British undergraduate degree classification

The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading structure 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, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Ghana, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe.

Whereas grade point averages (GPAs) are different from the British undergraduate degree classes, the Latin honours system used in the United States is different from the British system, but has some similarities.[1]


In the 16th century, the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge implemented norm referencing to distinguish the top 25% of candidates, the next 50%, and the bottom 25%.[2]

The classification system as currently used in the United Kingdom was developed in 1918.[2] Honours was then a means to recognise individuals who demonstrated depth of knowledge or originality, as opposed to relative achievement in examination conditions.[3]

Recently, grade inflation has been identified as a significant issue, with increasing numbers of higher-class honours degrees awarded per annum.[4][5][6] The number of first-class honours degrees has reportedly tripled since the 1990s.[7] As with grade inflation of A-levels, prospective employers or educational institutions have observed increased difficulty in selecting candidates.[3][8] On the other hand, the practice of degree classification has been criticised for unduly stigmatising students and being unreflective of a graduate's success or potential for success, particularly in the workplace.[9]

Degree classification

A degree may be awarded with or without honours, with the class of an honours degree usually based on a weighted average mark of the assessed work a candidate has completed. The degree classifications are:

At most institutions, the system allows a small amount of discretion.[9] A candidate may be elevated to the next degree class if his or her average marks are close to (or the median of their weighted marks achieves) the higher class, and if they have submitted several pieces of work worthy of the higher class. However, even students with a high average mark may be demoted a class if they fail to pass all parts of the course.

There are also variations between universities, especially in Scotland, where honours are usually reserved only for courses that last four years or more, with a three-year course leading to the awarding of an ordinary degree (see Master of Arts (Scotland)). Achievements other than the average mark are often needed for a student 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 Higher exams are often taken at age 16 or 17 (as opposed to 18), so Scottish students often end a four-year course at the same age as a student from elsewhere in the UK taking a three-year course, assuming no gap years. Until recently, the four honours divisions in Oxford's moderations and final examinations were named first, second, third and fourth class, but eventually Oxford gave in and adopted the numbering used by other English universities; this change took place sufficiently recently that most currently held Oxford honours results were classified using the older system.

When a candidate is awarded a degree with honours, "(Hons)" may be suffixed to their designatory letters—for example, BA (Hons), BSc (Hons), BMus (Hons), MA (Hons). An MA (Hons) would generally indicate a degree award from certain Scottish universities.

At the University of Cambridge, undergraduate Tripos examinations are split into three parts (e.g. Part IA, IB, and II), or two parts (Part I and II). Part II is taken at the end of final year. Each student receives a formal classification for each part (i.e. Class I, II.I, II.II, or III).[10] Typically, the Part II grade that corresponds with final examinations is quoted, however officially a grade simply exists for every Part of the degree, not for the overall degree.

At the University of Oxford, a formal degree Class is given, and this is typically based on the final examinations. In Oxford, examinations for Prelims or Honour Moderations are also undertaken in first/second year, however these results do not typically affect the final degree classification.

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, referred to as a "first", is the highest honours classification and indicates high academic achievement.

In 2010 and 2011, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reported that approximately 15% of all degree candidates graduated with first-class honours.[4][11] The percentages of graduates achieving a first vary greatly by university and course studied.[12] For example, students of law are least likely to gain a first, whereas students of mathematical sciences are most likely to gain a first.[5] In 2006–2007 and 2010–2011, 5.8% and 8.1% of law students gained a first, respectively; however, in those years, 28.9% and 30.0% of mathematics students gained a first, respectively.[5]

It has been colloquially known in rhyming slang as a ''Geoff" - after former England international footballer Geoff Hurst.[13] An alterntive name is Damian Hurst.

Variations of first-class honours

At the University of Cambridge, Triposes were previously split into two parts: Part I and Part II. Attaining First Class Honours in both parts would culminate in graduating with a "Double First."[10] Most Triposes were later split into three parts: "Part IA," "Part IB" and "Part II." Attaining a First Class in all three parts culminates in graduating with a "Triple First."[14][15][16][17][18][19] The frequency of this honour varies with subject, however typically less than 3% of students will achieve this distinction. It is possible in some of the humanities Triposes to be awarded a "Starred First".[20] The science Triposes do not award Starred Firsts.

