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Book Review Rating System

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

As I started to plan my approach for providing book reviews for this site, I spent time trying to decide exactly what I wanted to accomplish with my reviews. I decided that I wanted to answer one question with my reviews:

Is reading this book a good use of a leader's time?

In order to answer that question quickly and efficiently, I created the rating system outlined below. My goal was to create a score that balances my perceived usefulness of the book against the time commitment required to complete the book. All leaders are busy, and leaders in education are no different. Time is a resource. We want to use it as wisely and as efficiently as possible. My hope is that this rating system will provide a score that allows principals, superintendents, department heads, and other administrative personnel to quickly identify books that will help them grow as leaders without wasting valuable daylight.

TLDR Version of the Usefulness Index

If you're not into Reddit, TLDR is modern speak for Too Long Didn't Read. The explanation below fully details how I've decided to score books. It's probably a little over-the-top, but if you stick with me as we learn together through this blog, over-the-top is pretty much the norm for me when it comes to numbers and data. However, in order to avoid blowing any brain gaskets, here is the SparkNotes version of my rating system:

- Each book is scored on a scale of 0 to 50 (10 possible points for 5 different categories).

- That value---the value between 0 and 50---is divided by the number of hours an average adult would need to complete the book.

- The resulting number is what I call my "usefulness index." The closer the value is to 10, the more worth my time I believe the book to be. If the number is over 10, even better.

It's an odd system. I realize that. But I think it is more useful than a simple 0 to 5 star rating.

Continue below for a more detailed explanation of how I score books.

The Usefulness Index: The Nerd Version

Each book that I review will receive a score that consists of a total of a number of points from five criteria--originality, practical application, entertainment value, numbers and visuals, and sourcing--and that point value is compared against the average reading time for the book. While the value varies from source to source, I've used an average reading speed of 200 words per minute for my calculations. No doubt many educators and leaders will read at a faster pace than that, but for my purposes, 200 is a solid baseline speed.

Each book can earn up to ten points using the following scales for each criteria:


0 - Unoriginal. Repackaged Junk.

5 - Semi-original. Existing ideas framed in a new manner.

10 - Wow. Why didn't I think of that?

Practical Application

0 - All theory. Going to take some serious work to implement any of this.

5 - Some theory. Some interesting anecdotes. Possibly a PD or two comes from this.

10 - This CIP gold. Insert the right people and go.

Entertainment Value

0 - Man...the struggle was real.

5 - I remember a few nuggets, but ask me again next week...

10 - Where's my phone? Facebook has got to see this.

Numbers and Visuals

0 - All text. Nothing to see here.

5 - A few visuals throughout. Definitely helped me burn through some pages.

10 - Charts, graphs, and statistics! Oh my!

(-1) Where are the words?!


0 - Just the author thinking on the page.

5 - Minor citations. Definitely not a dissertation.

10 - This took work. Serious, serious work. My reading list is stacked now.

For an example of how this works, if a 180-page book has an average of 400 words on each page, then that book will take an average adult reading at 200 words per minute approximately 6 hours to read (180 x 400 = 72,000 words; 72,000 words at 200 wpm = 360 minutes or 6 hours).

If I score that book at a 5 in originality, a 10 in practical application, a 5 in entertainment value, a 0 in numbers and visuals, and a 5 in sourcing, then the overall criteria score would be a 25. While I could stop there and simply rate the book at a 25 out of 50, I don't believe that tells the whole story for a book. I will read a shorter book over a longer one if both books provide approximately the same benefit. However, I will gladly read a longer book if the value is higher and I'm going to take more out of the book and be able to make immediate changes to how I live or how I lead.

That's why I use my Usefulness Index, which is calculated by dividing the criteria score into the overall time commitment value. For the above example, the Usefulness Index would be 8.33 (i.e. criteria score of 25 / time commitment of 6 = 25 / 6 = 8.33).

Again, the closer the value is to 10, the more worth my time I believe the book to be. Books with a value over 10 are truly awesome.

This system is no doubt biased toward shorter, denser books. A book that receives a perfect 10 in all five categories but takes 10 hours to read (approximately a 300-page book) will only receive an overall rating of a 5. Obviously, a book half as long with similar scores in the five categories would score at a 10 in overall rating.

And I'm okay with this bias. Those authors that can say in three words what others take ten to say are going to get a more favorable rating. Again, I'm trying to answer one question with these review:

Is reading this book a good use of a leader's time?

I believe this system allows me to answer that question as effectively as possible without losing too much objectivity. Enjoy the reviews.



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