Thoughts #33: The Three Star Rating


To me, three stars has always felt like a solid rating. I know not every reader and reviewer sees it that way, but I feel like it says a book was good, but not great – and definitely nowhere near that amazing five stars. But lately I began to realise something. Even to me, three stars is not always good.

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I figured out that it really depends on the circumstances:

  • If I am really not expecting to enjoy the book, but it’s better than I thought, then three stars is a good solid rating.
  • If I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would or it was a bit of a disappointment but not AWFUL, then three stars is a middling rating.
  • If I have no particular expectations of the book, then three stars tends to be good, just good.

This sort of thing makes me wonder if my rating system is all screwed up. There are some three star books that I prefer to others, some that I wish I’d rated lower – and I have actually adjusted a few ratings lately, but that was moving a few two star books down to one, as I felt too mean to do it before. I’m wondering whether to bring half stars into the mix, which I’ve never done before, mostly because you couldn’t actually reward them on Goodreads so when I started blogging I just stuck to their system.

I suppose to understand whether that particular three star rating is a good one or not, you would have to actually read my review and see whether I said I was surprised or not. But this has really gotten me wondering whether I should modify some of those books that I don’t really think deserve three stars, on further reflection.

I don't know Leslie, I just don't know.

I don’t know Leslie, I just don’t know.

What about you? Is a three star rating good to you, or is it just average? Do you sometimes feel like you’re not negative enough when it comes to rating books?

45 thoughts on “Thoughts #33: The Three Star Rating”

  1. For me, three stars would pretty much consistently mean, “Meh, if you have nothing better to do” — so fairly negative. I almost never post reviews unless I’m going to rate a book four or five stars, though, partly because I seldom finish a book unless it rates four or five stars and partly because I don’t think it’s right for an author to post a lot of negative reviews.

    I do find three-star reviews helpful when checking out a new-to-me book. First I read reviews by people I know. Then if I want more points of view about the book, I read a handful of other reviews, including three-star reviews, which sometimes seem better to me at picking up on both a book’s good and bad points.

    I should add, I don’t read reviews of *my* books unless they’re four or five stars. Never.

    1. Really? It seems like we have such a mix of ideas about what 3 stars actually means! I don’t DNF very often, but I’m trying to now as I have a lot of books to get through – but I’ll only DNF if I really, really can’t stand the book.That’s true about authors posting negative reviews – could end up with some backlash you don’t particularly want :/

      And I can understand that about your own reviews!

  2. I thought about this a lot too at the start of the new year, and adjusted some of my ratings accordingly. I do use half ratings because they do make a distinction for me. When I first started blogging I think I had the fear of rating lower than 3 unless in extreme circumstances because so many people had this thing that 3 was an average score. But I read a blog post about how 2.5 is actually half of 5 and bloggers somehow forgot that, and it struck a chord with me. I rearranged my reviews according to rating on my blog ( and realised it was quite top-heavy, which didn’t do justice to the 4-5/5 books. So I’m approaching ratings with a new light this year! R x

    1. I don’t think I will end up adding half stars because it would be a lot of work to go through and modify my ratings, but it definitely gives more freedom. I think I have awarded quite a few 4 and 5 stars, but I just love a lot of books I guess ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. Aww Nathan! Well, it will be interesting to see your own opinion on it ๐Ÿ˜€ I hate it when that happens though – happened to me the other week when I posted about award winning books.

  3. For me, I rarely rate a book a one star or five stars. I would have stopped reading a book if I hate it. So books I finish tend to be books I like to a certain extent. I would only give a book a five star if it’s super good, almost flawless, insightful and educational.
    Actually, my 3-star rating is really like yours! 3-star = I didn’t expect to like it but did OR I thought I would like it but I didn’t but it’s not bad enough to be a 2-star OR it’s just…good. And because I use Goodreads to track my reading, I follow their rating system and use whole numbers.
    I won’t go back to change my ratings coz this would mean that other books’ ratings would have to be changed and well, I find it troublesome.
    But recently, I’ve been thinking of modifying my rating system so as to be more accurate and reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the book. I’m still fine-tuning my plans. Hopefully, it’ll work out ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Some books are so awful they kind of demand me to finish them… like one that will be reviewed shortly ๐Ÿ˜‰ Five stars tend to be my favourites, or they’re just amazing books.

