UK University Grading System

A 2022 Guide for International Bachelor and Master Students

The Undergraduate Grading System in the UK

The Undergraduate Grading System in the UK has a unique structure. It has moved away from the number or letter grading format that other countries follow. This specific system was introduced to offer future employees a deeper insight into the students individual skills and academic strengths.

The Honour System

Students in the UK will work towards either an Honorary Degree or an Ordinary Degree.

  • Honours Degree: The Honours Degree consists of 3-4 years of study and submitting a dissertation or thesis in the final year. The grading system used in this case provides more insight into the students overall performance throughout their degree.
  • Ordinary Degree: This style of degree is more common in Scottish Universities. Students study for an ordinary degree, and in their second or third year have the option to do a fourth year to achieve an honourary degree.

The Honours Degree

An Honours Degree is the most popular option in the UK. There are four different grades awarded in this style of degree:

First Class Honours Degree70+%
Upper Second Class Honours Degree60-69%
Lower Second Class Honours Degree50-59%
Third Class Honours Degree40-49%

Table One: Table One shows the four honorary grade boundaries for universities and their assigned percentage range.  

Universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland follow this grading system, whilst Scotland has its own structure. Each grade boundary has set guidelines so that it is clear for tutors what grade to award each student’s piece of work.

First-Class Honours Degree

This is the highest mark awarded by the majority of universities in the UK. It is more commonly referred to as a “first” by those in academic circles. This score reflects the students’ understanding of their chosen subject, and an ability to complete their works to an extremely high standard. To be awarded this mark also has promising career prospects for employment and acceptance into postgraduate studies. Not just this, it is often an indication that students with this mark will enter higher paid work or get a scholarship for further education, compared to students with a lower pass grade. Over the past few years, more students are being awarded this notable grade but it still carries the prestigious flair that it always has.

Whilst a First-Class Honours Degree is the highest mark awarded by most UK Universities, a handful of universities award a higher mark to exceptional students. A Double-First-Class Honours degree is awarded in Cambridge, Oxford and Glasgow. This grade is uncommon, and is given to students who achieve First-Class Honours in two undergraduate programmes. To attain this, students would have to join a joint first-degree course.

Second-Class Honours Degree

The second class honours covers a large percentage range. This is the largest overall margin in all three honour sections. To make this more specific, the UK Grading System has divided this class into two; Upper Second Class Honours Degree and Lower Second Class Honours Degree.

Upper Second Class Honours Degree

The Upper-Second Class Honours, or “2:1” (pronounced two-one) as most people refer to it, is the second highest grade awarded to students at university. This mark displays that the student has an overall understanding of the subject but there is room for developing this further. It is the minimum entry requirement for students who wish to pursue a Masters Degree. Employment opportunities are still widely available for this grade, and is a positive addition to your CV.

Lower Second Class Honour Degree

The Lower Second Class Honour Degree is normally shortened to “2:2” (pronounced two-two). This grade is considered the lowest acceptable grade for work opportunities and further education. It is still noteworthy in your CV, but would need to be boosted with extra curricular studies or volunteering programmes related to your subject for real substance.

Third Class Honours Degree

A Third-Class Honours Degree, “third”, is the lowest level awarded in a honours degree. It is statistically the least awarded mark given to students in UK universities. This grade is unlikely to increase your job opportunities, or help you enter a postgraduate programme.


In general, any grade below 40% is a fail. This means that the module or academic year will need to be retaken. If the student’s mark is close to the third boundary on completing their degree, then they could be awarded an ordinary degree. This is only offered by some universities in the UK, and often only given in exceptional cases. This is also an option if the student leaves the course after two years. In both these cases, the student will have passed enough to receive an ordinary degree but not enough to achieve an honours degree.

The PostGraduate Grading System in the UK

If you want to further your academic career after your Bachelor Degree, chances are you will enter into a Masters’ programme. There are two types of Masters’ Degrees; an Integrated Masters’ Degree and a Standalone Masters’ Degree.

  • Integrated Masters Degree: This style of masters degree includes both an undergraduate course and a postgraduate course. It generally follows on from your bachelor degree, and provides students with a longer period of learning in one subject. In general, the undergraduate degree takes three years, and the postgraduate degree takes one year. As it combines two degrees into one, it uses the same grading system as the undergraduate course.
  • Standalone Masters Degree: A Standalone Masters’ degree or simply Masters’ Degree is the highest qualification awarded in some courses. This style of degree is useful if you want to specialise in a particular field related to your undergraduate course, or move away into another branch of the subject. It often involves a large amount of research. A masters degree can take between one to two years to complete depending on the course. The duration of the Masters’ Degree also depends on if the student is able to study part-time or full-time.

The grading system for the Masters’ Degree is different to the Bachelor Degree:

FailLess than 50%

Table Two: Table Two displays the different grades awarded in a Masters’ Degree, and the percentage attached to each one.

The overall score of a Masters Degree is out of 180 credits; each module will be awarded 10-30 credits and the dissertation is made up of 60 credits.

