Thursday, January 06, 2011

Grading System


In my opinion, the grade is the most crucial element of a book review, but also the toughest element to figure out when writing a review. One of the reasons is because the grade is supposed to say it all in a glance. I mean, you can expand, justify and argue as much as you want in the review, truth is, some people will only look at the grade and that's the only thing others will take away. So it needs to encompass all your thoughts, feeling and analysis. Problem is, grading a book is not just an analytical process. Oh nooo, it involves our little pesky feelings, those that sometimes don't make sense out of things LOL. You know what I mean :) For example, a book can have a major flaw, but you'll overlook it for that one scene that you love or because throughout the book, the story made your heart aches or because you shed some tears. Then, to complicate things, these feelings can change as you write up the review. You start listing what you enjoyed, what you didn't and realize that hey, you liked this book much more than you thought... or you can't remember anything about it, so it didn't impact you much and probably doesn't deserve such a high grade.

Like, I said, toughest part of the review, no? :) But then, as if it's not complicated enough, there's the grading system! As some of you know, I've recently joined Goodreads. Yesterday, while grading some books over there, I took a look at their grading system -  really took a look - and what it meant. Here is the breakdown:

*****         = it was amazing
****           = really liked it
***             = liked it
**               = it was okay
*                 = didn't like it

Now, me, I use the alphabetical grading system... in which case, it would mean that:

*****         = it was amazing     ---> A
****           = really liked it        ---> B
***             = liked it                 ---> C
**               = it was okay          ---> D
*                 = didn't like it          ---> E

right? Logical, n'est-ce pas? However, I'm not sure it's that easy an association ^_^; I know some of you think I'm a tough grader... but the truth is, I find myself quite reluctant to give out Cs and lower grades because I feel bad ^_^; Most of the time, I'll fidget in the B zone and avoid the C grade by giving out B- or C+ instead. The + makes it looks more positive LOL. I think this reluctance stems from my years at school. I've always been an excelling student and actually enjoyed competing for good grades, even back in elementary school. Truth be, a C was bad, a real catastrophe for and definitively not something I could let my dad know about... and so I guess I've carried that mentality to my books reviewing. However, reviewing books is completely different from studies obviously. As it turns out, according to Goodreads, a C is not bad at all - it still means I liked the book!


Thing is, we tend to grade books from 1 to 5 or A to E. When I started reviewing books, an okay book would be an average book and therefore, the median: so technically speaking, 3/C. In which case, I would have 2 states of disliking (1-2/E-D), 2 states of liking (4-5/B-A) and a neutral territory (3/C). This would be my grading system breakdown:

*****/A    = loved it
****/B      = liked it
***/C        = it was okay
**/D          = disliked it
*/E             = hated it

That's logical too, right?  But then, when you compare it to Goodreads grading system, was I too lenient? I mean, a book that I thought was okay would be a 3/C while it'd be a 2/D on Goodreads. Or perhaps, it is Goodreads that is too lenient, because  it allows more nuances? I mean, in the end, with Goodreads, there is only one bad grade: 1 star (*). However, realistically speaking, when you see 2/D, it doesn't feel very positive, right? Ugh, all this is so confusing ^_^;

In any case, I want to readjust my grading system so it matches Goodreads'. Having one grading system is confusing enough, I don't want to have two - one for Goodreads and one for my blog! LOL. Since I can't modify Goodreads' grading system,  that means I'm the one who needs to make some changes. Then, it raises the question of what grading system to use. When I started blogging, I used a number grading system, the usual 1 to 5... but then, I switched to letter grading system, A to E. I felt the letter grading system conveyed feelings better, that people related to it better and +/- gave better indication than 0.25, 0.5 and 0.75; however, looking back now, I wonder if it's because of all the years I spent on the school bench LOL. Really, what is the difference between 4.25 and 4.5? Then again, what is the difference between B- and B.... Hmmm. I was trying to figure it out this morning and this is what I came up with:

Eg:

****     ---> B
                     |      ---> B-   = 3.75
                  ***1/2                  
                     |      ---> C+  = 3.25
***       ---> C   

