Top Tips for IELTS

Assess your own essays – Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Is it possible to assess your own essays? Not completely of course: writing is a complex skill and you probably need a teacher for a fully-informed  view of what went well and what badly. Computers are a wonderful tool, however, and this lesson shows you one place you can get an idea of your writing skills. The general idea is that by thinking about some fairly basic ideas, you can assess if you are writing in an appropriate way. These ideas are:

  • how many sentences do you use in an essay
  • how many words does your average sentence have
  • how complex is your vocabulary

I should emphasise that this will only ever give you a guide to your writing skills, but it is a fact that this idea is increasingly use din mainstream education.

Test what you know

Before you read on, you might want to try this quick test about readability and essays.

Assessing your own essays

Congratulations - you have completed Assessing your own essays. You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%. Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%
Your answers are highlighted below.
Shaded items are complete.


Readability with Flesch-Kincaid grade level

One thing you want to think about is making your essays “readable”. One tool to do this is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level. What this does is measure how complex your language is by looking at the average number of words in a sentence and how long those words are. It then gives you a score showing how many years of schooling someone would need to read that piece of writing.

Readability and IELTS writing

Why should you aim to make your essays readable? The simple answer is that someone is going to read them: the examiner. More than that, I would suggest that there is a quite close relationship between the writing criteria of range of vocabulary and coherence and cohesion with readability. If you write coherently and cohesively and with the correct range of vocabulary, then you should get an appropriate Flesch-Kincaid score. I explain this more below.

Where to find the tool

You can find this tool in many places, but the one I suggest is:

The readability test tool

I suggest this tool because it gives you very helpful links to understanding what these scores mean in detail.. This post is somewhat simplified because as you will see below there are in fact quite a few readability tools and I recommend this one as it allows you to see your score for other tools as well.

Your target score

What I have done is put one of my own essays through the tool and then done the same with an essay written by Ryan Higgins of IELTS Writing Blog – Model Task 1 and 2 Responses. I chose Ryan for this simply because he writes very well and, like me, provides answers that are designed for students to model their own writing on. If you can write like Ryan, 9.0 is yours tomorrow! So do check out his site, if you haven’t found it already.

Generally, the idea is that you should aim for a similar score to Ryan or myself. Here’s what happened:

Ryan’s essay                                                                            Dominic’s essay

        ryan-essay dominic-essay

The essays I chose were randomly our most recent task 2 writings. Ryan’s on education can be found here and mine on the funding of sport here.

Understanding the results

You should see that Ryan and myself get really quite similar average scores. His is slightly higher, but the essays are in the same range of readability – asking you to write an essay that is readable by someone who has finished high school and/or is in the first year or two at university. If you think about it for a minute, this should make sense for academic IELTS – one of the main “uses” of IELTS is for university entrance.

The number of sentences

We both use around 12/3 sentences. This makes sense. There are normally going to be 4 paragraphs in an IELTS essay and each paragraph should be well-developed. Note that in practice this means:

  • you should normally write at least 3 sentences per paragraph
  • if you have a much higher sentence count for an essay of at least 250 words, then your writing is probably lacking coherence and cohesion

Words per sentence

Again our average sentence length is very similar – in this case around 20 words. Note that:

  • this is an “average” figure – you may well (and perhaps should) have some longer and some shorter sentences
  • if you want to develop your ideas properly and link your writing together to improve your coherence and cohesion score, then you want to avoid too many short sentences

Syllables per word

Ryan has slightly more “long” words here, but again we are in the same range. The thing that may be “surprising” is that our score is so low – we don’t use that many long words.

Reading ease

The one area in which Ryan and I score differently is “Reading ease”. My higher score shows that my essay is easier to read than Ryan’s. His lower score means that his essay uses more “complex” language. Which of us is right? Well, I’m fairly certain that we would be both score 9.0; it’s just that we get there in different ways. In itself, I think that that is an important message. I am always distrustful of people who say it must be done this way or that way: writing is often a matter of personal style.  I would also note:

  • My simpler style requires you to be able to be flexible in the simpler words you use to get a good score for vocabulary: you can’t keep using the same simpler words, you need to think synonyms, word families and collocations.
  • Ryan’s more complex style requires you to be very accurate in your use of vocabulary: it is no good using longer words, if you get them wrong, this is a particular danger with longer words as they often have very restricted uses – they can be used only in particular ways.

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4 Responses to Assess your own essays – Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

  1. Salamat March 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Dominc you came with good tools, I did study and use it before, but there were some vagues about some of grades that you made it clear to me. As usual your lessons are very professional and smart. Great thanks

  2. Janona October 23, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    Grade Levels

    A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.7
    Gunning-Fog Score 13.6
    Coleman-Liau Index 11.7
    SMOG Index 10.5
    Automated Readability Index 10.6
    Average Grade Level 11.4
    Text Statistics

    Character Count 1,312
    Syllable Count 439
    Word Count 281
    Sentence Count 14
    Characters per Word 4.7
    Syllables per Word 1.6
    Words per Sentence 20.1

    Hello, Dominic! Here is my result! Just wanted to share it)) Made me proud) I will be taking Academic IELTS in 3 weeks and I need band 7 for my writing) I have been writing 4-5 essays a week, and still feel very anxious about upcoming exam. Wish me good luck! 🙂

  3. asma March 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Your blog is excellent .I have already taken ielts twice .i got overall band 7 and 7.5 but in writing i m gettind band 6 and i need 7 .it will be my 3rd attempt . i dont know what i m doing wrong .i am following your tips now .

    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.9
    Gunning-Fog Score 12.9
    Coleman-Liau Index 14.5
    SMOG Index 9.4
    Automated Readability Index 11.2
    Average Grade Level 11.8
    Text Statistics

    Character Count 1,298
    Syllable Count 425
    Word Count 252
    Sentence Count 15
    Characters per Word 5.2
    Syllables per Word 1.7
    Words per Sentence 16.8

    here is my score .is there any chance i ll get 7 band .how can one put essay for checking on your site .thank you for all your generous efforts.

    • Dominic Cole March 16, 2014 at 5:16 pm #


      If you post your essay in the forum in the post your writing section, I’ll a quick peek to see if there is anything very obvious I can diagnose. Sadly, though I simply don’t have the time to look at all the writing that is sent to me properly. My very best advice is to find a teacher who can work with you and address YOUR problems.

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