      Interesting that we have the same rating system there ๐Ÿ˜€ And exactly, I’ve decided not to modify it now, too much work.

      I’m wondering whether to do a short round up at the end of each review with a pros and cons sort of list.

  4. Ha ha, we must all be on the same wave length! I just posted about my rating system and how I’ve decided to go from five stars to numbers (1-10). I’ve always considered three stars to be a book I didn’t really enjoy, but I know lots of bloggers give it to books they LIKED. So I’m hoping with numbers I can fine tune my ratings.

  5. I feel this way too. Three stars are confusing for me sometimes. No book is like any other, so whenever I rate them I do it based on how they made me feel at the time. Which is very different from other 3 stars books. It’s hard to rate a book altogether, and when are reading taste changes or maybe when we read more and more good books, I do feel like changing my rating for previous books.

    1. Yeah I’ve been struggling a bit with ratings lately. I just finished The Way of Shadows and was quite disappointed, so ended up giving it 3 stars. I contemplated 4, but it just didn’t match up to so many of my 4 star books – but it was still better than some of the 3 star books.

    1. Yeah I feel to me it sort of says I wouldn’t recommend it, but if someone picked it up and asked me I wouldn’t tell them NOT to read it either.

  6. I have literally been preping a post on this subject. Weird! I agree that my three star rating does chance depending on the mood I’m in when I finish the book (similar to what you describe above) but I do mainly use it when I feel that the book was good and I liked it but I’m not overly fussed. I’ll probably forget about it and only pick it up when I can’t remember it.

    But would I change my old ratings? Probably not. There is a reason I chose to rate at those ratings at the time. Whether or not they were incorrect. Perhaps it would be better to just be more aware for future rating?

    1. Haha seems like a popular topic at the moment ๐Ÿ˜€ I also noticed that on some 3 star reviews I say that I’d read the sequel if I found it at the library or something, but I wouldn’t buy it or go out of my way to find it.

  7. For me a star ratign is usualy an okay book, which usually means I did enjoy the book, but it didn’t wow me. Like you said when you do have expectations the 3 star rating usually turns into a disapointment, I recently finished a book and while I enjoyed it just enough to give it a 3 star rating my review is pretty negative, because I expected more. A 3 star can be a book where I give the next book in a series a try, but more often then not it wasn’t good enough that I’ll be continuing the series. A half star would bencie for those cases and certainly nto every 3 star is as good. Great post!

  8. I actually posted a similar discussion on my blog not to long ago. It is so difficult. I do use half stars, and I would be lost without them. And I have adjusted ratings, too, although it was never a huge adjustment.

    I think it’s just important to know that no system is perfect.

    1. It’s true. I will just stick with what I am doing at the moment I think, and maybe reconsider ratings in some cases if they’re not too drastic.

  9. 3 stars is meh for me – it wasn’t good for me, but I can see where people might think it was good. I don’t usually think of my 3 star books as ones that I really liked, though I do think of it as a solid rating. Ratings are so hard! I do feel like I tend to rate higher than other people which sometimes worries me. I want my reviews to be fair, so sometimes I worry I’m too tolerant and that might mislead someone. But then I think I shouldn’t stress so much! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Mmm, if I own the book, then it’ll be the first to go if I have a clearout, unless I think I will somehow end up re-reading it. And I often feel like I rate higher than others too! I’m trying to be more critical in my reviews now.

  10. Such a good point. I was thinking about this the other day. Personally, I think my rating system is skewed a little–mostly because I don’t typically read books that I know I’ll hate. So everything gets shifted a little. A one is “didn’t like it at all”, a two is “meh.” But the three, despite it’s location on the number line, isn’t “indifferent.” It’s typically “I liked it.” Just liked it. It wasn’t amazing, but it was enjoyable. But that leaves a LOT of books getting 3 stars. I have used half stars a few times to clarify a little. I’m still not satisfied with it, but I’ve tried 10 point rankings too and it’s just too hard to generalize to Goodreads and such.

