaluations can ensure that employees are performing as they should, locate any weak areas, and correct them if necessary. While there are several appraisal methods used to assess employees’ overall performance, a popular choice today is the graphic rating appraisal system as described above.

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