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ER Scale

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About the scale

The Grading Scale is a five level scale to place EFL/ESL graded readers into levels of difficulty from Beginner to Advanced. This is NOT  a scale to rate first language materials, only ESL/EFL Graded readers. You can send feedback on the chart and the Scale to waring_robert(at)

Each level

bulletis determined by headwords counts (A headword is similar to a dictionary entry where a group of words share the same basic meaning. E.g.  helps, helping, helpful, helpless).
bullethas sub-categories of Early, Mid and High for those people who wish to distinguish between them.

Books should be placed based on their headword count up to that level. A 350 headword graded reader would be in the 400 headword category as the 400 headword level is from 301 (one headwords above the next lowest level to the headword level) to 400 headwords. Similarly, a 1900 headword graded reader would be put in the 2100 (1801-2100) level.

The numbers under each column refer to the number of headwords at that level as recommended by the publisher.  However, note that not all publishers use the same wordlists and a book from series A stated to have 1000 headwords is likely to be a little different from a similar 1000 headword rated reader from series B. Where headwords are not available, they have been rated according to their CEF levels or  matched with similar series. A comparison table with other scales is here.

A list of where each publisher's series fit the scale is available here.

Uses of the scale

The above scale

bulletallows teachers to place their Graded readers into levels of difficulty. Teachers can use the level chart to place books from a series into levels of difficulty. Teachers only have to find the publisher of the book, its level (e.g. Level 3) and find its Level on the Scale.
bulletworks in tandem with the ERF Language Learner Literature Awards. Awards are judged based on the levels in the scale.

Marking the levels on the books

It's vital the learners know which book is at which level so they can find books at their level easily. It's therefore important to mark the books in some way so learners can easily identify which books are at which levels. There are several ways to do this.

1. Color code your books into levels by sticking colored tape on the spine of the books. You may wish to assign blue to your easiest level, green to the next level, pink to the following one and so on. Find colored sticky tape and put some on the spine of each book. Make a chart of your color coding system and place it near your library of graded readers so learners can easily refer to it.

2. Stick a label on the back or inside of each book that clearly shows its level.

You can keep books of the same level in the same place (e.g. colored books can be put on different shelves or in different book boxes or baskets). This makes them easy to identify, categorize and put away

Using the levels

You may wish to rate books in your library based on the Scale as it is. However, if you use only the 5 broad categories (Beginner to Advanced)  there will be considerable variation in each level. For example, books at the Elementary level would range from 301 headwords (1 headword above the previous level) to 800 headwords. It is likely that this range of approximately 500 headwords would mean students could not tell the difference between a 350 headword book and a 750 headword book as they'd be rated the same level. This means they'd not be reading books at or about the same level as some would appear to be considerably harder than others. Teachers are therefore encouraged to use the sub-levels of Early, Mid and High within each level to grade the books more evenly. It would be best to have a different color for each sub-category, or to label each book with it's sublevel e.g. Elementary-High, Intermediate-Early, Beginner-Mid, and so on.

Rationale for the Levels

The scale was devised to ensure that

bulletthe Scale could be easily understood, we used every day EFL terms such as Beginner, Intermediate and so on
bulletthere were consistent distances between the headword levels and to ensure the gaps between levels were manageable for learners.
bulletit covered the full range of EFL graded reading materials currently available

The scale is designed to be used to level a series of books, not individual readers. There will be variability in terms of difficulty within each level in each publisher's series so we have just taken the publisher's rating and placed them all on the scale. This is of course not an exact science, but the scale is not meant to be exact, but to be used as a rough grading for graded reading materials. The alternative is for us to rate each book individually and then make a huge long list of thousands of titles which have to be rated and looked up individually when adding books to a teacher's library. Therefore, it was decided that as most teachers want to give an approximate rating to any books they have, they could do this by series rather than by title.

There was no account taken of grammar, multiple-meaning senses for words, lexical chunks, readability and so on. The reasons for this were that each graded reader series uses different grammar scales and it was too hard to match them all up. However, almost all graded reader publishers use headwords and even though there is no single list they refer to, there is broad agreement as to the make up of about the first 2000 headwords which will be a natural outcome of the nature of word frequency in English.

No readability formula was used to determine levels. The reason for this is that there is no EFL/ESL readability formula despite there being many for first language materials. As reading in a second language is a very different experience to first language reading it is not obvious that the L1 scales apply to second language reading. Besides if each title were rated, the list would be very long an unmanageable. teachers interested in human evaluation of titles in terms of percieved difficulty may wish to look at the Yomiyasu levels.

You can send feedback on this scale to waring_robert(at)