How Do Uni Grade Boundaries Work?

Here’s how to work out your uni grades and what the boundaries mean.

You’ve done the work, and now you’re biting your nails trying to figure out if you’ve hit the right mark.

When you first start at university, you’ll probably notice that your grades are really different to what you’re used to at A-Level. Long gone are the days of getting 100% on an exam, this is super rare at uni. But that doesn’t mean you’re not doing a great job. Anything above 40% is a pass, and it’s definitely an adjustment getting used to the workload and assessment criteria.

For undergraduate degrees, most universities use a standard system, where you’ll get a percentage to mark your work. A pass is anything from 40% and above, and the most common degree is an upper second class honours, or a 2:1

But working out your final grade for the year, or your course, and whether your first year actually counts can get a bit confusing. So keep reading to find out how the uni grade boundaries works, how your final grades can be calculated and what to do if you’re worried you’re going to fail. 

In this article:

Uni grade boundaries in the UK

Every university in the UK follows the same approach to marking your work, so the degree classifications are always the same:

  • First class honours (a first, or 1st): 70% or above
  • Upper second class honours (2:1): 60-69%
  • Lower second class honours (2:2): 50-59%
  • Third class honours (a third, or 3rd): 40-49%
  • Anything 39% or lower is classed as a fail

But worth noting if you study with the Open University, their uni grade boundaries work differently.

How are your final uni grades calculated?

This is where it can vary wildly between unis. There’s no standard system for how universities calculate your final grades, so it’s worth contacting your uni to see what system they follow. 

To get a degree, you need to achieve a certain amount of credits, which is usually 360 credits in total (120 credits a year). Each module you complete will normally count for 15 or 30 credits. Universities will then calculate your final grade based on a certain amount of credits (usually anywhere between 90 to 240 credits).

A lot of universities will use a ‘best of’ calculation. An example of this is:

  • Calculation 1: They’ll take the best grades you achieved in your final year, including at least 30 credits from your dissertation/final project and calculate the average grade based on these to come up with your final mark.
  • Calculation 2: They’ll take your best grades for your final year and second year, but they’ll add double weighting to your final year. Then they’ll take the average to get your final mark. 

They’ll use one of the two calculations to work out the higher mark, and this will be your final grade. 

So you can use this to do some rough calculations to work out your grade before your results are published, but bear in mind that every uni is different!

Three people sat at a picnic bench reading and writing notes

Does your first year count towards your final grade?

Most universities don’t take your first year into consideration when working out your final grade. 

But instead of thinking of it like a free pass, it’s a good idea to really refine your essay-writing and find the best revision techniques so that you feel confident going into your second year (where it does count!).

What if you just miss out on a higher grade?

We get it. ONE MARK off a higher grade?! Feels totally unfair. Some universities do take into consideration borderline grades and will, at their discretion, award a higher mark. For example, if you had an overall mark of 69, but 80% of the modules they used to work out your grade were a 70% or above, then they might award you a first class honours instead. 

Not all unis will do this, so find out if yours will, and you can always reach out to your uni if you think there’s a chance you could get a higher mark. No harm in asking, right?

What happens if you fail?

If you do get less than a 40% and fail a module, try not to panic. One grade doesn’t make up your entire grade, and there’s always time to pull it back. 

Make an appointment with your course tutor. They’ll be able to help you in areas that need improvement, and give more detail as to why you got a low mark. It’s also a good opportunity to self-reflect on why YOU think you might’ve got a low mark. If you put in the time and effort, but still failed, then there’s probably an area you’re not quite understanding. Your tutor can help you work through this too.

Low grades are more common than you think, so don’t let one grade hit your self-esteem. 

Woman holding book to her face against a brick wall

What about the postgraduate grading system?

If you’re studying for your masters degree, then the grading system changes again. Just when you got used to it… 

Similarly to your undergraduate, there’s a percentage grading system. But there’s only three options to get your masters, instead of four at undergraduate level:

  • Distinction: 70% or above – equivalent to a first class honours
  • Merit: 60-69% 
  • Pass: 50-59% 
  • Fail: Anything less than 50% is classed as a fail

This time, your course will normally take every module into consideration when working out your final grade, as your postgraduate likely only covers one year of content. But reach out to your uni, as the grading system can differ even with your masters. 

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