Some Important Facts You Should Know About the UK Universities Grading System


The UK has a unique higher education grading system. Its most unique feature compared to traditional grading systems is that it aims to describe students’ academic achievement.

This type of assessment method is highly valued because it offers many advantages. Most importantly it highlights your academic strengths and specific skills, therefore, it helps employers gain a better understanding of your true potential. Since it is proved to be such an efficient tool to assess students’ performance, many foreign countries like Canada, Australia, and India use the same grading system on some occasions with small changes to fit into their own local educational context.

The UK universities use a letter grade scale from A to F to indicate their students’ academic performance. If you get an A, you have shown outstanding knowledge, whereas if you get an F, your score is not sufficient to pass the exam.


Listed below are grades you can take at university in the UK and their definition,

Grade Letter

Percentage Score

Grade Definition

Degree Class

Honours degree Foundation Degree


70% – 100%

Excellent to Outstanding  




First Distinction


60% – 69%

Good to Very Good Upper Second 2:1 Merit


50% – 59%

Satisfying Lower Second 2:2  



40% – 49%

Sufficient Third 3


30% – 39%







However, we already mentioned that UK universities tend to be highly specific when evaluating their student’s academic scores. This is to say not all students who get an ‘A’ have performed the same.

This marking principle is not only limited to the fact that all students who have the same grade lie in different mark bands. At the undergraduate level, final degrees are also classified according to overall students’ academic performance.

Depending on your academic achievement, undergraduate degrees are classified into the following categories:

  • First-class Honours (70% and higher).
  • Second-class Honours ( 50% -70%).
  • Third-class Honours (40% – 50%).

First-class degree

The first-class degree or often commonly referred to as “first”, is the highest academic achievement at the undergraduate level in UK universities. In more simple terms it means that your overall academic score is equal to or above 70% of the total score you could have achieved in your undergraduate degree course. It is like saying your average grade at the undergraduate level was an A.

If you get a first-class degree it means that you have demonstrated an outstanding level of knowledge through your course and you’re highly competent at the subject you’ve studied for. As you can easily assume British universities apply some of the highest academic standards. That being said, in order to achieve a first-class degree, you have to be among very few students who show an outstanding level of academic achievement. In recent years the number of first-class graduates in the UK has increased smoothly, but their proportion remains small still.

Usually, your overall marking score must be at least 70% in order to be awarded a first-class degree, but sometimes changes depending on the university you’re studying at. Quite often your grades in the first year are not taken into account in your final qualification, but your academic progress in the second and senior years definitely will.

Note that since a first-class degree requires an excellent intellectual aptitude, it is not common for UK universities to offer joint first-class degree courses. However, famous universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow do offer some courses of that kind.


Second class degree

The second-class degree is divided into two categories: upper second-class degree and lower second-class degree.

The upper second-class degree is labelled as a 2:1 degree (read “two-one”). In order to be awarded a 2:1 degree (read “two-one”), your academic score must range from 60% to 69%. By definition, it means that you have shown pretty good knowledge, but there is some room for improvement.

Typically, you’re going to need an upper second-class degree if you want to enrol a master’s degree in the UK because it is the minimum entry requirement. An upper second-class degree also puts you in a favourable position in the job market as it is very much sought-after by employers. The lower second-class degree is commonly known as a 2:2(read “two-two”) degree. Compared to other classified degrees described in previous sections a lower second-class degree is a lower academic achievement, therefore doesn’t draw any significant improvement in your CV and your employability.


Third Class Degree

A third-class degree is the lowest academic qualification you can get in an undergraduate degree program. Students who are awarded a third-class degree have taken marks between 40% and 49%, which is surely something you should not aim for.

Unfortunately, the prospects of finding a good job or succeeding in postgraduate education while holding a third-class degree are low. Statistically, third-class students share the smallest proportion of undergraduates in the UK.

Note that in some cases students whose final academic score lies close to the minimum required to get a third-class degree will still be awarded a regular degree known as ‘Pass’.




The UK Grading System and ETCS grades

European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a common grading framework used by European countries in order to facilitate the process of converting grades from a local grading system to another one.

The table below shows final grades in the UK and their corresponding equivalent in the ECTS system

Degree Class Percentage Score ETCS Grade
First-Class Degree 70% -100% A
Upper Second-Class Degree 60% – 69% B
Lower Second-Class Degree 50% -59% C
Third Class Degree 40% -49% D
Fail 0-39% E/F

Note however that ECTS are to a large extent optional and universities are still free to apply their own grading policies. Most of the time, the transcript of a student’s grade in Europe will contain an additional column for ECTS grades alongside local grades.

The UK Grading System and The US Grading System

Since the US grading system is very popular and many US students are attending university in the UK it is very interesting to see how does one grading system stand compared to the other.

The table below shows grades at UK universities and their equivalent in the US grading system

Degree Class Percentage Score US Grade
First-Class Degree 70% -100% A
Upper Second-Class Degree 60% – 69% A- / B+
Lower Second-Class Degree 50% -59% B / B-
Third Class Degree 40% -49% C+ / C /C-
Fail 0-39% F


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