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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 (9)

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!

Reply to Comment

Mirella M.(Teacher)

Hi Tara,
Thank you for writing this blog. Your blog came in handy as I used it today to introduce the Education theme.
As for me, I fondly remember my Grade 9 English high school teacher, Mrs. Arcouette. She helped us understand Shakespeare by standing on a chair and dramatically recited the lines of the plays. Her passion for teaching definitely inspired our learning.

I have challenged the class to post on this blog. I hope that some of them do.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Thanks for sharing your story about Mrs. Arcouette. I bet she helped inspire your career as an English teacher.

I'm so happy your students are joining this challenge!

Zohre M.(Student)

Hi Tara
Thank you for your blog that caused me remember my teachers and learn more about education.

I have never attended to kindergarten and preschool. Because, at that time, there was a war between Iran and Iraq. It was challenged and stressful, but, my most memorable grade was first Grade one. My grade one's teacher was kind and helpful, I had a good elementary school and high school. After high school, I went to university. When I see my daughter, I remember myself was going to university.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi Zohre,

Thank you for joining this challenge and sharing your experiences. That does sound very challenging and stressful.

First grade teachers have such an important job, don't they?

My daughter is also attending university this year, and I know exactly how you feel. It feels like just yesterday for me.

Nastaran J.(Student)

The most memorable thing is related to first and fifth-grade in my elementry school.In first-grade my teacher had been known as a great teacher,she was really protreptic and kind also I think at that time I was really talented and she always encouraged me , Moreover ,teching with new method was the fundamental reason that she was good , completely the opposite of my fifth-grade.
In my country most children attend to preschool but it is not mandatory ,while taking part in elementry,middle , high school and post-secondary is necessary for those who are intrested in going to university.As a lot of children at that time i attended to all of this grade.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi Nastaran,

Thanks for reading this post and sharing some school memories! I'm curious what you mean about your first grade teacher being "protreptic." That's so nice to know she encouraged you.

Daria S.(Student)

Thank you, Tara.

This information was helpful for me to understand how works education system here, in Canada. I'm from Ukraine and we have different procedures.
So.. my the most memorable grade was Grade 10. Because it's not final last Grade, we didn't have too much important exams, like, for example, in Grade 11 (last year before university). But it was high school and we was old enough. Therefore I spent a lot of time with my friends. We had parties, different activities and too much fun together. It was very good time in my life.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi, Daria!
Thanks for joining in on the conversation! It's so interesting to hear more about school life in Ukraine. Grade 11 was my favourite year of school. My son is now in this grade and is so focused on his marks (also called grades). I wish he would take a bit more time to have fun with his friends.

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