A "double first" at the University of Oxford usually informally refers to first-class honours in both components of an undergraduate degree, i.e. Moderations/Prelims and the Final Honour School. A "Congratulatory First" at Oxford is rarely awarded to the top performing students in humanities subjects.[21]

At University College London, candidates who perform well beyond the requirements of a standard First Class Honours may be nominated to the Dean's List. This prestigious list is generated once per year and recognizes outstanding academic achievement in final examinations. There are no set criteria for nomination to the list, but typically only a nominal number of students from each faculty are nominated per year.[22]

Upper second-class honours

The upper division is commonly abbreviated to "2:1" or "II.i" (pronounced two-one). The 2:1 is a minimum requirement for entry to many postgraduate courses in the UK. It is also required for the award of a research council postgraduate studentship in the UK, although possession of a master's degree can render a candidate eligible for an award if their first degree was below the 2:1 standard. The percentage of candidates who achieve upper second-class honours can vary widely by degree subject, as well as by university.[11]

It has been colloquially known in rhyming slang as 'Attilla the Hun', after the leader of the Huns between 434 and 453 AD. An alternative name is Don Juan, after the character created by Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina.

Lower second-class honours

This is the second division of second-class degrees and is abbreviated as "2:2" or "II.ii" (pronounced two-two).

It has been colloquially known in rhyming slang as a ''Desmond" - after South African social rights activist and retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu.[23]

Third-class honours

Third-class honours, referred to as a "third", is the lowest honours classification in most modern universities. Historically, the University of Oxford awarded fourth-class honours degrees and, until the late 1970s, did not distinguish between upper and lower second-class honours degrees.[2]

Informally, the third-class honours degree is referred to as a "gentleman's degree" (cf. the "gentleman's C" in the U.S.).[24]

It has been colloquially known in rhyming slang as a 'Douglas' - after Douglas Hurd, the former Conservative MP (who in reality took first class honours)

Approximately 7.2% of students graduating in 2006 with an honours degree received a third-class honours.[11]

Ordinary degree

An ordinary, general, or pass degree can be an exit degree without honours.[25][26] Many universities offer ordinary degree courses to students; however, 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 three-year ordinary degrees as a qualification in their own right, as well as an honours degree over four years. This is in contrast to English universities that have honours degrees with three years of study, though a similar programme in Scotland is not unheard of, provided a student achieves a high entrance grade. An ordinary degree from a Scottish university (also known as a designated degree) may be sufficient to study a post-graduate course. An ordinary degree in Scotland is not a failed honours degree, as in certain English universities. 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 into the legal profession.

Uncommon degree classifications


An aegrotat (/ˈɡrtæt/; from Latin aegrotat, meaning "he is ill")[27] degree is an honours degree without classification or a pass degree without classification, awarded under the presumption that, had a candidate who was unable to undertake his exams due to illness or even death completed those exams, he would have satisfied the standard required for that degree.[28][29][30][31][32] Aegrotat degrees are often qualified with an appended "(aegrotat)".

Following the introduction of current regulations regarding mitigating circumstances, aegrotat degrees are less commonly awarded than they previously were.[33]

International comparisons


According to the University of St Andrews the equivalences between French and British grades in the undergraduate category are as follows:[34]

British class French grade range
First class(1) 15-20
Second class, upper division(2.1) 12-14
Second class, lower division(2.2) 10-11
Third class(3) no equivalence

South Africa

The South African Qualifications Accreditation company (SAQA) 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.



