What shape is your rating system?

The BookDepository

I have been think a lot about rating systems recently, and wondered how other people’s rating system work. The scientist in me likes to use diagrams to demonstrate this – so please bare with me as I try to explain!

My rating system is shaped a bit like this:


I would rate almost all the books in the world as one star (blue). They have no interest to me, and with any luck I won’t even start to read one of these books. Occasionally I am unlucky enough to read one, but most of those books on car engines, knitting, the benefits of plastic etc. will remain on the shelves, unread by me.

The majority of the books on my blog will be 3 or 3.5 stars (orange). These are average books. Reasonable reads, but nothing outstanding about them. If I had my time again, I probably wouldn’t read them – I like to try to find the rarer 4 star (yellow) or almost impossible to find 5 star (red) books.

I think of 5 star books as being masterpieces. They are the ones which grip you from beginning to end, alter your thinking on an issue and stay with you forever. I don’t find many of these books and they account for only a very tiny percentage of all the books ever published.

What does your rating system look like?

Are you ratings evenly spread like this?


or a less severe version of mine?



….or a different shape entirely?!

I’d love to hear what you think about this!

Send to Kindle


  1. Simon S says:

    Oh what an interesting blog, its made me really think and to be honest with you I cant come up with a proper answer… I am going to have to go away and mull it over!

    1. Jackie says:

      OK – I look forward to hearing what you’ve decided!

  2. Rebecca Reid says:

    I don’t rate books. Some things are impossible to put in categories. I can’t compare apples to oranges (i.e., fiction to nonfiction to poetry to drama). If I plan on rereading it some day (or I’d love to reread it), I’d call it a favorite.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rating some books is really hard to do, and some ratings will change over time, but I do like to see a quick visual reference to how good the book was.

      It would be difficult to comapre the best fiction book to the best non-fiction book, but if they are both top of their lists then they wil both be rated 5 stars. All books rater 4 stars or above are my favourites!

  3. Swati says:

    I only rate books in my personal journal but never reveal it to others, not even friends. That is because everyone’s tastes are so different. I’ve been burnt before by recommending a personal favourite to friends, gushing about it, then they all hate it and think I’m slightly weird for recommending the book so strongly.

    In my personal ratings though, the majority of books are 3 or 3.5 (I only rate a book 1 if I can’t complete it or a 2 if I could finish it but didn’t enjoy it). Several books are 4. The best books are 5, but this is a tiny portion. Then there is an extra level of 5-star, these are books that I get personal enjoyment out of, my personal favourites. This really has no relation with literary genre – Midnight’s Children and Discworld are both 5-star in my book.

    I don’t think my graph would be as severe as yours, partly because I am very free with my love when it comes to books, but mostly because I follow blogs and tend to not pick up books that have been universally dislike (by blogs, not critics – I don’t trust critics)

    1. Jackie says:

      It is a shame that you don’t feel able to reveal your ratings. I know that everyone has a very different taste in books and that is why I love blogging so much. In the real world I have never found anyone with a similar taste in books to me, but I have found a few in the blogging world. With time you’ll find people who share a love for the same books and hopefully be able to find some great book recommendations from each other.

      1. Swati says:

        Jackie, in many ways that is why I have started blogging.
        Just as an example, my all-time favourites are One Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight’s Children, and most people I know in real life have not got on with either book at all. I was very glad to find the blogging community where these books are “normal”!
        Maybe I’ll get more free with revealing my rating in real life, for the moment I’ll keep it for the internet :D

  4. Nicole says:

    I struggle with my ratings system, I think in general it’s hard for me to classify what falls neatly into one category or the other. I think for most of the books I am reading I get a lot that I deem a Recommended or Highly Recommended. I am pretty adept at picking out books right now so I don’t often run int may that I don’t like. A Must Read book is a rare rating for me. Those are the books that I love, love, loved and never wanted to end.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think I’m getting better at picking out books I’d enjoy. I can see a steady increase in higher rated books and that is mainly thanks to bloggers.

      Thank you everyone! My TBR pile is stacked with great books thanks to you!

