The 5 Star Rating System: Why It Does (Not) Work and How I Rate Books

Let’s see if I have forgotten how to write discussions.

Well, hi everyone. Sorry that February has been slow with posts – I am having a hell of a month and to be honest, things are only going to get worse from here. I haven’t been reading that much, even with cramming every bit of reading I can into my free time. And what do you do when you can’t read that much? You write bookish discussions (or any of the other tips I gave HERE).

Recently, there have been some discussions online about ratings and three star ratings not being “bad ratings” which got me thinking about my own book rating. So today I am going to talk about the five star rating system and why it is sometimes great and why it sometimes isn’t and I am also going to chat to you about the way I rate books, what each rating means for me personally, and then I would love to contrast and compare that to your own rating “habits”. So let’s get into it!

5 star rating

Personally, I always give a star rating to a book I am reading. I think that it’s a great way for me to categorize a book and to summarize my feelings for it. I catalog all my reads through Goodreads and in a personal spreadsheet and the rating is the first thing I do after I finish a book. I feel like instantly summarizing how I feel about the book through a star rating really helps my reviewing process. And it’s the first signal of how I felt about a book.

The one thing that for me is really helpful are half-star ratings. There’s a difference in quality in 3 star and 3.5 star reads for me, and I think half-star ratings really work well to capture that difference. Often when I am conflicted about a book, a half-star rating makes me give it a definitive answer and also gives me a cope out of placing the book exactly where it fits – in the middle.

So for me personally, the 5-star rating system works and I use it all the time. Here’s how I rate books:

5 stars – adored it, probably a new favorite and while it objectively probably wasn’t a perfect book, I personally did not see any faults that warrant a lower rating. I am really stingy with 5-star reads (or I have become so in the last two years), so this rating is coveted 
4 stars – I absolutely loved this, although it did not really make my heart ache or didn’t leave me as involved as a 5-star read would
3 stars – This was a mediocre book for me. It was fun probably or it was good but nothing about it jumped out at me enough to give it a higher rating. It was just okay. 

2 stars – This is a book I did not enjoy. It has some redeemable qualities but all in all, not good and something I would not recommend.
1 stars – This is a little harder to explain, but I rarely give out 1-star ratings. I am not someone who imposes my opinion on others and I fully acknowledge that something that doesn’t work for me might work for someone else, usually 1-star reads are books I don’t see anyone enjoying. These are either books that I find to be really problematic or books that I had an absolutely awful reading experience with. And mind you, I have only 9 one-star read books on my read shelf, which has 621 books on it currently. Which means that exactly 1 percent of the books I read have a 1-star rating from me. So I am stingy with 5 stars, but 1-star ratings too (some of my blogger friends can’t relate). 


It might just be that Goodreads imposed the five-star system on us. Since the site has 75 million registered users (yup), and since it is a sort of pillar to the community, it might be that we were just conditioned to use the five-star rating system and that a lot of us feel like it works because we have no alternatives. Maybe we’re just used to thinking in terms of ratings because of it.

And this may as well be true. Before I joined Goodreads I never thought of the books I read in terms of ratings. I did however think of books in terms of categories: I liked this, this was just okay, this is my new favorite, this should be thrown out of a window… you know the usual stuff. And that’s a rating system of its own, so it’s quite natural for humans to think in categories, which is why I think we enjoy rating books and fitting them into a certain category.

And the 5-point scale is something that you see in a lot of psychological research for example. When you ask people to rate something, it’s usually on a 5-point scale. So the 5 star rating system isn’t that unusual, and seems commonplace.


However, as I said, there has been some discussion about the fact that 3-star ratings aren’t bad ratings, but people tend to perceive them as such. Which is true. And it leads to the fact that using a universal system for everyone leads to unmatched criteria. My 3-star rating is not the same as another person’s 3-star rating and it shows. People experience books differently and when we attach a number to a book, we give that number very different meanings. So we use the same categories to mark different things, which is in itself problematic.

And the controversial three-star read is a complex category to tackle. I think people are quick to assign this rating to books that were good, but not what they expect or that left them wanting something else or something more. And it is true that this isn’t a “bad” rating. It’s exactly in the middle. If we take a 5-point scale, 3 stars is in the middle, it’s neither good, nor bad, it’s somewhere in between. It’s good but with flaws. It’s not as good as other books. It lacks a certain thing. All of these things are true and again, this whole controversy around 3-star ratings stems from the fact that everyone rates books differently, but they use the same numbers.


