Understanding university grades

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The UK university grading system can be complicated. Discover the different types of degrees and how university grades work.

UK university grades explained

This article will help you understand how university grades and classifications work. You can find out about:

How do university grades work?

There are four main grades or classifications that you can receive for a bachelor’s degree. For a foundation degree or a master’s, usually there are three main grades. Postgraduate research degrees are only classified by pass or fail.

There are many different award types for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees too. This usually refers to the type of degree you will be studying. For example, a Bachelor of Science (BSc) would usually be a science based degree. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) is usually more focused on arts, humanities arts or social sciences.

Undergraduate degrees

Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are categorised into qualification levels. This is according to the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). An undergraduate degree is considered anything from Level 4 to Level 6 on the RQF.

Undergraduate degree classifications

undergraduate-classifications-blue

Postgraduate degrees

A postgraduate degree is an advanced qualification. They are usually studied after completing an undergraduate degree. Postgraduate qualifications are usually Level 7 and Level 8 on the Regulated Qualification Framework. Some graduate level qualifications are Level 6.

Postgraduate degree classifications

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Postgraduate research degree classifications

A postgraduate research degree usually involves working on a single in-depth research project. It’s for those considering a career in academia or research. Typically they are studied after completing a bachelor’s or master’s degree. They are not graded in the same way as taught postgraduate degrees. You either pass or fail, with recommendations for improvement.

How university grades are calculated

The way university grades are calculated depends on your course and the institution you’re studying at. You should check your university's academic regulations for full information. 

  1. Your course will be made up of several individual modules or units, with each module being worth a certain number of credits. You will need to take complete a specific number of credits from the modules to successfully complete your course.

    Modules are usually worth 20, 40 or 60 credits and each module will align to a minimum level on the Regulated Qualification Framework.

    Scroll or swipe on small screens to see all table columns

    Minimum credits for bachelor’s degree with honours

    Level 4 or above (usually Year 1)

    100 credits

    Level 5 or above (usually Year 2)

    220 credits

    Level 6 or above (usually Year 3)

    360 credits

    Total credits

    360 credits

    Each module is assessed separately, and you will be awarded an individual module grade. Within each module you will take at least one assessment, but usually two or three.

    Assessments include:

    • Coursework (essays, reports, or portfolios)
    • Group work
    • Presentations
    • Written exams
    • Practical exams

    You will be awarded a percentage mark for each assessment, which will equate to the undergraduate classifications listed above. The assessment grades will then be used to calculate your final module grade.

  2. Each assessment within a module will carry a weight or percentage of your final module grade. For example:

    Sam is in their first year studying BSc (Hons) Psychology full-time at UCLan. They are currently taking a module called Topics in Psychology, which is worth 40 credits at Level 4. The module will be assessed by a group poster presentation, coursework, and an exam. They will receive a grade for each which will be weighted as follows:

    • Group poster presentation: 30%
    • Coursework: 30%
    • Exam: 40%

    Each assessment grade will be given as a percentage. The grade for each piece of work Sam completes will then be combined. Based on the weighting of each assessment, they will be given an average overall grade for the module. This will usually be given as a percentage mark. This will equate to the standard undergraduate classifications.

    Sam received the following marks:

    • Group poster presentation: 58% (2:2)
    • Coursework: 65% (2:1)
    • Exam: 72% (1st)

    Due to the weighting of each assessment, they final module average is 65.7%, which is an upper-second class honours (2:1).

    Just as each assessment carries a weighting towards your final module grade, each module will carry a weighting towards your final degree grade. This will depend on the number of credits your module is worth. So if a module is worth 60 credits, the grade from this module will have more weighting towards your final grade classification than a 20-credit module.

  3. You’ll receive an overall grade at the end of each year you study. For some courses and universities, the grades from your first year of study won’t count towards your final overall grade. You will need to check your academic regulations for more information. This does not mean that first year modules and assessments aren’t important though. It’s a good way to predict your final grade average and help you to improve.

    How to work out university grades

    Once you have successfully completed all the modules on your course, your final overall grade will be calculated. You will also likely have a dissertation or final year project that will count towards your final grade. This usually carries a lot of weighting so is a key element to your final degree classification. There are several online grade calculators that can help you work out the grades for modules, years and your final grade average.

    Each university will have a Board of Examiners, usually one per school or college. This is the group responsible for deciding the outcome of your assessments and your final grade.

    After you graduate, you will receive a transcript that includes the marks for each of your modules. It will also have your name, award, final overall grade, and course name on the front. For example:

    Bachelor of Science
    with Second Class Honours (First Division)
    in
    Psychology