  5. Sandy says:

    You and your brainteasers! I just started officially rating my books earlier this year on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best. Now I’m questioning it. Should I do 1 to 10? I don’t know. I find that I put a huge amount of effort into researching books I think I will like, and don’t take too many chances with ones I’m unsure about. I’m not very good at random! For that reason, most of my books fall in the 3.5 to 5 star range. Similar to my personality in life, I tend to have a big heart and embrace/appreciate or try to find the good in anything placed before me, so I fear I’m not maybe as critical as I should be. When I rate books, I am more reactionary and emotional at how I am feeling right at the moment I finish the book, versus trying to stack it up against other four stars or five stars. If I put down a book that makes my heart sing, or leaves a big impression, it usually gets a 5. I guess the good thing is that when I give a book a rating less than 3, you know that it is REALLY BAD!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a 3 star book on your blog – maybe one of the childrens ones? I’ll be sure to keep well clear of them!

  6. Meghan says:

    I don’t rate books on my blog. I just find it too difficult to simplify it down and often I realize after I’ve written my review that a star rating would have changed anyway! I do rate them on Librarything, though, which I think is probably strange. I am pretty good at picking out books I like, so most are 3.5-4 stars. The great ones are 4.5 and the exceptional ones I fall in love with are 5 stars. You’re right though in that I avoid most books which would fall into 1 and 2 star ratings, so my graph probably would look similar to yours.

    1. Jackie says:

      Most of the time I find it quite easy to rate a book, but there are a few which give me real trouble. The most difficult is Beloved by Toni Morrison. I found it hard to read, difficult to follow, but the more I read about it, the more I appreiciate the quality of the writing. I’m still not sure what rating I should give it, but this is one of the rare exceptions.

  7. SuziQoregon says:

    One of the cool thing about GoodReads is that on my profile page , if you click on my average rating (which is 3.47) you can see a bar graph of my ratings. This covers books since January 2006.

    1 star 3%
    2 stars 8%
    3 stars 37%
    4 stars 40%
    5 stars 10%

    This makes sense to me that my average is above the midpoint. I only read books I think I’ll like anyway and if I really don’t like a book at all I probably won’t finish and rate it.

    1. Jackie says:

      It is great to be able to find out that sort of information. I don’t use librarything that much, but when I see things like this I feel I should.

  8. She says:

    Awesome question!

    My blog seems to indicate that my rating system looks more opposite then yours, however; when looking at my shelfari, my ratings system seems to look much more like yours.

    I guess I’ve just gotten into a good batch of books lately :)

    1. It is great when you get a run of good books – I’m going through a little run of amazing books too!

  9. cbjames says:

    I stopped using a rating system on my blog a while back. I found it took too much time to keep track of what was a five, what was a four, etc. One of my favorite books ever is The Lives of the Monster Dogs. Should I give it a five because I love it so much or should I recognize that it breaks down in the end and give it a four. How about the Grapes of Wrath which has a similar problem in my view and is difficult reading in several parts but is clearly a masterpiece in spite of this. Should I give it a five? Honestly, I will never re-read it, ever and I’ll probably re-read The Lives of the Monster Dogs at least once more, maybe twice.

    It got to the point where I’d rather just spell out my view in words instead of a certain number of stars.

    But, again in all honesty, my ratings pile would probably look like your second pyramid but inverted. Almost everything I read falls into the four or five star category, because I select out the books I’ll like. It’s very rare that I’ll read a one star book or a two star book through to the end.

    I understand that you’ll not be reading a lot of DIY knitting books or books on car engines, but don’t you think it’s unfair to give them ones? Shouldn’t a DIY book be evaluated with a different set of criteria than a novel? I own several cookbooks that I think are fives, masterworks of the genre. They are well written in that they accurately convey the information needed to cook the recipes, and the recipes produce excellent meals. To be honest several of them have brought large amounts of happiness into my life, more than The Lives of the Monster Dogs ever could. One of them is out of print and very hard to find so if my house were on fire and I could only save one book that would be the one. I do not knit nor do I repair cars, but I imagine many knitters and mechanics have a similar book on their shelves.

    Thanks for this interesting topic. One reason why I love your blog and why I rate it a five. Lots of food for thought here.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think you raise an interesting point which requires clarifying. The rating system on my blog is not how good the book is, but how good I think it is – how enjoyable/useful I found it.

      The best knitting book in the world would only gain one star on my blog because it is of no use/interest to me. That doesn’t mean it is a bad book, or that other people won’t find it useful.

      It is the same for all the books on my blog. Just because I rate a book one star doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of people out there who love it – I am not a fan of Asimov for example, so my one star rating means that I struggled to read it and got no pleasure from it at all, but I know that 1000s of people love him.

