The basics
THE UK: Applying to University

Understanding UK's undergraduate grading system

Want to know more about the undergraduate grading system in the UK? Read our guide below..


The British Undergraduate Degree Classification System is a grading scheme for undergraduate degrees (bachelor's degrees and integrated master's degrees) in the UK. It has been applied in other countries, with slight variations.

Many students that apply for an undergraduate programme in the UK don’t realise that they have the option to pursue a regular degree or a degree with honours. The latter is the most popular degree in the UK.  If you’re applying for a bachelor’s degree in science, for example, you will see “Bsc (Hons)” as the qualifications you will receive. The “Hons” states that you will be studying an honours degree for that course. Similarly, if you opt for an ordinary science degree, you will see “Bsc”.


When you study for an ordinary degree, the aim is to pass and achieve a degree in your subject. If you do not pass, you simply do not get a degree. You will not get a failed degree, but you will fail to achieve a degree. Like a driving test, passing will gain you a license and failing will not give you a failed licence, but you will simply not have a licence.

An honours degree will not only give students a degree, but it will specify your level of achievement and speciality in that subject by awarding classifications to your degree. For this reason, it is far more popular, as it gives employers an opportunity to understand a graduate’s competency.

The table below shows the different honours degree classifications and their average alternative grading descriptions (it is worth noting that Open University (OU), which is a distance learning university with an open entry policy, has different grade boundaries):




OU Mark

Equivalent grade

First class (1st)



85%+ (OU)


Upper second class (2.1)


70-85%+ (OU)


Lower second class (2.2)


55-70% (OU)



Third class (3rd)


40-55% (OU)



First Class

Also commonly referred to as a “first”, first class is the highest form of honours degree achievable. It’s very rare today to find students taking two full undergraduate subjects, some universities award “double firsts” when a student achieves a first class degree in two separate subjects, while studying one joint honours degree. The universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow have been known to award “double firsts”. A first class degree is achievable with a lot hard work and passion for your subject. Those who achieve this sought-after classification are in the strongest position for employment, graduate programmes and acceptance for postgraduate study.


Upper Second Class

A second class degree is split into two divisions and the higher of the two divisions is the upper second class, commonly known as 2.1 (pronounced “two-one”).  A 2.1 also puts you in good position for employment, graduate programmes and postgraduate study. For some prestigious institutions and some employers, this is the minimum grade acceptable. Like a first class honours, the numbers of students achieving a 2.1 have increased significantly in the past few years.  According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 50% of all full-time graduates achieved a 2.1 in the academic year of 2010/11.


Lower Second Class

A lower second class refers to the lower division of a second class degree. Commonly known as a 2.2 or “Desmond” (as in Desmond “two-two”), a 2.2 is often the minimum grade required for most opportunities in employment and further education.  In the 2010/11 academic year, 28% of students achieved a 2.2.


Third class

This is the lowest grade available for an honours degree. Known as a ‘third”, very few graduates achieve a third class honours. In 2010/11 only 6% of students graduated with a third.



In some institutions, if an honours student fails to achieve a third class by a small margin, they will be awarded an ordinary degree. Until the 1970s Oxford University awarded fourth Class honours.

Based on research by the Higher Education Statistics agency shows that the number of graduates achieving top grades in the UK has increased by 14% in just 12 months.  The age old undergraduate grading system received an upgrade in the autumn of 2012. Over half of UK universities give their newest students a report card  that will be used to give a detailed account of their performance during their study. It will provide information on result, extra-curricular activities, work experience, awards and skills (cognitive, professional and transferable skills). It is hoped that more universities will adopt the new scheme in the future.


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About Author

A fan of anime and all things Japanese, Khai has been writing professionally since 2010 and “unofficially” for much longer. In her free time, you will often find her baking, reading, travelling and doing everything else in between.


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