Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: How hard is it?

Master the art of readable writing

Ann Wylie

The Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level measures how hard your copy is to read. It translates the Flesch Reading Ease score into the number of years of schooling people need to understand your copy.

What grade level should your writing hit? Aim for 7th or 8th, according to the Flesch-Kincaid test. Image by JJ Thompson

How to run the test

To test your copy, use Microsoft Word’s readability statistics. It will automatically:

  • Calculate the average number of words per sentence.
  • Calculate the average number of syllables per word.
  • Multiply the average number of words by 0.39 to get A.
  • Multiply the average number of syllables per word by 11.8 to get B.
  • Add A to B to get C.
  • Subtract C from 15.5.

Goal: Aim for ninth grade or lower

Scores range from zero to 12.

The tool reports scores higher than 12 as 12. So if your text scores a 12, your readability score may well be much higher than that.

To improve your score, reduce the length of your sentences and words.

Source: Rudolph Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing, Harper (New York), 1949

About the Flesch-Kinkaid test

In 1976, the U.S. Navy commissioned J. Peter Kincaid and his team to conduct a study. Their job: to recalculated the Flesch Reading Ease scores into a grade level, then to validate the new scores across two measures: 1) comprehension on Navy training manuals and 2) learning time.

The U.S. Army first used it for assessing the readability of technical manuals in 1978. It’s now a standard for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Services Administration.

Pennsylvania was the first state in the United States to require that automobile insurance policies be written at no higher than a 9th grade reading level, as measured by the Flesch-Kincaid formula. That’s now a common requirement in many other states and for other legal documents, such as insurance policies.


A version of this post was previously published on Wylie Communications.

Ann Wylie is president of Wylie Communications, a writing training and consulting firm. She works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Keep up with Wylie’s Writing Tips via her free ezine. Check out her upcoming writing workshops.

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