      I think you should base your rating on how much you love your book – I think you should give The Lives of Monsters five stars. I’ve never heard of it – perhaps I should go and buy a copy!

  10. Kathy says:

    A book has to be super-fantastic to get 5 stars from me. On Good Reads, I’ve noticed that my rating are often the opposite of everyone else’s.

    1. Jackie says:

      I often seem to have different opinions to other people. I put all my reviews on Amazon and often notice I get different things from a certain book. It is very interesting for me to compare reviews with other people.

  11. like reviews, ratings are subjective. as i looked over the 20 or so books i’ve reviewed, most fall into the 2.5-3.5 category, none have garnered a one or a five yet…

    i use stars (or bookmarks, in my case) to give other readers a sense of the book from my perspective without having to read through my entire review if he or she is pressed for time. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      I have had both a one and a five star review in my last five reviews. This is quite unusual for me though.

      I do think a visual review system helps people short of time and sometimes persuades people to read a review that they aren’t otherwise interested in.

  12. Sandra says:

    I have a poll going right now about rating systems for reviews.
    I choose my reading very carefully, so that most of my ratings are 4 or 5 stars. It may be that I am more generous with my ratings, but anything below four stars is unusual for me. I am known among friends and family as someone who recommends only good books. That’s why I started book blogging instead of just journaling about other things 3 years ago. I like to think experience has taught me how to choose. And I really feel that arcs account for the lower rated books. There a lot of 4 and 5 stars reads out there, I say don’t bother with anything less. Goodreads seems to verify my understanding of my ratings. Of 382 books rated (4.18 average) it breaks down to:

    5 20%
    4 64%
    3 16%
    2 0%
    1 0%

    I’m betting those 16% are mostly arcs since we have so little information to go on when we request them.
    Of the 54 people who have voted in my poll so far, only 5 would prefer no rating at all. So I have the habit of putting stars beside any title that I mention in any post or on any lists, if I have read it. I don’t fully review most books I read and stars or numbers give a reader an immediate sense of how good my reading experience of that book was.

    1. I some how missed your poll – I’ll have to go and find that.

      I am pleased that nearly everyone likes a rating system – the majority of blogs don’t seem to have one, so that isn’t the result I’d expect.

  13. Lori L says:

    Discussions of ratings are always interesting and I keep vacillating back and forth on how to handle them. Currently I rate books from very highly recommended to did not finish. I guess that most of the “very highly recommended ” books would translate into 4.5 if I was still using my 0-5 scale. For those few books that deserve a straight 5 I have been trying to make a notation that they are “one of the best”. As far as how my book ratings would look visually… I’m not sure. If I followed your inclusion of all books, my scale probably would resemble your pyramid. In reality, since I normally carefully chose what I read the books that end up being reviewed on my blog often deserve a higher rating than the pyramid shaped scale would represent. Interesting discussion!

    1. Most of the books I rate as one star are those I don’t manage to finish. I have thought about having a DNF rating, but there are some books which I wish I hadn’t finished which also get this rating. I think I’ll leave my ratings as they are at the moment.

  14. Florinda says:

    I use a 5 point scale, with fractional points. Most books score somewhere between a 3 and 4; a really good one may get a 4.25 or 4.5, and I don’t think I’ve given a 5 yet.

    For me, the rating is a supplement and doesn’t replace my detailed review, but I try to make the rating consistent with what I say about the book. I rate pretty much the same on my blog and on LibraryThing, but maybe a bit more generously on Amazon, because it works a little differently. And there are some types on nonfiction I don’t rate; instead, I recommend them for particular readers.

    “The majority of the books on my blog will be 3 or 3.5 stars.” I’m glad you said that, because mine run in that range too, and I’ve been feeling a little bit conflicted about it. But then again, it seems to me that if I choose my books well – based on what appeals to me – I shouldn’t give many of them less than a 3, and I should expect the 4’s to be less common.

    I’m glad you brought this up for discussion!

    1. I have thought about breaking my ratings down into smaller fractions, but I think I’d get too confused.

      I agree that a rating doesn’t substitue a review, but it is a nice quick way to compare book tastes – especially if used on monthly summary posts.