I personally love rating books, like I said, it comes naturally to me now and it helps me gather my thoughts on a book. However, I fully understand why some people have abandoned the star ratings and just let their reviews speak for themselves. As with most things, you should just do what works best for you.

addAnd those are my long-winded thoughts on book ratings! I would love to hear from you –  how do you rate books and what do the different ratings mean for you? Are you someone who doesn’t use ratings? Let me know your thoughts!



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43 thoughts on “The 5 Star Rating System: Why It Does (Not) Work and How I Rate Books

  1. I love this! And no — you haven’t forgotten how to do discussions at all lol!

    I see the pros and cons to ratings, and also how they aren’t really necessary. However, I just can’t imagine NOT rating the books I read! I find it a great visual guideline for people who want a quick “this is that persons general overall view” fact.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great discussion! I keep telling myself to ditch the rating system but I still come back to it. My ratings are almost purely based on my personal enjoyment. I do try to be critical within the review itself even if I give it a higher rating. If I were strictly critical of all the books I read, there would be certainly more 2-3 star ratings. I generally go into most of my reading experience with positive mindset, hence why most of the books I read are 3.5+ stars. It’s a Catch 22, but like I said, if I love a book I still try to note the issues. If I dislike a book, I try to note the positives to round it all out.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! And it’s interesting that you mention that – I find that my 5 star reads are almost always emotional – I objectively know those books could get a 4 or a 4.5 star rating, but I always give out emotional 5 stars lol (which is why they are so rare). And yes – I think whatever the rating may be, I always try to point out the good and the bad stuff in the books! Thank you so much for the comment!


  3. I couldn’t get away from ratings because I sometimes have a tendency to sound quite harsh in my reviews, totally without meaning to, so everyone would probably think that books that I have given 3 stars to (which I still see as positive, just with some issues) are actually 1 or 2 star reviews.

    I also prefer seeing a star rating because there are some reviews I have read that are neither positive or negative, they seem to say a lot without veering one way or another and I’m always left a bit confused as to whether what they are saying is meant in a good or bad way. I suppose that means that you can make your own opinion of it but I feel like I would be less likey to pick up a book after a review like that


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah that’s really interesting and I agree – sometimes a rating can be that final indicator that tells you exactly how a person felt. Especially if it’s a less positive review, seeing if it’s a three star or a two star review says a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I usually rate books based on a feeling, like a gut feeling it’s so hard to explain. All i know is 3-star for me isn’t really bad at all for example. It’s such an interesting discussion and in the end, I don’t think I could do without ratings even if sometimes they’re not a perfect representation of a how I feel about a book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I rate books on how much I enjoyed them and how into them I was. 5 stars for me is a book I absolutely loved, 4 stars are books that I really liked but I wasn’t as enamored with it as I would be with a five star read, 3 stars are books that I liked but were just ok 2 stars are books I didn’t like and 1 stars are what I use for books I DNF.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t think we should ditch the ratings, but I do think we are long overdue for half star ratings on Goodreads. I also don’t consider 3 start ratings as bad ratings. Most of the time the 3-star book is good, I just didn’t love it as much as some others. I’m also allowing myself to DNF books if I think they are just going to be 1 or 2 stars for me. There are too many books I want to read and I don’t think I should waste time on books that I’m not really enjoying.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I need both ratings and a review to paint the full picture, and I am also a half-star person. I need that extra half-step to fully express my love. As far as 3 stars are concerned, that’s a book which was good and I enjoyed, but there was something that kept me from loving it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the star rating system is still necessary as it’s a quick and easy way to see what people think of a book. I just wish that Goodreads would introduce half-stars because 3 stars are the books I think are decent but not something I’d read again or not amazing (so yes, agreed, it’s a neutral rating as opposed to negative) and 4 stars are for books that I thought were great and would recommend, despite having a few mild issues. Really need a 3.5 for the in-between books!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 3-star is a positive rating from me. It’s for books that are good objectively, but I don’t connect to them while reading or there are issues that kind of put me off. Sometimes it still pains me to give a book 3 stars, though. Goodreads needs to come through with the half-stars!

