British undergraduate degree classification

British undergraduate degree classification

The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading scheme for undergraduate degrees (bachelor's degrees and integrated master's degrees) in the United Kingdom. The system has been applied (sometimes with significant variations) in other countries, such as Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago.[citation needed]

The Latin honours system used in the United States is different but has some similarities.


Degree classification

A degree may be awarded with or without honours, with the class of an honours degree based on the average mark of the assessed work a candidate has completed. Below is a list of the possible classifications with common abbreviations. Honours degrees are in bold.

  • First class honours (1st)
  • Second class honours, upper division (2:1)
  • Second class honours, lower division (2:2)
  • Third class honours (3rd)
  • Ordinary degree (Pass)

At most institutions the system allows a small amount of discretion and candidates may be elevated to the next degree class if their average mark is close to, or the median of their weighted marks achieves the higher class and they have submitted many pieces of work worthy of the higher class. However they may be demoted a class if they fail to pass all parts of the course even if they have a high average.

There are also variations between universities (especially in Scotland, where honours are usually reserved only for courses lasting four years or more, with a three-year course leading to the awarding of an Ordinary degree; see Master of Arts (Scotland)) and requirements other than the required average mark are often needed to be awarded honours. (In Scotland it is possible to start University a year younger than in the rest of the United Kingdom as the Scottish Highers exams are often taken at age 17, not 18, so four-year courses end at the same age as a three-year course elsewhere in the UK, assuming no gap years.)

When a candidate is awarded a degree with honours, "(Hons)" may be suffixed to their designatory letters, e.g. BA(Hons), BSc(Hons), MA(Hons). An MA(Hons) would generally indicate a degree award from certain Scottish universities. However, honours are awarded when 360 tariff points are achieved (typically 6 modules at 20 credits each per year), with a non honours degree requiring at least 300 tariff points[citation needed].

At Oxford and Cambridge, honours classes apply to examinations, not to degrees. Thus, in Cambridge, where undergraduates are examined at the end of each part (one- or two-year section) of the tripos, a student may receive different classifications for different parts. The degree itself does not formally have a class. Most Cambridge graduates use the class of the final Part as the class of the degree, but this is an informal usage. At Oxford, where examinations are split between Honour Moderations or Prelims in the first part, and the Final Honour School in the second, it is the results of the Final Honour School results which are generally applied to the degree.

At some universities, candidates who successfully complete one or more years of degree-level study, but do not complete the full degree course, may be awarded a lower qualification: a Certificate of Higher Education or Higher National Certificate for one year of study, or a Diploma of Higher Education or Higher National Diploma for two years.

The Graduateship (post-nominal GCGI) and Associateship (post-nominal ACGI) awarded by the City & Guilds of London Institute are mapped to a British Honours degree.

The Engineering Council Graduate Diploma is set at the same level as the final year of a British BEng.

First-class honours

First-class honours degrees (often simply referred to as a "first") are usually the highest level of degree awarded and indicate high academic achievement. About 11% of all degree candidates achieve a "first" nationally.[1]

Percentages of graduates achieving a first vary greatly by university and course studied. For instance firsts in Law, Physics, Computer Science or Engineering are less frequent.[2]

A minority of universities award first-class honours with particular distinction, informally known as a "Starred First" (Cambridge, York, UEA) or a "Congratulatory First" (Oxford). Several of these tend to be awarded each year in certain subjects; among notable recipients are the Coldplay front man Chris Martin, author Martin Amis, poet Philip Larkin, the writer Karen Armstrong[3], the philosopher Bernard Williams, economist Suzanne Haden, the historians Simon Schama and Quentin Skinner and the classicist Bob Cowan[4].

Upper second-class honours

The upper division is commonly abbreviated to 2:1 (pronounced two-one). The 2:1 is a common minimum for many postgraduate courses.

The percentage of candidates who achieve upper second-class honours can vary widely by degree subject as well as university.[1]

Lower second-class honours

This is the second division of second class degrees and is abbreviated as 2:2 (pronounced two-two). This is generally the lowest level of degree with which a graduate can go on to postgraduate programmes or graduate recruitment schemes of major companies.

