How does the grading system work at UK universities? A Chevening guide
The way most UK universities grade essays and exams can be confusing – let’s break it down.
Grading systems work differently all around the world. Some countries use letter grades – A or A+, B, C, and so on – or numerical grades like 1, 2, 3. In many places, top grades are only awarded to students who get 90% or higher on an essay or exam.
The UK is a little different.
While most UK assessments are scored out of 100, the grade boundaries work differently and will have different levels of difficulty to what you might be look to. Here’s what each grade means.
Overall, the pass grades at UK universities are as follows:
- 70-100: first-class, known colloquially as a “first” (I)
- 60-69: upper second-class, a “two-one” (II.i)
- 50-59: lower second-class, a “two-two” (II.ii)
- 40-49: third-class, a “third” (III)
Usually, anything below 40 is a fail grade, though it’s worth double-checking the precise grade boundaries at your institution. Here’s what each pass grade means in practice.
Grades between 80 and 100 are exceedingly rare, especially in essay subjects with more subjective grading systems. In science subjects with objective right and wrong answers to questions, you may see scores of 90%. However, this is virtually impossible in the humanities – if you receive an 80 on an assessment, you should be very proud of yourself!
In many universities, receiving a grade of over 80 lets you know that your supervisors think your work is of publishable standard, in other words potentially worthy of submitting to an academic journal.
Think of it as the equivalent of an A+, and a cause for celebration!
Most first-class degrees land in the range of 70-79%, however these grades are still the top of the class and therefore not a guarantee. It will take a lot of hard work to get your grades up to this standard, but it’s well worth it, as a first-class degree can set you up well for a great career.
An upper second-class, or “two-one” is considered a good grade, similar to a B elsewhere in the world. If you’re a good student, it is likely that your essays will fall in this range, with an extra push required to reach first-class levels.
A lower second-class, or “two-two”, is still a pass grade, though not a strong one. You may find that when you first arrive you receive a couple of lower second-class marks, but don’t panic. This is a mark that you can build on.
Scores in this range are still pass grades, but you should consider them a warning sign that you’re struggling with the material. If you receive a score in this range, go over your feedback carefully to see what you could improve for next time.
Chevening’s tips for improving your grades:
- Keep track of each of your assessment marks and the feedback you get to improve for next time.
- Always ask your professors for feedback, even when you get a good mark. It’s just as important to know what you did right as what you did wrong!
- Make sure to check the criteria for a first before you start your assessments – that way you know what your examiners want to see from you, and you can make sure to deliver it.
By Amy Hughes