    I generally rate books based on personal enjoyment? I’m really not sure haha because there are 4-star books that I love and reread as much as 5-star ones. I can see why some people don’t find the rating system necessary. It helps me flesh out my thoughts on what I’ve read though, so I don’t see myself ever ditching it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. First, I’m sorry that February hasn’t been treating so well. Hopefully, things will get better in the next couple weeks!
    I feel like, even though we like to believe that ratings are universal and that’s why we use it, most of the time, they’re not. When I rate a book 2-stars it can mean something completely different than why you’d rate a book 2-stars. I feel like I’m a true mess of a reviewer, because I don’t have such strict guidelines when rating a book, lol. I just rate them based on my enjoyment; even if a book is not that good, objectively, I can still give it 5 stars if it made me feel a lot of things. And the same goes for 1 stars; if I didn’t like anything about the book, it’s a 1-star read, being a problematic one or not. That’s why I feel like it’s so complicated to make assumptions just by looking at a rating, because at the end of the day, they mean different things to different people.
    Even though I think the 5 star rating system is fun and I don’t see the bookish community letting go of it any time soon, I also believe it’s time for us to see beyond it, and trust more full reviews than just a number.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Really great discussion post!! 😊 I recently saw Sam’s video on the topic of 3 star rating that are considered to be ‘bad’ and it got me thinking about the star rating system again. I really love using it, as it gives a broad impression of how I liked a book, but of course that has flaws too as the rating systems of different people don’t always a align!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a very thoughtful post on an issue I have struggled with a lot as a reviewer. I personally stopped using star ratings on my reviews because I found them to be too subjective even when I was the one choosing the ratings, because I could never decide on what a three star or below rating actually meant. I also found that my star ratings changed over time when I thought more about a book, which made things even more confusing. I like systems that are super calculated and rate certain categories like on Edelweiss, but I don’t see a lot of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s super interesting! And I can totally see why you decided to stop using them. My star ratings do change over time as well, especially if I reread books. And I really enjoy the Edelweiss rating system too! And I can definitely see myself including a more specific rating system like that in future reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Ooh this is a really good topic! I think I’ve started to rate a little harsher because I used to feel bad about giving 4 stars, and 3 stars definitely made me think bad rating (I’m trying to recondition myself into thinking that yes this isn’t actually a bad rating and it’s slowly working). I think the 5 star rating system plus the actual review and potentially other thoughts on aspects of the book such as plot, pace, characters, writing style etc can work really well; like it’s a good complement to a review and additional thoughts? But on it’s own it’s quite ambiguous and every reviewer definitely rates at least a little differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I stopped rating books on my reviews as it became too much of a chore and overwhelming as I spent more time on deciding the number of stars than the actual review. I like the writing review part than the grading the book part, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love this post! I literally had to rewire my brain to not see 3 star ratings as bad because when I give a book 3 stars, it’s NOT a bad book, I enjoyed it but it was only okay, not amazing, so why did I immediately think it’s a bad rating when it’s other people giving it? Now I don’t see it that way anymore but it took time haha. Also, star ratings are SO subjective, like I love them, they always give me an idea on the person’s opinions of a book but I still take then with a grain of salt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Fadwa! And YES – that is my main issue with 3 star ratings, I see them one way and then I immediately expect that other people see them that way, which is irrational. So I am making a concious effort to not think of 3 star ratings as “bad”. And absolutely, while I love ratings, I think that without a review I can never fully understand how a person feels about a book based on the rating alone


  16. Hi, I think this is my first time on your blog! Two thoughts came to mind when I read this:
    1) When I’m looking at a book’s reviews online (Goodreads, usually), I read the 3 star reviews. They tend to be less gushy than the 5 stars, but more positive than the 1 star reviews. I’ve also noticed that they tend to be more in-depth in describing the strengths AND weaknesses of a particular work.

    2) When I was part of a writing review site, the site had a 5 star rating system. Somehow, the default for EVERY piece of writing became 5 stars. (5 stars was supposed to be for an excellent piece of writing that was ready for publication.) A 3 star rating, even with a thorough and mostly positive review, was considered “bad.” I had writers scream at me for giving them a 3 star rating, or sometimes for a 4 star review! It was frustrating. C’mon, the entire point of the site was for people to get critical feedback on their work.

    It was equally frustrating as a writer to know that people would give me 5 stars (often with little feedback) when I put so much work into my reviews of their work. (Honestly, I would’ve preferred 2 or 3 stars with lots of details about the issues in my work.) That may be why I’m reluctant to use a star rating on my own blog.

    But I like how you’ve presented your view and position on this subject. It’s certainly interesting how different people perceive numbers differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I absolutely loved it!

      That is such an interesting way to put it – I agree that other people’s 3 star reviews can be really well put together and can be the exact kind of middle ground we look for in reviews (to give us both pros and cons). However, I struggle a lot with writing three star reviews and I am just now starting to unlearn the mindset that 3 star reviews are bad. I am getting better at it! And from a standpoint of getting feedback (I can only talk about scientific papers but same difference), I completely agree – more critical is always better and more useful, at least for me.

      Thank you and I agree – reading people’s comments to this post has been the best – so many different opinions!

      Liked by 1 person

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