UK Grading System: A Beginner’s Guide

uk grading system

Most educational institutions in different countries follow a particular pattern when it comes to assessing the performance of students. However, to each country, their own! Given that the United Kingdom is home to some of the world’s most prestigious institutions with high standards, high rankings, and high student satisfaction, many international students are interested in learning more about the UK grading system. This is just to provide students with an idea of how their performance will be evaluated and what it would take for them to maintain excellent scores.

About The Grading System In The UK

The university grading system UK differs depending on the member nations with a few minor differences in the scaling techniques. The British grading system in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are similar, however, the grading system in Scotland is distinct. The UK grading scale comprises several facets, including highlights of your academic talents and specialised abilities that are useful when finding a job in the UK because employers receive a clear picture of your entire performance. 

Many students are unaware that when applying to study for a UG degree in the UK, they have the choice of studying for an ordinary degree or an honours degree. The latter is the most sought-after degree in the United Kingdom. If you enrol for a bachelor of science degree, for instance, you will be given the qualification “BSc (Hons).” The “Hons” designation indicates that you will be pursuing an honours degree in that subject. If you apply for a regular sciences degree, you will see “Bsc.” 

UK GCSE Grading System

In the UK GCSE assessments, two distinctive grading scales come into play, each with its own features. Let’s delve into the specifics:

Numerical Grading Scale in England: In England, the GCSE grading system follows a numerical scale that ranges from the lowest achievable grade, 1, to the highest attainable grade, 9. The average passing grade typically rests at 4. This numeric approach effectively gauges student performance, providing a comprehensive evaluation of their skills and academic performance. 

Exceptional Attainment 
A grade in the system 
Similar to B or low A grade in the system 
5About in par with a C or low B grade 
4Comparable to C grade 
3Similar to C grade 
2Equivalent to an E grade 
1Represents the level of achievement 
Performance did not meet the minimum requirements for passing and hence ungraded 

Letter-Based Grading Scale in Northern Ireland and Wales: On the other hand, Northern Ireland and Wales adopt a letter-based grading scale for GCSE assessments. This system employs letters to signify achievement levels, with an A* signifying the pinnacle of excellence and an F representing the lowest grade. Generally, a minimum passing grade falls within the range of D. This letter grading approach serves as an alternative means of assessing student capabilities.

Relevance for Indian Students and the IB Diploma: Indian students, who predominantly seek admission to UK universities for graduate, post-graduate, and professional programmes, benefit greatly from understanding the nuances of the UK GCSE grading system. Additionally, many Indian students opt for the internationally recognised International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma to enhance their chances of higher education acceptance worldwide.

The UK University Grading System In Higher Education

When it comes to grading their students’ academic performance, UK institutions are quite specific even if you’ve opted for the best UK courses. This is to imply that not all students who receive an A have performed equally well.

This UK grading system extends beyond the fact that all students with the same grade fall into distinct mark bands. Final degrees are also categorised at the undergraduate level based on overall student academic achievement. Undergraduate degrees are grouped into the following categories based on academic achievement:

  • First-Class Degrees: 70% and higher
  • Second-Class Degree: 50% to 70%
  • Third-Class Degree: 40% to 50%

Classification Of The UK University Grading System On The Basis Of Percentages Scored

PercentageDegree ClassGradeFoundation Degree
70% -100%First ADistinction
60% – 69%Upper Second 2:1BMerit
50% – 59%Lower Second 2:2CPass
40% – 49%ThirdDPass
30% – 39%FailEFail
0 – 30%FailFFail

First Class Degree

A first-class degree, sometimes known as a “first,” is the greatest academic achievement at the undergraduate level in the UK. In layman’s terms, this indicates that your overall academic score is equal to or higher than 70% of the total score you might have obtained in your degree course

A first-class degree in the UK grading system indicates that you have shown an exceptional level of understanding throughout your course and are extremely proficient in the topic you’ve studied for. Quite frequently, your first-year grades are not taken into consideration in your final qualification, but your academic progress in the second and senior years most emphatically is.

It is worth noting that because a first-class degree necessitates exceptional intellectual ability, combined first-class degree programmes are uncommon at UK institutions. However, certain courses of this type are available at prestigious universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Glasgow.

Second Class Degree

There are two types of second-class degrees: upper second-class degrees and lower second-class degrees.

Upper Second-Class Degree: The upper second-class degree is commonly referred to as the 2:1 degree. To be conferred a 2:1 degree, your academic grade must be between 60 and 69 %. By definition, it signifies that you have demonstrated adequate knowledge, yet there is scope for progress.

If you wish to enrol in a master’s degree programme in the UK, you’ll often need a 2:1 degree because that is the minimum admission requirement. This degree also puts you in a great position in the job market because it is highly sought after by recruiters.

