How does the English grading system work?

Since grades came out a few days ago I thought it would be a good topic to talk about in the blog, as I found it very confusing at the start (and my friends in other parts of the world still find it confusing when I talk about it).

For most of my classes the final grade was made up of 25% an in-semester test and 75% a final exam. The in-semester tests are generally 50 min long while the final exams are 2h long.

If you’re an undergraduate the pass grade is 40%, if you’re a postgraduate student then the pass grade is 50%. If you’re an undergraduate with an average of 60-69% then your degree classification is 2:1 (upper second class) and if you’re an undergraduate with an average of 70% and up then your degree classification is first class.

When I talk about my grades with friends in the US or my parents they always seem to be under the impression that I did pretty badly. At the end of the first year my average is around 72% and my GPA is 4.0 (I also keep getting “I don’t understand how you can get a D and have a 4.0!” because I scored 69% in one of my classes). However, the grading systems in the US, Latin America and the UK are significantly different. So far the best way I’ve found to show the difference is to look at graduate school application requirements.

If you look at the UK requirements for most graduate programs they require a 2:1 degree. On the other hand for people graduating from Mexico the requirement is a Masters with an overall grade of 9/10, for Guatemala a Master’s with an overall grade of 85%, a 90% from Honduras, a 91% from Panama, and a 8/10 or 9/10 depending on the university you attend from Argentina for example. When comparing to the US the minimum requirement is a GPA of at least 3.5/4 (based on Cambridge’s international qualifications website). This means that a 60% in the UK is equivalent to roughly a 90% in Latin American universities, so my 70% average isn’t as bad as my mother thinks it is.

Another common misconception people have when they hear that the pass mark is 40% is that attending university and graduating in the UK is way easier than everywhere else, but I don’t think this is the case. I’m working as hard as I was at Berkeley, if not harder, and getting comparable results. If it was significantly easier I would be scoring way higher than I was now. Additionally, regardless of the pass mark, when I was studying in the US most of the grade was made up of assignments, quizzes and midterms, with the final exam taking up at most 40% of the grade. On the other hand, most of my classes here had 25% midterm and 75% final (the one exception was the professional skills module which involved lots of different things, including a group project; an earlier blog post of mine details how the grades were assigned), and all of the classes I’ll be taking next year have a 20% midterm and 80% final split. Having all the weight fall on exams is significantly more stressful for me and having a bad day can significantly affect your performance (for example, during a particularly bad day I had to take my physics midterm and I scored around 34%, after studying a lot to make up for that and neglecting my other classes I scored an 80% on the final but my final grade was still not as high as the rest, so I couldn’t fully make up for that one bad day). However, I do think having all of the grade fall on the exams probably contributes to the large focus on independent study in the UK, which I much prefer to having to attend every single lecture and do homework all day every day and having to move at exactly the same pace as the rest of the 500+ people In your class, regardless of whether that’s too slow or too fast for you.

I hope this post helps you understand how grades work here and how they compare to other countries.