  15. mee says:

    I made my graph to wrap up 2008:
    which shows that my rating peaks at 4 stars. So the shape is kinda fat in the middle (3.5-4 stars). 4 stars for me means enjoyable. I never give anything below 2.5 stars, but maybe it’s because I don’t read as many books as you and I am quite careful in choosing the few books I read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Interesting graph. I think a graph of the books I actually read will be quite similar to yours, as I try to avoid reading the lower ranking books.

      I think the fact I read more poor rated books than most is due to my passion for list reading. I often know that I won’t enjoy a book which is included on a prize list (eg Home by Marilynne Robinson on this year’s Orange list) but I start it just to check.

  16. Jackies Dad says:

    I dont read much more than a book a month but I am guaranteed a 4 or 5 star read. If a million other people have read a book its good enough for me.
    Do any of you book experts read people such as Jeffery Archer (Kane and Abel and sequel) Frederick Forsyth (The Afghan) or Jeffery Deaver (The Garden of Beasts). All in my opinion 5 star books except perhaps for Archers ridiculously unbelievable chapter about World War Two. These authors alone have always something available for me if I can find nothing else

    1. Jackie says:

      I’ve never read any, but often think I should – just to see what they’re like.

      You really should let me write a post about your favourite books!

  17. Beth F says:

    If I were to rate every book out there, most would be C, D, and F! But when I rate the books I actually choose to read then most are B — good, worth my time, solidly written (or fun or some other good quality). A (moved me or gripped me), a few are C (okay book, but not much more), and a few are didn’t finish (DNF; because I wouldn’t bother finishing a D or F book). I assign + and – (like school grades) to these ratings (like half stars I guess).

    A = best
    B = above average
    C = average
    D = below average
    F = really bad

    I think my books generally get somewhat high ratings because I know my reading tastes pretty well and almost always choose correctly. In my young adulthood I had many more C to F books than I do now.

    1. Jackie says:

      It sounds as though your graph would be similar to mine. I am finding the quality of my reading increasing all the time. I have so many excellent recommendations that I can only see them getting better and better over time.

  18. Jenners says:

    I recently decided to use a rating system (5 star to 1 star) and the bulk fall into the three star category (which I defined as A Good Read But Didn’t Rock My World.) I have a few more 4 stars and a few 5 stars (I’m realizing I love books that make me laugh) Fortunately, I’ve had only a few 2 star books and no complete losers (1 star). So I guess my shape would be thin on top and getting fatter and then getting thinner again — like a diamond.

    1. Jackie says:

      I guess that the books I review on my blog would end up looking like a diamond too. I wish there were more 5 star books!

  19. Violet says:

    Giving ratings are so difficult. Most of my books are in the range of 3 and 4.5.

    Moreover I tend to like most of the books I read. I avoid reviewing Review copies I absolutely do not like, if they have a rating of below 2. Even otherwise, you’ll find very few 1 or 2 star books on my blog. As I said, I just rend to like most of what I read :)

    1. Jackie says:

      I try to read books I like too! It tends to be those award lists which contribute to my 1 star list!

  20. Margot says:

    Thanks Jackie for this conversation. I’m planning to start a rating system on my blog and this was very helpful.

    1. Jackie says:

      I love rating systems – I look forward to seeing yours!

  21. Thomas says:

    After analyzing my booklist I was somewhat surprised by the results. I really don’t read books that I don’t like. It is rare that I go beyond page 50 if I don’t like a book. As a result my book ratings skew heavy toward the “Liked It” or better categories because I only list books that I have finished.

    My rating system is a bit different than most. And represents what I like, not necessarily what is “good literature”.

    Out of 646 books read since 1995:

    Alltime Favorite: 4%
    Loved It: 19%
    Really Liked It: 23%
    Liked It: 25%
    Almost Liked It: 15%
    Ambivalent: 7%
    Almost Didn’t Like It: 4%
    Didn’t Like It: 3%
    Really Didn’t Like It: 0%
    Hated It: 0.2%

    Love your Blog.

    1. Jackie says:

      Hi Thomas – thank you for commenting for the first time.

      I think the big difference is that I blog about all books, even if I don’t finish them. This will mean that I will have a lot more lower scoring books on my blog.

      I’m jealous of you having records back to 1995. I have nothing before starting my blog a year ago and so have forgotten a lot about all the books I read before then.

      1. Thomas says:

        Well, I am a little lazy, I don’t really review any of the books I read. Sometimes I will blog about them, but not too often. I did, however, just post a chart on my blog that does actually show the shape of my book ratings. http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/

Leave a Reply