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How to Say & Write Grade Levels & Education Stages

February 3, 2022

Grade Levels

Do you know how to express grade levels in English? It depends on where you live! A grade level refers to a level of study that has its students grouped or classified into grades by age.
Here are some common ways to describe school grade levels found in English-speaking countries:

  • She's in (the) first grade. (US) 
  • She's in (the) 11th grade. (US) *
  • She's in Grade 4. (Canada) 
  • She's in grade 5. (Canada) **
  • She's in Year 8. (England, Australia, New Zealand)
  • She's in Primary 3. (Northern Ireland, Scotland)


Year 1 and Grade 1 are not equivalent. A first-grade student in the US is a Year 2 student in the UK. This student may also be referred to as a first grader

Education Stages

Some English speakers think it sounds odd or even wrong to hear a grade level expressed in a way that's not common in their own region. The way we describe different types of education stages (types of schools) also differs from region to region and can sound odd if it's not customary. For example, primary school may be referred to as grade school, elementary school, or even public school.*** 

In my region (Windsor, Ontario), elementary school starts in junior kindergarten (age 4–5). We also have senior kindergarten (age 5–6). Many other places in North America only have one year of kindergarten. 

In many regions, elementary school goes to the eighth grade (Grade 8). Other regions have middle school and/or junior high school. Middle school usually ranges from the sixth grade to the eighth grade. Junior high school ("junior high") is often synonymous with middle school, but it can also mean something different. In some regions, junior high includes the ninth grade.

High school is also known as secondary school. In my region, (public) high school goes from Grade 9 to Grade 12. In the US, the words freshman (9), sophomore (10), junior (11), and senior (12) are sometimes used to describe the high school years instead of grade numbers.

  • The word high school is always spelled as two words.
  • The word kindergarten is spelled with a t (not a d as in garden, though it is often pronounced this way).
  • The short form K–12 refers to primary and secondary school together.

What about before and after K–12? Preschool is also called nursery school, playschool, or pre-K. Many parents put their young children in preschool for social reasons, though it's optional. 

Post-secondary school refers to college or university

Letter Grades

The word grade doesn't always refer to a school-age group. It can also mean the score you get on an assignment or in a class. These types of grades can be expressed in many ways too, such as letter grades (A+), proficiency levels (Level 4), or percentages (100%).

*In writing, it is recommended to use the numerical form for numbers over ten (11, 11th). 

**When used after the word "Grade" or "Year," most style guides recommend the numerical form for any number (Grade 5). It depends on the style guide whether you capitalize the word "grade" or not. 

***Types of schools (high school, elementary school) are not capitalized unless it's part of a school name (Did you go to high school in Windsor? Yes, I went to Walkerville High School.) or at the beginning of a sentence.

Ask your teacher to assign the Functional English lesson called Saying & Writing Numbers if you want to learn more about numbers.

Question of the Month 

What was your most memorable (school-age) grade, and why?

Did you attend any type of preschool or post-secondary school? Try to use some vocabulary from this post in your response!

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Comments (1)

Tara Benwell(Author)

My most memorable grade was Grade 3! I had a wonderful elementary school teacher who encouraged me to keep a journal. I still have that "cahier" (as we called a notebook in French). I sometimes read through it for giggles. When I was a third-grader, I also starred in the school play. I was Nathaniel the Grublet. I attended kindergarten but not preschool. After high school, I went to university. I went to the University of Toronto and Western University. Now my daughter is heading to post-secondary school. Time flies!

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