Explaining the UK Grading System

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Allaa Ashraf

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02 April, 2023

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7 mins read

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Being the number-one go-to country for international students, the UK is a country with a unique grading system that many countries have adopted, including Canada and India. It is one of the systems that students need to understand to convert correctly and get their equivalent grades in their countries.

The UK grading system can be confusing, especially for international students. If you're studying in the UK or considering it, it's essential to understand how the grading system works. In this guide, we'll provide an overview of the UK grading system and offer tips on how to succeed. So, keep reading!

Overview of the UK Grading System

The UK grading system is a hierarchical system of assessment that evaluates the academic performance of students. It is used to measure the student's knowledge and skills in specific subjects and courses.

It includes different types of grades, including A-levels, GCSEs, BTECs, and other vocational qualifications. The grading system ranges from A* to U for A-levels and from 9 to 1 for GCSEs.

The grading system in the UK is designed to provide an objective and consistent way of evaluating students' academic performance. It is used to help universities and employers select the most qualified candidates for their courses and jobs. So come on, follow along as we dive into more details!

Types of Grades in the UK Grading System

1. A-levels

A-levels are the most well-known and respected qualifications in the UK. They are typically taken by students in the final two years of secondary school and are used to determine university admission.

A-levels are graded on a scale from A* to E, with A* being the highest grade. The grade you achieve in your A-levels can have a significant impact on your future academic and career prospects.

2. GCSEs

GCSEs are the exams that most students take at the end of their secondary education in the UK. They are taken in a variety of subjects, including English, math, and science.

GCSEs are graded on a scale from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. The grading system is designed to provide more differentiation between students and make it easier to compare UK grades with international grading systems.

3. BTECs and Other Vocational Qualifications

BTECs and other vocational qualifications are alternatives to A-levels and GCSEs. They are designed to prepare students for employment in specific industries and fields.

BTECs and other vocational qualifications are graded on a scale from Pass to Distinction*, with Distinction* being the highest grade. The grading system for vocational qualifications is often different from A-levels and GCSEs, as it places more emphasis on practical skills and knowledge.

Undergraduate Degree Options in the UK

There are two types of undergraduate degrees in the UK:  

Ordinary Degree 

An ordinary degree consists of a regular BA or BSc that lasts for only three years with a total of 15 credit hours for different subjects. It requires students to pass all subjects; otherwise, they won’t be awarded their degree in the end.

Honours Degree

This is a 3- to a 4-year degree in which you specialise in one subject. It is more valued by employers after graduation, and it requires finishing a total of 20 credit hours of both your chosen subject and compulsory subjects. Unlike an ordinary degree, which highlights only your grades, an honours degree highlights both your grades and your performance level.

How Does the Grading System Work in Honours Degrees? 

The UK has a grading system that classifies the marks based on a scale that starts with an A, a 1st class honours degree, and ends with an F, which means fail. To understand the system classifications more, here is a table to explain the grades and their classifications. 



Equivalent grade

First-class (1st)



Upper second-class (2.1)



Lower second-class (2.2)



Third class (3rd)




30% – 39%



0 – 29%


1. First-class (1st)

La crème de la crème that every employer is looking for. Achieving 70% or higher means you are awarded a first-class degree, the highest degree classification awarded for an undergraduate honours degree programme. It’s a pretty challenging degree for students to obtain and takes some sweat and tears, however, getting a first-class degree means more open doors and more opportunities! 

2. Upper second-class (2.1)

Usually, this is the minimum requirement for post-graduate studies and the award that most employers look for. It requires an academic score of 60–69% and is the second-highest degree within an undergraduate honours degree programme.

3. Lower second-class (2.2)

Achieving 50–59% means you are rewarded with a lower second-class degree, the third degree awarded within an undergraduate honours degree programme. This degree won’t really help you find the opportunity of a lifetime, however, finding a job won’t be impossible. Don’t forget; we currently live in a world that focuses on skills as well as education.

4. Third class (3rd)

This is probably a degree you should never aim for. Achieving a 40–49% academic score means you are rewarded with a third-class degree, the fourth degree within an undergraduate honours degree programme. Although acquiring this degree means you have passed your honours degree, it reduces your employability chances a lot. Luckily, very few students ever earn a third-class degree. 