A Comparison between the UK and other country’s University Grading systems:

As mentioned throughout this article, the UK has a different way of grading students at universities than other countries. Whilst some have adopted this format, the majority use a different technique to assess their students. The following countries will be compared to the UK University Grading System so you can see the different styles:

The UK Grading System and the Scottish Grading System

The UK grading system is followed by England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has a different way of grading students, which follows the letter grading system:

First Class Honours Degree70+%A
Upper Second Class Honours Degree60-69%B
Lower second Class Honours Degree50-59%C
Third Class Honours Degree40-49%D

Table Three: Table Three compares The Scottish University Grading System with the UK.

The UK Grading System and the US Grading System

It is interesting to compare The UK and the US’s grading structures as they are popular choices for further education.

First-Class Honours90+%A
First-Class Honours80 – 89%B
First-Class Honours70 – 79%C
Upper Second-Class Honours60 – 69%D
Lower Second-Class Honours50 – 59%D
Third-Class Honours40 – 49%F

Table Four: Table Four presents how the UK Grading System differs from the US. 

As you can see, the US uses a letter system for grading students at an undergraduate level. This is also combined with a Grade Point Average (GPA). The GPA is a grading structure that produces a grade between 0 (low) and 4 (high). Universities often use different guidelines to calculate the final grade but the GPA awarded in the undergraduate degree is always out of 4.

The UK Grading System and ECTS Grades

Europe has a standardised grading system. This is used to convert individualised university scores into a general grading structure for all countries. It is beneficial for students who want to study at university in another country. The grading system is called the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and is different from the UK’s structure.

First-Class Honours70+%A
Upper Second-Class Honours60 – 69%B
Lower Second-Class Honours50 -59%C
Third-Class Honours40 – 49%D

Table Five: Table Five reveals the variation between the UK’s grading system and the ECTS.

Many European countries and individual universities within these countries opt for their own grading structure, which makes the ECTS all the more important. Most grades will have both the university’s score and the ECTS.


What is the education structure in the UK?

Primary School is for students between the ages of 4-11. The qualification taken as they move into secondary school is the Standard Attainment Tests (SATs). From the ages of 11-16, students go through secondary school. At the end, they take their GCSE exams. The next stage of schooling is further education. This includes A levels, a University Foundation Course or an IB Diploma. Students generally take these qualifications between 16-18 years. This leads them onto Higher Education in either an Undergraduate Degree, a Masters’ Degree or a Doctor of Philosophy.

What is the Compulsory Education Grading System in the UK?

Students take their GCSEs at the end of what the UK calls Secondary Education. This is scored using a letter structure from A* to F. In 2018, England moved away from the traditional grading structure, and introduced a number system:

The number sequence that England now uses runs from 1-9. The new grade compared to the old letter structure is as follows: 9 and 8 replaces the A*, 7 is used for an A, 6 and 5 both take the place of the B grade, 4 equals a C grade whilst 3,2 and 1 represent D, E, F and G.

Wales and Northern Ireland still use the original system. In Scotland, students take the National 5 (N5) Qualifications as opposed to GSCEs. This is scored using the traditional letter grading system used in the UK.

What is the Further Education Grading System in the UK?

Further Education is the time that students produce grades to enter into University. For these studies, students reduce the number of subjects they take during compulsory education. They specialise in fields that interest them, and that can lead them into higher education. This is often in the form of A Levels or Foundation Courses.

These are graded using the letter structure. Each letter grade represents a percentage range: A (80-89%), B (70-79%), C (60-69%), D (50-59%), E (40-49%) and Ungraded (U) (0-39%).

What happens if I fail?

Your overall degree is made up of credits from essays and coursework throughout your undergraduate programme. If throughout your degree you fail any part, you have the following options:

  • A referral: This occurs when a student requests to retake a failed assignment, module or even a full academic year. A referral assignment or module is often completed during the following year. When a student fails a full year, they can retake it the next year.
  • Defer: A deferral is awarded to students who can show that due to personal reasons they were not able to complete an assignment or year to their full potential. You will need to complete a form explaining your reasons and why you feel it is important that you are allowed to retake.
  • Appeal your mark: Students who feel that they have been unfairly assessed, can appeal their grade. You will need to discuss this with your tutor who will start the process.

In some instances if a student fails by a few points off a third degree it is up to the universities’ discretion to award that individual an ordinary degree.

What is the best way to get a high grade?

The best way to get a good mark is to show that you have truly understood the topic.This can be shown by writing strong arguments in your essays. Relevant further research is key, as it shows that you want to extend your knowledge in this field. Be sure that you weave this into your overall assignment to add weight to your main points. It is important that you not only read the essay question, but dissect it, so that you understand exactly what your professor is wanting you to discuss.

What is the grading system in Canada?

The Canadian Grading System varies from province to province. The letter structure is used in Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia and Alberta. Whilst they all use the letter system, the percentages attached to each grade can be different in different provinces. Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan combine the letter system with a number grade. Similar to the letter system used in some provinces, the numbers and letters assigned to each grade varies. An example of this is that Ontario uses a 1 to 10 number structure to score students grades, whilst Manitoba grades with the US GPA system.

Carolyne Tomisson

Content Creator. Lived in: Spain, UK and New Zealand. Studied at: Nottingham Trent University (Bachelor in Psychology with Criminology)
Back to top button