Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Mastery Grid

Developing a Mastery Grid

A mastery grid is an explicit representation of how expertise develops in a field. It identifies the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and approaches that characterize expert practice, as well as the levels students move through as they gain mastery. Developing a mastery grid can help you:
  • determine appropriate goals for your department (the "desired state")
  • assess whether the curriculum adequately supports these outcomes
  • measure students’ progress against these outcomes

An example of a mastery grid developed by the theatre design program within the Drama School at Carnegie Mellon:

Mastery Grid developed by the Design Option, Drama School, Carnegie Mellon


Theatre Design


Specific interest in visual storytelling; expresses interest in theatrical conservatory training; no process yet developed.


Possesses a passion and aptitude for visual expression; possesses rudimentary skills. Is able to verbally and visually express a point of view. Has an emerging sense of "Process."

Year 1

Possesses familiarity and basic understanding of fundamental design elements. Acquires some of the basic components of process (i.e., skills, history, general idea making). Can employ foundation skills to express a focused idea within stated objectives. Begins to explain own work and assess the work of others against stated criteria.

Year 2

Continues to develop and expand their facility with the components of the design process as applied to theatrical text. Demonstrates skill facility in support of idea expression. Demonstrates an emerging awareness of self as artist/practitioner, evolves and identifies professional focus areas (lighting, scenery, costume, sound). Has developed a basic understanding of Theatrical Design Processes through guided integration. Explaining and assessing own and others’ work is still conscious and effortful.

Year 3

Commits to the area of their professional focus within the processes of theatrical design. Explores creative pathways that express individual responses and points of view to text and collaborative interactions. Self-implements design processes. Continues to deepen and broaden skills and techniques, including the support for choices and self-assessment.

Year 3

Recognizes and respects the process of theatrical design. Expected to initiate and develop a collaborative design process and successfully manage its production. Able to extend academic applications to professional settings and integrate self-assessments.

Year 4

Possesses an understanding of all of the elements of the design process; successfully engages in a complete collaborative design process from development through opening and is able to lead a complex production process. Can generally assess their work for effective improvement.

Post Graduate

Has gained confidence and proficiency in processes. Demonstrates sustained consistency in deliverables across multiple, simultaneous projects. Meets audience and collaborators’/employers’ expectations within resource parameters. Can consistently and accurately assess their work for effective improvement.


Significant experience in the field has evolved processes that have become self-customized, unique and recognizable. Developing the confidence to experiment and self-activate a personal and professional aesthetic and vision. Sustained consistency in deliverables sometimes producing a transformative experience for both audience and collaborators.


Leader and innovator in their field, has an original, unique voice and vision that consistently inspires collaborators to go beyond the current cultural and societal expectations of dramatic story-telling. The master has vision; Process is instinctive. Consistently produces a transformative experience for both audience and collaborators.

How can mastery grids be used?

Creating a mastery grid can be a valuable exercise for departments and programs as they clarify their priorities and determine appropriate course content, course sequencing, and assessments. Mastery grids can also help programs:

  • track the progress of individual students
  • track the progress of an entire cohort of students.
  • provide students with feedback about their current level of mastery
  • make students aware of the skills and knowledge they will be expected to develop in the future

How do we create a mastery grid?

The first level of a mastery grid should represent the skills, knowledge, strategies, attitudes, and approaches that students should possess coming into the program – in other words, the criteria for acceptance into the program. The final level should represent the skills, knowledge, strategies, attitudes, and approaches of an expert in the field who embodies the highest qualities of process and performance. The intermediate levels show how the skills, knowledge, strategies, and other aspects develop.

It is often easiest to begin a mastery grid by creating the final level that describes expert abilities and characteristics and then moving through the intermediate levels toward the entry level. Then you can recheck the developmental process by reviewing the levels sequentially, thinking about the skills and knowledge that build on prior ones. Remember to consider the time and effort necessary to meet the goals at each level, so that the program goals are challenging as well as realistic.

Eberly Center consultants are available to help your program or department develop a mastery grid.

CONTACT US to talk with an Eberly colleague in person!