    In short: I’m pretty sure my 3 stars really say: “This book was enjoyable, but I’m probably not going to remember it in a year.”


    1. Yeah, that’s generally what I expect a 3 to be – but as I said it sometimes differs depending on the book itself.

      Your summary is pretty accurate actually!

  11. My definition of a three stars book is: good. Not mind-blowing. Not terrible. A perfectly fine ‘okay’ book. I love to use half stars, because it gives me more freedom to rate a book. It’s interesting that you’ve noticed now that there are differences between your 3-star rating books. I haven’t given that any thought, but I think my 3-ratings are pretty consistent.

  12. Ah, the dreaded 3-star rating! Many people see it as being neither here nor there. I to think it’s a pretty solid rating, though it wasn’t stellar, it wasn’t horrendous. I guess it’s easier to be either/or than trying for the shades ….

    1. Generally, it’s a solid rating. Well, in my eyes. If someone else rated a book 3 stars, I would think that says ‘good’, but apparently it wouldn’t necessarily mean that to them!

  13. It sounds like we have the same approach to 3 stars! It feels so tricky for some reason! Like, it’s supposed to be a little better than average, but at the same time, not much. So yeah, this is probably why I try to avoid using this rating in the first place, ha ha.

  14. To me a 3 star rating is an okay book, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad, it was just kind of ‘meh.’ Sometimes it’s hard to decide if a book should be four or two stars (or whatever you rate them by) instead of three. I mean was it a little bit better than three or a tad bit worse?

  15. ‘To me, three stars has always felt like a solid rating.’ I completely agree! A 3 star to me means a solid book; I enjoyed it and while there were a few problems, I mostly ignored them and I really liked the book.
    But again like you said, you could read a book that is full of problems but because (maybe) one aspect of the book is really captivating to you (e.g. a character or the world) it gets like 3 stars.
    Or (again as you said) it was a book I neither had love nor hate things about it, it was just a good read.
    Star ratings are always difficult but that’s where reviews and opinions are crucial to really let the reader know WHY it’s a 3 star and what TYPE of 3 star it is ^_^

    1. Yeah, I hope my reviews get that across. I always find it difficult to rate books, I often think I rate too high sometimes so I’m trying to be a bit more critical now.

  16. Three stars to me is an average book. Maybe something I think someone else would enjoy more than me. Reviews are always important to read, but I think especially in the case of a three star review. I don’t think we will ever agree on what it ‘truly’ means.
    Also, I’ve been known to change my ratings on Goodreads up to a year later!

  17. With 5 stars being exceptional “I love the book” and 4 stars being “I like the book” our official line is that 3 stars means “Sure, this book was okay. Perhaps a bit of entertainment to while away the time.”

    I consider it fairly positive. LIke how I watch sometimes watch TV shows that aren’t really works of art but entertain me.

    But aside from that, you’re right about it changing. There isn’t really a way to standardize giving a three star rating because its right in the middle.

    I tend to rate things high, so 3 stars is a little less of a compliment from me. Some of our reviewers give out 5 stars extreemly infrequently, so 3 stars is quite a solid rating for them.

    My other partner in crime despises the star rating altogether and we almost did away with it when we designed the site. I like it because it is so universal.

    1. That’s true actually, I seem to have rated a lot of ‘entertaining but light and easy read’ type books as 3 stars. I mean, I’d still recommend 3 star books to people – I think 2 stars is where I’d stop recommending.

  18. This is such a great question! I tend to be a pretty generous rater, so I don’t really tend to think of 3 stars as being that good of a rating. But I definitely agree that it has a lot to do with expectations — a lot of my 3 star books are books that let me down when others loved them!

    1. I find ratings to actually be a bit confusing. I’ve definitely put much more thought into them since I started reviewing, which is a good thing, but also sometimes stresses me out a bit!

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