The UK education system is unique as so is the grading system applied by educational institutions. However, the reputation of British higher education is largely attributed to such efficient education and grading system. Due to this many foreign countries have embraced the UK education and grading system either complete or with minor variations.
Understanding local grading system at the university you want to apply and in the foreign country you aim to study in, it is of essential importance. If not for anything else, you need to understand it in order to convert your grades and compare that to your university grade requirements.
Often times, too many international students, find the grading system in the UK a bit intriguing. To a large extent, this is something not to be worried about and quite expected. The reasons underneath this confusion have to do with students getting used with their native grading system.
To solve this problem in no time, below we explain everything you need to know about the grading system.
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Grading System in the UK
At the very beginning, it is very important you recall the fact that the grading system of the UK’s constituent countries varies to a certain scale. Overall, the grading system applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland share a lot of similarities, while the Scottish grading system is different.
Grading system in compulsory education
Compulsory education in the UK is divided into four major key stages. At the end of each key stage, students sat in various examinations and their academic achievement is evaluated against national curriculum levels. In addition to your test scores, other factors like your projects and your participation in coursework will be taken into consideration to evaluate your performance. There are 8 such levels and an additional level standing for “Exceptional performance”. Taking this periodical assessment tests is mandatory at the age of 7,11 and 14.
Following the completion of compulsory education, British students must undertake their GCSE exams to assess their learning progress up to that stage. There are two GCSE grading systems applied in the UK. As of 2018, GCSE grades in England are indicated by numbers from 1 to 9. On the other hand, in the old GCSE system used in Wales and Northern Ireland students’ achievement is evaluated using a letter grading scale from A* to G.
Grading system in UK Higher Education
The UK has a unique higher education grading system. Its most unique feature compared to traditional grading systems is that it aims to be more specific in describing students’ academic achievement.
This type of assessment method is highly valued because it offers many advantages. Most importantly it highlights your academic strengths and specific skills, therefore, it helps employers gain a better understanding of your true potential.
Since it is proved to be such an efficient tool to assess students’ performance, many foreign countries like Canada, Australia and India are using the same grading system on some occasions with small changes to fit into their own local educational context.
The UK universities use a letter grade scale from A to F to indicate their students’ academic performance. If you get an A it means you have shown outstanding knowledge whereas if you get an F it means your score is not sufficient to pass the exam.
Listed below are grades you can take at university in the UK and their definition
|Grade Letter||Percentage Score||Grade Definition||Degree Class|
|Honours Degree||Foundation Degree|
|A||70% – 100%||Excellent to Outstanding||PASS||First||Distinction|
|B||60% – 69%||Good to Very Good||Upper Second 2:1||Merit|
|C||50% – 59%||Satisfying||Lower Second 2:2||Pass|
|D||40% – 49%||Sufficient||Third 3|
|E||30% – 39%||Unsatisfactory||FAIL||FAIL||FAIL|
|F||0 – 29%||Unsatisfactory|
However, we already mentioned that UK universities tend to be highly specific when evaluating their students’ academic score. This is to say not all students who get an A have performed the same.
This marking principle is not only limited to the fact that all students who have the same grade lie into different mark bands. At the undergraduate level, final degrees are also classified according to overall students’ academic performance.
Depending on your academic achievement, undergraduate degrees are classified into the following categories:
- First-class Honours (70% and higher).
- Second-class Honours ( 50% -70%).
- Third-class Honours (40% – 50%).
The first-class degree or often commonly referred to as “first”, is the highest academic achievement at the undergraduate level in UK universities. In more simple terms it means that your overall academic score is equal or above to 70% of the total score you could have achieved in your undergraduate degree course. It is like saying your average grade at the undergraduate level was an A.
If you get a first-class degree it means that you have demonstrated an outstanding level of knowledge through your course and you’re highly competent at the subject you’ve studied for.
As you can easily assume the British universities apply some of the highest academic standards. That being said, in order to achieve a first-class degree, you have to be among very few students who show an outstanding level of academic achievement. In recent years the number of first-class graduates in the UK has increased smoothly, but their proportion remains small still.
Usually, your overall marking score must be at least 70% in order to be awarded a first-class degree, but sometimes changes depending on the university you’re studying at.
Quite often your grades in the first year are not taken into account in your final qualification, but your academic progress in the second and senior year definitely will.
Note that since a first-class degree requires an excellent intellectual aptitude, it is not common for UK universities to offer joint first-class degree courses. However, famous universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow do offer some courses of that kind.
Second class degree
The second-class degree is divided into two categories: upper second-class degree and lower second-class degree.
The upper second-class degree is labelled as 2:1 degree (read “two-one”). In order to be awarded a 2:1 degree (read “two-one”), your academic score must range from 60% to 69%. By definition, it means that you have shown pretty good knowledge, but there is some room for improvement.
Typically, you’re going to need an upper second-class degree if you want to enroll a master degree in the UK because it is the minimum entry requirement. An upper second-class degree also puts you in a favourable position in the job market as it is very much sought-after from employers.
The lower second-class degree is commonly known as a 2:2(read “two-two”) degree. Compared to other classified degrees described in previous sections a lower second-class degree is a lower academic achievement, therefore doesn’t draw any significant improvement in your CV and your employability.
Third Class Degree
A third-class degree is the lowest academic qualification you can get in an undergraduate degree program. Students to whom is awarded a third-class degree have taken marks between 40% and 49%, which is surely something you should not aim for.
Unfortunately, the prospects of finding a good job or succeeding in postgraduate education holding a third-class degree are low. Statistically, third-class students share the smallest proportion of undergraduates in the UK.
Note that in some cases student whose final academic score lies close to the minimum required to get a third-class degree, will still be awarded a regular degree known as Pass.
The UK Grading System and ETCS grades
European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a common grading framework used by European countries in order to facilitate the process of converting grades from a local grading system to another one.
The table below shows final grades in the UK and their corresponding equivalent in the ECTS system
|Degree Class||Percentage Score||ETCS Grade|
|First-Class Degree||70% -100%||A|
|Upper Second-Class Degree||60% – 69%||B|
|Lower Second-Class Degree||50% -59%||C|
|Third Class Degree||40% -49%||D|
Note however that ECTS are to a large extent optional and universities are still free to apply their own grading policies. Most of the time, the transcript of a student’s grade in Europe will contain an additional column for ECTS grades alongside local grades.
The UK Grading System and The US Grading System
Since the US grading system is very popular and many US students are attending university in the UK it is very interesting to see how does one grading system stand compared to the other.
The table below shows grades at UK universities and their equivalent in the US grading system
|Degree Class||Percentage Score||US Grade|
|First-Class Degree||70% -100%||A|
|Upper Second-Class Degree||60% – 69%||A- / B+|
|Lower Second-Class Degree||50% -59%||B / B-|
|Third Class Degree||40% -49%||C+ / C /C-|