Lower-Second Class Degree: The lower second-class degree is frequently referred to as a 2:2 degree. In comparison to the other categorised degrees outlined in previous sections, a lower second-class degree in the UK grading system represents less academic success and hence does not result in a major boost in your CV and employment.

Third Class Degree

In an undergrad degree, the lowest academic qualification available is a third-class degree. Students who receive a third-class degree have grades ranging from 40% to 49%, which is clearly not something you should aspire for.

Unfortunately, with a third-class degree, your chances of getting a suitable career or excelling in postgraduate studies are slim. Third-class students make up the smallest proportion of undergraduates in the UK, according to statistics.

What Is Pass?

Certain universities grant an ordinary degree to an honours student who narrowly misses out on a third-class degree. Until the 1970s, Oxford University granted fourth-class honours. 

The UK Masters Grading System

When it comes to master’s programmes in the UK, the grading scale differs from the one used in bachelor’s programmes. Integrated master’s courses are the exception to this rule. The grading system for UK universities typically includes four categories: Distinction, Merit or Commendation, Pass, and Borderline Pass. The minimum passing grade is 40%, and the percentage equivalents for each category are as follows:

  • Distinction: Above 70%
  • Merit or Commendation: 60-69%
  • Pass: 50-59%
  • Borderline Pass: 40-49% 
Commendation Grade Meaning 
In the UK grading system, a “commendation” generally refers to a level of academic achievement that is above average but below the highest distinction. It is often used in postgraduate programmes and typically signifies an overall mark between 60-69%.

Taught Master’s Degree

This programme primarily consists of lectures, seminars, and tutorials. Although the public speaking requirements might initially seem daunting, practice will boost your confidence. These courses often include research and dissertation elements, requiring year-round effort. Grades typically include fail, pass, merit, and distinction, similar to an integrated master’s degree. A taught master’s degree usually requires 180 credits, encompassing modules, dissertations, assignments, and research. Each module typically offers 10 to 30 credits, depending on the work’s quantity and quality.

Master’s Degree by Research (MRes)

Considering a Master’s in research? The Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme, similar to the Taught Master’s Degree, is used for MRes. The course’s research component might comprise 160 credits, with 20 credits for training. The programme can include a single research project and dissertation or multiple projects. Grading is typically pass or fail, but some universities award a distinction for scores above 70%. Want more detailed information on degrees in the UK? This guide to UK degrees will answer all your questions.

UK Grading System Vs. Indian Grading System 

Each year, many Indian students aspire to pursue further studies in the UK. It’s crucial to understand that the Indian grading system uses a 10-point GPA scale, whereas the UK grading system operates on a 100-point scale. Here’s a comparison between the Indian and UK grading systems:

Percentage ( British Grade )Indian Grade Point
Above 80%10

University and College Admission Service Point (UCAS)

UCAS Points, also referred to as UCAS Tariff Points, serve as a means to evaluate and compare students’ achievements within the UK educational system. These points are systematically determined by the grading system of UK universities to assess a student’s suitability for their desired academic course. 

  • UCAS Points assign numerical values to different qualifications and grades, facilitating fair and standardised comparisons among applicants.
  • They play a pivotal role in the UK grading system, providing a universal metric for evaluating diverse qualifications.
  • Universities and colleges often establish their entry requirements based on UCAS Points, ensuring consistency in the selection process.

For example, while a grade B might equate to 100 UCAS points, an A could be valued at 120, influencing admission criteria.


Q1. How does the UK Grading System work?

Ans: The UK Grading System typically consists of several grade bands or categories, which vary depending on the level of education. In general, the system uses a combination of letters and/or numerical values to indicate the level of achievement.

Q2. How are grades determined in the university grading system in the UK?

Ans: Grades in the UK Grading System are typically determined through a combination of coursework, exams, and other assessments. The specific criteria and weighting of these components can vary across different subjects and educational institutions.

Q3. What is the equivalence of UK grades in other grading systems?

Ans: Although the equivalence of UK grades in other grading systems can vary depending on the specific system being compared, it is sometimes possible to make a general comparison. For example, many consider an A* grade at A-level to be equivalent to a grade of 9 in the GCSE grading system.

Q4. Can UK grades be converted to GPA?

Ans: It is possible to convert UK grades to GPA (Grade Point Average) for the purpose of applying to universities or institutions that use the GPA system. However, the conversion process may vary depending on the specific institution and its conversion scale.

Q5. Are there any alternative grading systems in use alongside university gradings in the UK?

Ans: Yes, some UK educational institutions may use alternative grading systems, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) grading system or Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) qualifications, which have their own grading scales and criteria.

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