But then, the X.5 becomes the limbo zone. There's nothing I match it with. Am I over-thinking this? I think so, because this post is getting really long LOL. So I'm going to try to wrap-up :P Basically, I decided to stay with the letter system. The problem with the number system in my opinion is that there is too much leeway. It comes to a point where I'm like .25 or .5 or.75? But I don't really know what's the difference. I know I have the same dilemma with +/-, but it seems clearer for some reasons. Ideally, I should switch to the stars system, there's only full stars and 1/2 star, but quite frankly, I'm not crazy about switching to another system... and I've never really liked the stars system much ^_^;

So I'm staying with the letter grading system, because it suits me most :) However, I'm going to try to be more consistent and objective and so, be ready to see more Cs and Ds. I think what I'm going to do from now on after finishing a book is asked myself how I liked the book. Then, from there I got my grade and can play with the +/-.


What do you think?
Do you find it difficult to grade book?
What grading system do you prefer?

Feel free to share your thoughts!

15 comments:

  1. You thought about this waaaaay too much. LOL But it's something I've had to deal with as well. I letter grade on my blog, number grade on Book Binge and star grade on Goodreads. All three of those systems are different. I just go with the flow.

    But for goodreads, sometimes I round up those number grades from book binge. And somehow I'm confused. But when it comes down to putting down a grade or a star, I seem to know what I'm doing.

    Also for me, C is average, ie. 'just ok'. Not necessarily bad. :P

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  2. I used the letter grade in SF. But sometimes there was that book that's wasn't a C but it wasn't a B either. Or any other grade.

    Which is why i don't really grade books on my blog. Too hard.

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  3. Wow, my head is spinning. LOL That happens when you throw X's and decimals my way. Brings back wayy to many nightmares of Algebra I in high school, which I SUCKED at.

    I just recently posted my first review of the new year, and although I tend to think of my books and how I'd rate them in my head, I'd never done it in a review on my blog. So I've started the letter system as well. But I need to get better at analytically thinking of just what a book does for me, y'know?

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  4. Ouch, head spinning!
    LOL
    Well, yes, grading a book is very hard, mostly because I am a very emotional reader, so if something about a book pisses me off then I'm very likely to give it a lower grade than someone else who didn't have that particular issue.

    But I've always been very upfront about it, my grades reflect my personal taste always, I try to be consistent and true to my thoughts, that's all I can promise

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  5. LOL, Nath! That was a great analysis.

    I prefer the letter system. But I translate it to Goodreads the same way you do. For me a C is a "Good Read." "OK" or "Average" ... that translates into "I liked it" to me. But it doesn't mean I loved it or that it was a great read, lol! Anyway, yeah... it's tough. It's easy to grade the books you love or hate, but those in-between are always the toughest.

    I personally don't really look at the "grades" when I look for reviews. I read the reviews themselves to find out weather or not the book is for me. Grades are too subjective, IMO. That's the reason I didn't grade in my blog that first year... and even though I grade now, I think I still prefer it that way (no grading). :)

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  6. LOL - loved this post! Probably because I've been thinking about this myself. I think you put a bit more thought than I did though ;-)

    The letter grading system didn't work for me because I think similar to you, C was a negative grade, not a neutral one.

    I've been looking at the Goodreads system though, and am definitely going to use their definition, which probably means lots of 3*s, some 4*s, and very few 5*s. Oh, and some 2*s, probably no 1* because I don't finish books I don't like...

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  7. My head was already spinning from an earlier headache and your post made it worse. J/k. As you know, I struggle with writing reviews and a part of it is how I grade it versus what I write in the review. But at looking at your grading versus Goodreads, mine is similar to yours. To me, a C means it was an okay read = "meh" read = I don't love it but I didn't hate it either because I was able to finish it however it was with some struggles. Lol. Does that make sense?

    I look at both review and grading but I prefer more thoughts besides the grade. I like to know what I'm getting into before I purchase the book to read.

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  8. Ames - LOL, once I started thinking about it... well I had to continue to make it interesting. Although I have to admit, the post didn't come out as I really wanted. Ah well.

