Grading System in the UK Universities – the International Student Guide

Studying abroad can be a good decision for you but make sure you gather the relevant information about the country, the educational institutions, safety, eligibility criteria, and ofcourse the grading system in the universities. If you choose to study in United Kingdom, it is better to learn about the Grading System in the UK Universities awarded based on the performances in the various tests conducted from time to time.

The UK grading system is one of the most well-structured grading systems in the world and it is quite different from other countries. The grading system in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is almost the same but in Scotland the grading system is quite different. Multiple elements are considered while finalizing the grading structure in the UK like the candidate’s skills, academic strengths, and weaknesses.

Knowing the grading system in UK universities helps international students get a better understanding of the eligibility criteria and admission-related requirements in a specific university to which the students plan to apply. Many international students find the grading system in UK universities a bit confusing something which is not very common in other countries.

To solve this problem, we have mentioned some vital facts about the grading system in UK universities for you. Read carefully to expand your knowledge about it.

UK Grading System in Compulsory Education

There are two kinds of grading scales in the UK. The first one is the numerical grading system which is mainly followed in England. The scale varies from ‘1- 9’ where 4 is the passing grade while the second one is a letter grading system that is adopted in Wales and Northern Ireland. In the case of a letter-based grading scale, an ‘A’ is considered the best possible grade given to any student while ‘F’ is the lowest grade. The at least passing grade needed is ‘D’.

UK Grading System in Higher Education

The Higher Education in UK or school leaving qualification is mostly known as Advanced level or A-level qualification. This kind of qualification is quite common in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Most UK universities accept A-level is while shortlisting the most suitable candidate for various courses.

The at least passing criteria in Advanced level qualifications are 40%. The grade varies from A to E.  The students scoring at least 80% in all 6 subjects or 90% in two subjects get an A grade in the exam.

About the Grading

Grade Letter Percentage Grade Descriptions
A 80% Pass
B 70% Pass
C 60% Pass
D 50% Pass
E 40% Pass
F Unclassified Fail


UK Grading System for Undergraduate

Students planning to seek admission to undergraduate programs can have a close look at the UK Grading System for Undergraduate for a better understanding.

Classification of UK grading system towards Undergraduate Degree:

Grade Percentage Grade Descriptions Honours Degree Founders Degree
A 70 – 100% Excellent and Outstanding First-class Distinction
B 60 – 69% Very Good to Good Upper second 2:1 Merit
C 50 – 59% Satisfying Lower second 2:2 Pass
D 40 – 49% Sufficient Third-Class Pass
E 30 – 39% Unsatisfactory performance Fail Fail
F 0 – 29% Unsatisfactory performance Fail Fail

What is a First degree?

First Class Honours degree (1st) is commonly referred to as a “first”. A first class is the highest honours degree a student can achieve. Although now it’s quite impossible for students to pursue two full UG subjects, but still a fewer universities grant “double firsts” in case a student achieves a first class degree in two different subjects, while pursuing one joint honours degree. Some of the UK universities offering “double firsts” include universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow.

Students can earn a first class degree with their hard work and dedication. The ones achieving the highest degree are in the strongest position to grab the best jobs, for doing graduate programmes and pursue PG studies

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, between 2016 and 2021, the number of students’ getting first class honours increased from 26% to 36%.

What is 2:1 degree?

Second-class honours degree means upper division. A second-class degree is segmented into two divisions and the top-most of these two divisions is the upper second class, which is also known as 2:1 (pronounced “two-one”) and mostly written to as a 2.1. Getting a 2:1 also puts students in a good position for employment, graduate courses and for pursuing PG studies. For a few of the institutions, it is the minimum acceptable grade. Similar to a first class honours, the total students achieving a 2:1 has increased manifolds in the past few years.

Third class

Third-class honours (3rd) are recognized as a “third”, it is the lowest level of honour’s degree given to students based on their performance. Only a few graduates get third-class honours. In 2020/21, just 2-3% of students obtained a third class degree. Getting a Third-Class degree will limit your chances for PG studies, particularly abroad.

If an honours student fails securing a third class by a small percentage, he/she will get an ordinary degree. Till the 1970s Oxford University gave it fourth class honours recognition.

What’s the most important thing in grading system in UK?

The UK grading system lays much focus on students academic and specific skills that showcase their talent and educational qualifications. The grades obtained by the students also help get a good job post completing the course.

When it’s about the Honours degree, based on the academic achievement, undergraduate degrees are divided into four different categories including:

  •       First-class Honours (70% and above)
  •       Second-class Honours; or upper-division varies from 60 – 69%.
  •       Second-class Honours or lower division varies from 50 – 59%.
  •       Third-class Honours varies from 40% – 49%.

UK Grading System for Masters

Almost in all the Master’s degree offered in the UK, a different grading scale is followed excluding the integrated master’s.

Details regarding the grading system in UK universities for pursuing a master’s course are mentioned below:

Grade Descriptions Percentage
Distinction 70% or above
Merit / Commendation 60 – 69%
Pass 50 – 59%
Passed on Margin/Borderline 40 – 49%



The United Kingdom Education System adheres to a different grade pattern that slightly differs from other countries. The significance of British higher education is largely attributed to important elements like quality education and a unique grading system. Due to this, several overseas nations have also followed the UK education and grading system, either completely or with some minor alternations.

Knowing the grading system in UK universities is important especially if you are applying from a different country and aim to study in the UK. To know more about the grading system followed by the UK universities get in touch with the study abroad counsellors at Study Smart in India!!

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