Student Advice

How does the UK university grading system work?

Karis Nash  · Apr 3rd 2024  · 5 min

Whether you’re already studying or are about to, it is important to understand how the UK university grading system works.


When it comes to studying an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the UK, grading systems vary. Whether you’re about to start your degree, or you are close to the third year of your course, it’s important to understand how your final grade will be calculated. Luckily, it’s easy to understand.

Uni grade

University grading: degree classifications explained

Universities in the UK follow a standard grading system for degree classifications based on the overall percentage achieved. The four university grade boundaries are:

  • First-Class Honours (1st) (70% and above): Exceptional academic performance
  • Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1) (60-70%): Strong performance, most common degree class
  • Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2) (50-60%): Satisfactory performance, widely accepted by employers
  • Third-Class Honours (3rd) (40-50%): Minimum passing grade for an honours degree

What is the postgraduate grading system in the UK?

The British postgraduate grading system differs quite a bit from the undergraduate one. Depending on whether you are undergoing an Integrated Masters Degree or a Standalone Masters Degree the grading system will differ. Like undergraduate, Masters Degrees are graded by creating a weighted average, combining all your module results from the year(s).

An integrated masters is one which follows directly from an undergraduate course. Common in Science degrees, where you apply for a four year course. In your second year you will be able to choose to either complete a Bsc (Bachelor of Science) or follow the path to achieve an MChem (Masters in Chemistry) etc. Integrated Masters degrees are graded the same as undergraduate degrees.

As an undergraduate, you have three or four years to make up the credits you need to pass your course.

Standalone Masters include Masters Degrees by Research and Taught Masters Degrees. Masters degrees by research commonly referred to as MRes or MPhil are focused more on individual research skills with less taught modules. These degrees are usually graded as a pass or a fail.

Taught Masters degrees require a total of 180 credits. These credits are split between assignments, assessments and a dissertation or final project. Each module will have a certain amount of credits attached. For example, you may have single modules weighted at 15 credits, double modules (that span over two semesters) at 30 credits and a dissertation weighted at 60 credits. As taught, Masters Degrees are typically only a year long, every module counts to your final grade.

Is 65 a good mark at university

Instead of a First, Upper Second, Lower Second and Third, there are only three grade classifications for a Masters Degree. These are Distinction, Merit and Pass. The boundaries for these may vary depending on your university, however the common boundaries are shown below.

  • Distinction: much like a First at undergraduate level, a Distinction is awarded when you achieve a percentage grade of 70% and above.
  • Merit: you’ll be awarded a Merit if you achieve a grade average between 60-69%.
  • Pass: a pass is awarded when you receive a grade average between 50-59%.
  • Fail: If you do not receive at the minimum an average of 50%, the Masters qualification is not awarded. If you do think you are heading towards failing, try not to stress. You can speak with your module leaders about retaking any assignments or examinations to bump up your grade.

What can I do if I think I am going to fail my degree?

If you feel as if you are heading towards failing your undergraduate or postgraduate degree try not to panic. Easier said than done but you do have plenty of options.

As an undergraduate, you have three or four years to make up the credits you need to pass your course. Therefore, you are able to retake any modules you have failed in other years. For example, if you fail a Film module in first year, you can retake this module in your second year. If you fail numerous modules you are able to retake the entire year.

No university or degree are the same, therefore each one will calculate your final grade differently

Another option is to retake any failed assignments or examinations throughout the year. This is easily done through referral or deferral assessments. Referral assessments are like resits, whilst deferrals allow students to postpone any assessments or extend any coursework deadlines. To qualify for a deferral you will need to prove that your performance has been affected by a personal circumstance (e.g. medical condition). To be granted a deferral you will need to fill out an application. Referrals and deferrals can be implemented at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Finally, if you feel as if your grade is an unfair reflection on your work you can submit an appeal. If you do this, your mark will be re-marked or looked back over by an examination board or your lecturers. Simply speak with your lecturers if this is something you would like to do.

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