Third-class honours

Third-class honours is the lowest honours classification in most modern universities. Historically, Oxford awarded fourth-class honours degrees, and until the late 1970s did not distinguish between "upper seconds" (2:1s) and "lower seconds" (2:2s). Roughly 7.2% of students graduating in 2006 with an honours degree received a Third.[1][5]

Ordinary Degree

An Ordinary degree is a pass degree without honours. A number of universities offer ordinary degree courses to students, but most students enroll in honours degree courses. Some honours courses permit students who fail the first year by a small margin (around 10%) to transfer to the Ordinary degree. Ordinary degrees are sometimes awarded to honours degree students who do not complete an honours degree course to the very end but complete enough of it to earn a pass.

Scottish universities offer Ordinary degrees as a qualification in its own right, which last three years, as well as an honours degree over four years. This is in contrast to English universities that have honours degree with three years of study, though a similar programme in Scotland is not unheard of, provided a high entrance grade is achieved. An Ordinary degree from a Scottish university (also known as a designated degree) is often sufficient to study a post graduate course.

An Ordinary degree in Scotland is not therefore, as in England, a failed honours degree. Students can decide, usually at the end of their second or third year, whether or not they wish to complete a fourth honours year. Scottish universities may also award their Ordinary degrees with 'distinction' if a student achieves a particularly good grade average, usually 65% or above. A common example of a Scottish Ordinary degree is the Bachelor of Laws course taken by graduates of other subjects, as this is sufficient (without honours) for entry to the legal profession.

Uncommon Degree Classifications

Double first-class honours

A "double first" at both Oxford and Cambridge originally referred to first-class honours in two separate subjects in the same set of examinations, usually the Classical and Mathematical Triposes in Cambridge, or the Literae Humaniores and Mathematics Final Honour Schools in Oxford. It was also possible to obtain "double firsts" at Honour Moderations. It is, however, no longer possible for undergraduates to read two different subjects concurrently at Cambridge. Today, the expression is used at Cambridge to describe first-class honours "in two sets of examinations corresponding to two different Parts of Triposes".[6] The two parts of a Tripos come at different points in an undergraduate's career.

At Oxford, the term "double first" can signify that a candidate has achieved First Class Honours in both subjects of a Joint Honours degree, and it is also sometimes used to describe first-class honours in both Honour Moderations and the Final Honour School, usually in the same subject.


A candidate who is unable to take her or his exams because of illness can sometimes be awarded an aegrotat degree; this is an honours degree without classification, awarded on the understanding that had the candidate been well, she or he would have obtained honours.

International comparisons

An approximate mapping between British classifications and US Grade Point Averages can be inferred from the University College London graduate admissions criteria.[7] Canadian GPAs differ; the British Graduate Admissions Fact Sheet from McGill University states that in their system, where standings are reported in lieu of an average, a CGPA (cumulative grade point average) is determined.[8] However, different universities convert grades differently. UCL's system is at odds with LSE, which for example considers GPA (US) of 3.5 as equivalent to a 2.1.[9] Also most Oxbridge departments consider a 3.75 the equivalent of a First; see for instance English Language and Literature post graduate requirement at Oxford.[10] Grade equivalents given by WES,[11] World Education Services, which provide qualification conversion services to many Universities, also converts British degrees to higher GPAs than the conversion used by UCL, if the guidelines for converting grades to GPA given by Duke University[12] are used. Interestingly, this conversion is very similar to that given by WES and Duke, and that used by LSE and Oxbridge. Furthermore, the grade conversion from Fulbright Commission states that the equivalent of 70+ in Britain is a 4.0 US GPA.[13] A holistic approach was taken when creating the table below. It should be noted that there is no hard and fast rule of converting the degrees, as different institutions compare differently.

British Class American GPA Secured Marks Level
First 4.00 70+
Upper Second 3.33-3.67 60-69
Lower Second 3.00 50-59
Third 2.30 40-49
Ordinary Pass 2.00 35-40
US GPA equivalent from The Fulbright Commission[14]

BA(Hons) degrees attained in Britain are at the level of NQF 6 - where the BA and Honours degrees exist. MA degrees are at NQF 7 and PhD degrees are at level NQF 8. Other countries, specifically South Africa, equate different NQF levels to degrees: for instance, a master's degree in South Africa is at NQF 8, while a doctoral degree is at NQF 9. The reason for this difference in NQF levels is that South Africa requires students to undertake a fourth year, or an honours degree, between their bachelor's and master's degree. SAQA, the South African Qualifications Accreditation company, compares international degrees with local degrees before any international student continues their studies in that country. While the British degree accreditation and classification system allows students to go straight from a three year bachelor's degree onto a master's degree, South Africa does not do so, unless the student has proven research capabilities. South African Honours degrees prepare the students to undertake a research-specific degree (in terms of master's), by spending an in-depth year (up to 5 modules) creating research proposals and undertaking a research project of limited scope. This prepares students for the research degrees later in their academic career.

