Reading Level: One Way to Test It and How to Make It Right

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When you write for young readers, you often have to pay attention to the reading level of your work. When I write for RedLine, the reading level is always on the spec sheet. A book might need to have a reading level for upper elementary readers and they want me to keep it in the 5.1-6.5 range. Or, if I’m writing for teens, they might give me a target reading level of 8.5 to 9.1.

If you aren’t used to discussing reading levels, those numbers probably look confusing. 5.1 means 5th grade, 1st month.

Reading levels are pretty easy to calculate because you don’t have to do it by hand. I use the ATOS Analyzer. You can find it here.

Here is how to run a sample:

  1. Save your selection in a file you can change because you have to remove formatting. I usually call mine something clever like TEST.
  2. Remove footnotes.
  3. Change it to single spaced.
  4. Take out titles and subheadings.
  5. Go to the site.
  6. Key in the estimated word count for your manuscript.
  7. “Choose” your file.
  8. Click Submit and then wait.

When you get your results back, they will look something like this.

The reading level for this passage is 3rd grade, 3rd month. All you need to do to raise the reading level is make the text harder. That sounds simple but it helps to know what the analyzer looks at. Look again at the stats. If you want to make the reading level higher, make your words and your sentences longer.

When I need to do this, I look for ways to combine sentences or add phrases. I look for short, dull words and replace them with longer, multisyllabic words that are more specific.

If, on the other hand, my text is too complicated, I do the opposite. Instead of “complicated” I might use the word “hard” or “simple.” I try to write simpler sentences with fewer phrases.

Once you’ve managed to reach the correct reading level, read your text aloud. Sometimes, in the course, of rewriting, I manage to create something that doesn’t flow so this is the very last thing I check.

Massaging your reading level seems tricky and it is as first. But once you get used to creating text at a certain reading level, you will find that you can do it, or at least get close, with very little effort.