You’re probably reading this blog post because you love to read books. And you probably have a particular genre and/or author that interests you more than any other. What reading level are your favorite books written on? Middle school level? High school level? Before I answer these questions, let’s look at a few reading facts.
There are two general ways to categorize the readability of a passage:
You can rank the difficulty or ease of reading a passage by using a readability formula. The most common formula used is the Flesch-Kincaid formula which provides a number that is called the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score. The score is usually between 0 and 100, but can be below 0 or above 100. The higher the number the easier the passage is to read; the lower the score, the more difficult the passage is to read. You might expect the text in a comic book to have a score of 90, while a legal document might have a score of 10.
The Flesch-Kincaid formula looks like this:
You can determine the grade level of a passage by using one of a number of formulas. The formulas include the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, the Gunning-Fog Score, the Coleman-Liau Index, the SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook) Index, and the Automated Readability Index. These formulas give somewhat different results as you will note in the example below.
If you go to readability-score.com you can paste (or type) a passage into the box and find out the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score and all of the grade level scores from the formulas mentioned above. In addition, the grade level scores are averaged. Clicking on the name of any formula will send you to a Wikipedia article that gives you information about it.
I inserted the first paragraph of my last post (“Writers Under the Influence”), and it received a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score of 71.1 and a grade level average of 8.7 (eighth grade seventh month). However, the grade level results of the five formulas ranged from 6.8 to 11.5 – which is quite a large span. That’s why averaging is a good idea.
To give you an idea of the level at which some books are written, I chose a few books and inserted a paragraph from page 100 or 101 into the box and got the following results showing the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Score number and then the grade level:
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner – 61.9, 8.9
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – 96.4, 2.7
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 62, 12.0
History of the English-Speaking People by Winston S. Churchill – 60.3, 9.1
Great Lives, Great Deeds by Reader’s Digest – 50.5, 12.9
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 80.6, 5.5
I was shocked by a few of the above results. Reader’s Digest is usually considered very readable, so I question the validity of the scores its paragraph received. And while Hemingway wrote simple sentences, the fact that the paragraph I used was written on a second grade level seems strange.
The readability of a document can have important real-life consequences. For instance, the manufacturer of a car seat for infants discovered that the seats were often being installed improperly. A readability test showed that the installation instructions were written on a high school level when the average American only reads on an eighth grade level. Therefore people were becoming frustrated with the instructions and disregarding them. Manufacturers need to be sure that their installation instructions can be understood by their customers, and some have taken steps to insure that their instructions are easy to read.
Do you think you can guess what level well-known books were written on? Sporcle, one of my favorite websites for literature quizzes, has a quiz in which you see 15 pairs of books. You are asked to choose the one that is more difficult to read from each pair (based on its Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score). For instance, which is more difficult to read, Little Women or The Shining? The Wind in the Willows or The Picture of Dorian Gray? To begin the quiz click on “PLAY.” You have four minutes to choose either “A” or “B” for each pair of books. Think before you choose because the correct answers (including the readability score for each book in the pair) are shown as soon as you choose.
At the beginning of this article I asked you about the reading level of your favorite books. I haven’t given you the answers, but I’ve shown you how to answer the question for yourself. Have fun finding out, and keep reading.