How many options should my rating scale have?

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Categories: Design & set-up: Best practice

We've seen scales that vary from having just 3 options, to having 100!

We'd suggest that:

  • 3 or fewer is really too small. They can tell you whether or not an area needs improvement or not, but it makes it unnecessarily difficult to prioritize which areas need the most improvement.
  • 4 or 5 options the most common. It provides a range big enough to give you a clear sense of your priorities, but isn't overwhelming. ‚Äč
  • 7 or higher may be unnecessarily big. We find that a scale of 5 point scale is sufficient to give you a sense of your priorities. Having more options simply makes it harder for the person giving feedback to respond to as they'll have to keep reminding themselves what each score means!

The most common problem that people have with their rating scale is that all the scores are focused around a neutral score in the center.

e.g. Imagine the following scale:

  1. Very poor
  2. Poor
  3. OK
  4. Good
  5. Very good

With a score like this, you're going to find that most scores are either a 3 or a 4. This can lead to the same issue you face with a small scale - the scores are so similar that it becomes difficult to prioritize.

You can improve the scale by moving the neutral score ("OK") away from the center. e.g.

  1. Poor
  2. OK
  3. Good
  4. Very good
  5. Outstanding

Now instead of getting mostly 3s and 4s, you're likely to see a range of 2s, 3s and 4s with the occasional 1 or 5. Much better!