5. Fail

Getting a score that is lower than 49% means you have failed your honours degree. Therefore, depending on the university, you might be awarded an ordinary degree if your grades are close to third-class grades, or you might have to consider retaking your subjects.

UK Grading System

Grading Criteria and Standards

Grading criteria and standards can vary between universities and schools, and it's important to understand what is expected of you. For example, some universities may have stricter grading standards than others, while some schools may use a more lenient curve. It's also essential to understand the criteria used to assign grades. For example, some courses may emphasise coursework over exams, while others may have a more even balance.

Grade Boundaries

Understanding grade boundaries is also crucial to interpreting grades effectively. Grade boundaries are the minimum marks required to achieve a certain grade, and they can vary between exams and subjects. For example, the grade boundary for an A in one exam may be higher or lower than the grade boundary for an A in another exam.

The Impact of the UK Grading System on University Admissions and Job Opportunities

The British grading system can significantly impact a student's university admissions and job opportunities. Here's how:

University Admissions

UK universities often have specific grade requirements for entry into different programmes. Students who don't meet these requirements may not be considered for admission.

Job Opportunities

Employers in the UK often look at candidates' academic records when considering them for a job. Good grades can demonstrate a candidate's intelligence, work ethic, and ability to learn.

Tips for Succeeding in the UK Grading System

The UK grading system can be challenging to navigate, but with the right strategies and mindset, students can excel. Here are some tips on how to succeed in the UK grading system:

  • Stay organised: Keep track of deadlines, assignments, and exams. Use a planner or calendar to help you stay on top of your schedule.

  • Study regularly: Consistent studying and revision are essential to achieving good grades in the UK grading system. Don't wait until the last minute to start studying.

  • Seek help when needed: If you're struggling with a particular subject, don't hesitate to seek help from your teachers, tutors, or classmates.

  • Understand the grading criteria: Make sure you understand the grading criteria for each assignment and exam. This will help you tailor your approach and ensure you're meeting the expectations of your instructors.

  • Practice critical thinking: Many UK exams and assignments require critical thinking and analysis. Practice these skills by engaging in discussions and debates, reading widely, and analyzing different perspectives.

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How the UK Grading System Compares to Other Grading Systems

The UK grading system can be quite different from grading systems used in other countries. Here's how it compares to some of the most common grading systems:

1. US Grading System

In the US, grades are typically assigned on a scale of A-F, with A being the highest grade. There is no direct equivalent to the UK grading system, but A-levels are often compared to Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

2. European Grading System

In Europe, grades are typically assigned on a scale of 1–10 or 1–20, with 10 or 20 being the highest grade. This is quite different from the UK grading system, which uses a letter-based grading system.

3. International Baccalaureate (IB) Grading System

The IB grading system is similar to the UK grading system in that it uses a letter-based grading system. However, the IB system also assigns points to each grade, which are used to calculate a student's final score.

And there you have it! If you’re applying to a university in the UK, know that the UK grading system can be challenging to navigate, but students can succeed with the right information and preparation. 

By understanding the different types of grades, comparing the UK grading system with other systems, developing good study habits, and interpreting grades effectively, students can set themselves up for success.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the GCSE grading system?

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, which is an academic qualification awarded to students aged 15–16 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, typically after two years of study. The GCSE grading system is used to assess students' performance in a range of subjects, including English, math, science, and others.

2. How does UK grading system compare to the other countries?

The British grading system is comparable to those in other nations in that it evaluates achievement using a numerical or alphabetical scale. However, there may be regional differences in the precise scores and passing standards.

3. Can grades from a UK institution be transferred to another country?

Yes, grades from a UK institution can be transferred to another country. However, the transferability of grades and the recognition of UK qualifications may vary between countries and institutions.

4. What happens if a student fails a course in the UK?

If a student in the UK fails a course, they might need to retake it or enrol in another course in order to fulfil graduation criteria. It is best to inquire about your institution's particular failing grade policies.

5. What is the passing grade for GCSEs?

The passing grade for GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in the UK is a grade of 4 or higher.

6. What is the merit grade in UK?

In the UK, the phrase "Merit Grade" typically denotes a high degree of academic achievement. It usually means that students have performed better than average and have shown that they comprehend the course material well.


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