Ever wanted to find out how people determine what grade level a book is? With the Fry Readability Graph and a little counting, you can! Grab the book you're reading and figure out how much you're taxing your mind.

I was the kind of kid who would read whatever came to hand. If the cover or blurb appealed to me as I passed it in the library, I'd read it, whether it was Anna Karenina or Anne Rice. Although I never bothered to check out the grade level on the work I read, I'm sure many of the books I grabbed had that information on them somewhere. But how do people figure out what grade level a book is? One of the ways is to use the Fry Readability Graph.

The graph is simple, but you do have do some prep work. Pick three 100-word passages from the book. Count the number of sentences in each passage. Then count the number of syllables in each passage. Each numeral counts as one syllable, so 1984 counts as four syllables. Take the average of your three samples.

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The number of sentences is plotted on the vertical axis of the graph. As the number of sentences go up, the grade level goes down - so a first grader's 100 word passage would contain about 25 four-word sentences. The number of syllables is plotted on the horizontal axis of the graph, and has a direct relationship with the reading level. As the number of syllables goes up, the grade level goes up, so a college student would be reading a hundred words, and almost every word would have multiple syllables.

Obviously, reading level and intelligence level aren't the same thing. Beautiful, meaningful works can use short sentences with single syllable words; and overblown, idiotic prose can be delivered in long sentences with polysyllabic words. So don't feel bad if you're reading the same thing an eighth grader could. (Eighth grade, by the way, is where my current book, The Trouble With Physics, landed. Remember to pick three sections and average them. The first section I picked landed it at a fourth grade reading level.)

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