    Going with the flow is a good idea and probably the way to go. First thing though is I want to be more objective and consistent. That's the most important right now. And that's how I have to consider C - not bad :)

    I think that for Goodreads, I'll just go by my feeling and then, I'll nuance more in my google spreadsheet :P

    Isabel - LOL, so a B- or C+? :) I think grades just make it clearer... but I always try to put some comments along with my grade to sum up things :)

    Amy - LOL, in this case, X is not an unknown value, but was used as an example :P

    Totally understand what you mean. Well you're just starting, so it's normal you'll need a time to adjust :) Hope you figure it out!! :)

    AnimeGirl - LOL :)But then, you're honest about it. Feelings matter a lot while reading. That's why I said that enjoying a book was both an emotional and analytical process. I mean, the book can be well-written, but if you're not emotionally involved, well it's no good.

    Hilcia - Thanks! :) It's tough because not everyone has the same breakdown in their mind.

    LOL, don't you sometimes just skip to the grades in order to avoid spoilers for a book you're anticipating? I think from time to time, we all do :) Which is why giving a grade is better in my opinion. Not ideal of course, but at least, you get some clues.

    Li - LOL, Li. I know! I saw everyone's wrap-up of the years, especially those posts which had a breakdown of the number of books per grade and it inspired me as well :)

    I like your new idea, going by your feeling... but it still needs to be evident, you know. So if we don't want to go through the whole review, we can still have an idea of what you thought :)

    Indeed, lots of 3*s and 4*s, but also more 2*s than I would :)

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  9. Tabitha - LOL, sorry!

    Totally make sense :) Of course, I prefer to have both, thoughts and grades... but sometimes, it's hard to sift through everything and a grade is more direct :)

    LOL, you're definitively a careful buyer :) Unlike me LOL.

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  10. omgosh, nath! I love you. LOL

    I completely agree with every single word you said and have driven myself crazy with the same nuances in determining grades and trying to be uniform with stars and grades and whatnot.

    I used to give books grades in my reviews and actually really appreciate when other reviewers do so. I just have such a hard time with it... and sometimes want to go back and change grades I've given in a review a year or more ago. LOL.

    I made some elaborate post sometime ago about my grading system, which is largely based on secondary school grading methods. I totally over thought the whole thing. Drove me nuts. And in the end, I found I gave out a lot of A's and B's so decided to just forget about grades altogether before I lost all credibility as being an easy grader. Because, yeah... I frown upon C's too!

    Yet... I feel like I should give grades on my reviews. It's just to hard to decide, so I don't. Lame, I know. So now, I barely even review. LOL Ultra lame, I know. :P

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  11. This is probably a whole other topic, but you know what I find REALLY difficult in reviewing books? Reviewing across genres. If I largely read from one sub-genre, say contemporary romance... I feel like my grades could be more credible. But when you read from so many genres, how do you subjectively compare books and writing when you're comparing apples to oranges to bananas to kiwi to mangos, etc., etc. The writing is different, the world building is different, and frankly, my expectations of an A read are sometimes quite different between sub-genres. Is that unfair of me? Am I over thinking this?

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  12. Christine - Great minds think alike, Christine!! :) I'm glad you liked the post :)

    It happens to me all the time, wanting to go back and change the grades... and I have done with LOL.

    Actually, I like Li's system from Me and Books. She doesn't grade them with numbers or letters, but instead by feeling. That's not a bad idea either... as long as it's obvious what is your last thoughts of the books, I think :)

    No, I think you're absolutely right about reviewing across genres and it'd be an excellent topic for the future :) However, no matter how different the genres are... at the end, you have to ask yourself whether you enjoy the book or not and then, you get an answer for the grade imo.

    And no, you're not over-thinking it. Well at least, that's my opinion LOL.

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  13. Gah. I was going to switch to the Goodreads grading system this year, but now you're making me rethink it (err... I was already rethinking to be perfectly honest).

    Sigh.

    I've changed grades in retrospect as well actually - I may have really liked a book at the time, then struggled to remember the plot two months later...

    Li

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  14. Wow. Should have read this when I was totally alert!


    Personally I wish that Goodreads allowed for half stars because quite often there I books that I liked a lot, but just didn't quite think deserved the whole five stars!

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  15. Li - The problem is that there is no grading system that is perfect ^_^;

    I don't mind changing grades as I'm reviewing a book... but I don't really like having the reviews already published and then, changing the grades.

    LOL, see me, I have a pretty good memory. Takes a while before I forget about a book. If I do, it's because I wasn't totally into the book and that definitively says something.

    Marg - LOL, Marg :)

    I agree, you need at least half-stars.

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