British class Spanish equivalent
First class(1) 8.5 to 10
Second class, upper division(2.1) 7 to 8.49
Second class, lower division(2.2) 6 to 6.99
Third class(3) 5 to 5.99

The Netherlands

The Netherlands organisation for international cooperation in higher education (Nuffic) released a paper comparing the degree classification to Dutch degrees.[35]

British class Dutch equivalent
First class(1) 8-10
Second class, upper division(2.1) 7 to 8
Second class, lower division(2.2) 6 to 7
Third class(3) 5.5 to 6

Nuffic noted that cultural changes should be taken into account. For example: It is very rare for even the smartest students in the Netherlands to be awarded a 10 or even a 9. This is because these grades are only awarded in cases of absolute perfection. This is different from tradition in the US and UK, where high grades are awarded to reward and encourage rather than single out absolute perfection.[35]

United States

An approximate mapping between British classifications and US Grade Point Averages can be inferred from the University College London (UCL) graduate admissions criteria.[36] 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.[37] However, different universities convert grades differently. UCL's system is at odds with London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) which, for example, considers a GPA (U.S.) of 3.5 as equivalent to a 2.1.[38] Also, most Oxbridge departments consider a 3.75 the equivalent of a First. (See, for instance, English Language and Literature postgraduate requirements at Oxford.)[39] A USA 4.0 GPA means the student has received an average grade of A+ which is an average 97.5% or above, or in some institutions where no + or - is used the student received an average grade of A which is 90-100% average.

Grade equivalents given by World Education Services (WES),[40] which provide qualification conversion services to many universities, also convert British degrees to higher GPAs than the conversion used by UCL, if the guidelines for converting grades to GPA given by Duke University[41] 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 the United Kingdom is a 4.0 U.S. GPA.[42]

The Fulbright Commission created the table below as "an unofficial chart with approximate grade conversions between UK results and U.S. GPA." It should be noted that there is no hard and fast rule of converting the degrees, because different institutions compare differently. This is especially true in other countries where the highest scale is different, like 4.3 or 4.5 GPA. Such countries applying 4.5 GPA as the highest, for example, can convert a First as equivalent to 4.5 GPA, a 2.1 as equivalent to above 3.8 GPA, a 2.2 as equivalent to 3.2~3.8 GPA, and a Third as equivalent to 2.6~3.2 GPA.

British Degree Classification Percentage Mark US GPA Equivalent US Grade Equivalent
First 70+ 4.00 A
Upper Second 60–69 3.33–3.67 A-/B+
Lower Second 50–59 3.00 B
Third 40–49 2.30 C+
Pass 30–39 2.00 C
US GPA equivalent from The Fulbright Commission[43]

Degrees in the UK are mapped to levels of the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (FHEQ), which includes the Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutes in Scotland (FQHEIS), which has an alternative numbering of levels corresponding to those of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). Bachelor's degrees (including the Scottish MA, but not including medical degrees, dentistry degrees or degrees in veterinary science) attained in the UK are at FHEQ level 6/FQHEIS level 9 (ordinary) or 10 (honours); master's degrees (including integrated master's degrees and first degrees in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science) are at FHEQ level 7/FQHEIS level 11, and doctoral degrees are at FHEQ level 8/FQHEIS level 12. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees map to first, second and third cycle qualifications in the Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area.[44][45]

Progression to postgraduate study

Regulations governing the progression of undergraduate degree graduates to postgraduate programmes vary among 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 in a postgraduate course and to obtain funding, especially in medical and natural sciences. Some institutions specify a 2:1 minimum for certain types of master's program, such as for a Master of Research course.[46][47]

Candidates with a Third or an 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.


International degrees


Some universities, such as those in Australia, offer ordinary or pass degrees, (for instance, as a three-year B.A. or a three-year BSc) by default. High-achieving students may be recognised with an honours classification without further coursework or research, as is often the case in engineering, which often contains a research and thesis component,[48][49] or law.[50] However, other courses (such as humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences) and other universities may recognise high-achieving students with an honours classification with further coursework or research, undertaken either concurrently with, and as part of or in addition to, a bachelor's course,[51] or after completion of a bachelor's course requirements and attaining adequately competitive grades.[52][53] Some graduate degrees have been or are classified;[54] however, under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), no graduate-level degrees (i.e., master's by coursework, master's by research, or higher research degrees) may be classified. To comply with this standard, some institutions have commenced, or will commence, offering high-achieving graduates with "distinction".[55] Notably, this is consistent with British graduate degree classification.[56]

British medical and dental 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" is a variant of the Latin chirurgiae, meaning "hand work," i.e., 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 Belfast gives a BAO in addition to the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in the UK. Universities in Ireland also present a BAO to graduates. However, unlike most undergraduate degrees, the 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 10 deciles. These deciles allocate base points for their Foundation Programme (previously known as house officer) job applications where the top decile awards the most points, decreasing by a point for each decile. 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, as well as a medal sometimes for the most outstanding degree candidates in medicine or dentistry.