Progression to postgraduate study

Regulations governing the progression of undergraduate degree graduates to postgraduate programmes vary between universities, and are often flexible. A candidate for a postgraduate master's degree is usually required to have at least a 2:2 degree, although candidates with 2:1s are in a considerably stronger position to gain a place on a postgraduate course and to obtain funding. Some institutions specify a 2:1 minimum for certain types of master's program, such as for a Master of Research course.[15][16]

Candidates with a Third or ordinary degree are sometimes accepted, provided they have acquired satisfactory professional experience subsequent to graduation. A candidate for a doctoral programme who does not hold a master's degree is nearly always required to have a First or 2:1.

British Medical degrees

In the United Kingdom, medicine is taught as an undergraduate course and, upon successful completion of the course, the graduate holds the conjoined degrees of Bachelor of Medicine, and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS, BM BCh or MB ChB; chirurgery meaning surgery); in some cases Bachelor in the Art of Obstetrics (BAO) is added to the formal name of these degrees. The BAO is a tradition of Irish universities and so only the Queen's University of Belfast gives a BAO in addition to the bachelors of medicine and surgery in the UK; universities in the Republic of Ireland also present a BAO to graduates. However, unlike most undergraduate degrees, MBBS is not awarded in classes (i.e., there are no first, second or third class honours MBBS degrees). Individual degrees are marked as pass or fail, with some universities also awarding passes with merit. Results of final examinations in fourth or fifth year split the year groups into one of four quartiles. These quartiles allocate base points for NHS job applications where the top quartile awards 40 points, decreasing by two points for the second quartiles and again for the third and fourth. Distinctions can be awarded for certain parts of the course to the best students (who will usually have several merits already). Honours are awarded at some institutions for exceptional performance throughout the course[citation needed].

Undergraduate Degree Honours Slang

A form of rhyming slang has developed from degree classes, usually using names of famous people. Due to the conventions of rhyming slang, only the person's first name is used, the last name referencing the degree by rhyming with it.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c HE qualifications obtained in the UK by level, mode of study, domicile, gender, class of first degree and subject area 2005/06, Higher Education Statistics Agency
  2. ^ SFR 117: Higher education student enrollments and qualifications obtained at higher education institutions in the United Kingdom for the academic year 2006/07, Higher Education Statistics Agency, 10 January 2008
  3. ^ Sale, Jonathan (2006-07-06). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Karen Armstrong, writer and former nun - Profiles, People". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  4. ^ "Balliol College - Old Members - Floreat Domus, Issue 13, August 2007". Retrieved 2010-06-14. 
  5. ^ David Dutton, Douglas-Home (Haus Publishing Limited, 2006), page 4 ISBN 978-1-904950-67-7
  6. ^ "CamDATA: course information and statistics". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  7. ^ General entrance requirements, University College London
  8. ^ Future graduate students: European Fact Sheets - UK, McGill University
  9. ^ International entrance requirementLSE
  10. ^ Oxford Prospectus 2010/2011Oxford University
  11. ^ WES GPA conversion [WES]
  12. ^ Calculation of GPA using GradesDuke University
  13. ^ [1]The Fulbright Commission
  14. ^ [2] The Fulbright Commission
  15. ^ Entrance requirements: Graduate Prospectus 2010–11, University of Cambridge, September 2009
  16. ^ What are the entry requirements for graduate programmes at LSE?, London School of Economics
  17. ^ a b c d e f Student slang leaves parents dazed, BBC News Online, 8 December 2000
  18. ^ Peter Hill (1999-06-25). "Worth a Damien?". Times Higher Education. TSL Education Ltd. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  19. ^ "Degree classification: Have the Desmond and Vorderman had their day?". The Independent (London). 2005-11-24. 
  20. ^ Louise Tickle (2009-08-01). "Getting the third degree". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 

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