See Also


  1. "Frequently Asked Questions for the USA". University of London.
  2. 1 2 3 Alderman, Geoffrey. "Tear up the class system". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  3. 1 2 Barrett, David (1 January 2011). "Dumbing down of university grades revealed". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  4. 1 2 "Is the number of first-class degrees cause for concern?". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 Shepherd, Jessica (17 January 2012). "Is the number of first-class degrees cause for concern: Update". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  6. Harris, Sarah (23 September 2011). "First-class? Top-level degrees up by 34% prompting fresh concerns over grade inflation". Daily Mail. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  7. Paton, Graeme (10 January 2013). "Number of first-class degrees "has tripled since late 90s"". The Telegraph.
  8. Marszal, Andrew (19 February 2013). "How to get a first-class degree". The Telegraph.
  9. 1 2 Seaton, Nigel (19 April 2011). "Degree classification is unfair to many students". The Guardian.
  10. 1 2 "The structure of undergraduate courses at the University of Cambridge".
  11. 1 2 3 Higher Education Statistics Agency. (2006.) "Higher Education Qualifications Obtained in the UK by Level, Mode of Study, Domicile, Gender, Class of First Degree and Subject Area 2005/06".
  12. "The Secret Tripos Topper" (10 November 2012). "The Secret Tripos Topper". The Tab Cambridge.
  20. "Undergraduate Examinations Guidelines for Examiners and Assessors for Tripos Examinations 2015". University of Cambridge Faculty of Philosophy. p. 9. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  21. Leader, Zachary (2006). The Life of Kingsley Amis. Cape, p. 614.
  24. Henley, Jon (5 July 2012). "Don't judge a job applicant by their degree". The Guardian.
  25. "Faculty Handbook Online 2013/14: Frequently Asked Questions". Durham University.
  26. "Registration for a General or Ordinary degree – Changes to programme of study (undergraduate)". University of Edinburgh.
  27. The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 1998. ISBN 019861263X.
  28. "Aegrotat Degrees". Swansea University.
  29. "Aegrotat Awards". Aberystwyth University. 1 December 2005.
  30. "Glossary of Cambridge jargon". University of Cambridge.
  31. "Regulations for first degrees". London School of Economics. July 2011.
  32. "Procedure for Consideration of Applications under the Special and Aegrotat Provisions for Undergraduate Degree Examinations". University College London.
  33. "Aegrotat Awards". Oxford Brookes University.
  34. 1 2 "Grade comparison of overseas qualifications" (PDF). National College for Teaching and Leadership.
  35. 1 2 Nuffic. "Grading systems in the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom" (PDF). Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  36. General entrance requirements, University College London Archived 27 June 2012 at WebCite
  37. Future graduate students: European Fact Sheets – UK, McGill University
  38. International entrance requirementLSE
  39. Oxford Prospectus 2010/2011Oxford University
  40. WES GPA conversion [WES]
  41. Calculation of GPA using Grades, Duke University
  42. "Transcript – Postgraduate Study". US – UK Fulbright Commission.
  43. "Conversion Guide". Fulbright Commission.
  44. "The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework".
  45. The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (PDF). Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. November 2014.
  46. Entrance requirements: Graduate Prospectus 2010–11, University of Cambridge, September 2009
  47. What are the entry requirements for graduate programmes at LSE?, London School of Economics
  48. "BEng (Bachelor of Engineering)". University of Melbourne Handbook. University of Melbourne. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  49. "Honours Policy". Faculty of Engineering, University of New South Wales. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  50. "Honours". UNSW Faculty of Law. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  51. ""New" Honours Program". Sydney Law School. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  52. "The Honours Year". School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  53. "Honours – Programs & courses – Economics". Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  54. "Award of Honours in the Juris Doctor (JD) Degree" (PDF). UNSW Faculty of Law.
  55. "Law JD Honours as of 2015" (PDF). UNSW Faculty of Law.
  56. "Taught Masters Degreee". London School of Economics. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
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