American Grading System vs. European Grading System: What’s the Difference?


Nov 10, 2021

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If you plan to attend a university across the sea or even study abroad for a semester, you should learn how the grading systems work. Just as you might see different scales at different schools in the United States, European universities can measure their students’ progress in several ways. To understand the differences between the American grading system vs. the European one, you may need to relate the European grading scales to your own.

What Is the American Grading System Like?

The first thing you should understand when trying to determine a winner in the American grading system vs. European grading system battle is that the American grading system can differ depending on the state. Each state sets its own benchmarks for grading in high school, which means students just one state away from one another could be measured radically differently.

In college, the grading scales across the board are more similar. You might be used to the 10-point grading scale by now, one that looks something like this chart:

  • A: 90-100
  • B: 80-89
  • C: 70-79
  • D: 60-69
  • F: 59 or below

While there may be some variance, 10-point scales are exceedingly common in the United States, especially in colleges and universities. If you’ve grown up with this grading scale your whole life, it may seem easier to follow than some of the European variants.

What Is the European Grading System Like?

While this article can’t come close to capturing every unique grading scale in the continent of Europe, you’ll still learn about some of the most common countries to travel to or ones that have other unique traits about them. 

The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), for one, is a tool that European students can use to transfer their credits between countries if they opt to move residencies or transfer to another school in a different location. It’s an excellent resource to look into if you plan on studying abroad and perhaps hopping to foreign countries during your career.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom uses the same point system as the United States, but you may find that the points are drastically different. In this case, an A is anywhere from 70 to 100, whereas an A- is from 65 to 69. Though students have a 30-point chance to get an A, the rest of the grades fall on only five-point differences.

Classes in the United Kingdom have honors divisions based on letter grades. While in the United States, students can typically be in honors classes even if they have different GPAs from their classmates, the United Kingdom bases honors degrees off of their letter grades. First-class honors includes students with an A, while second-class honors is for students who receive anywhere from an A- to a B. A C-student doesn’t receive honors, but they do pass.


The Spanish grading system operates on a scale of 0 to 10. Anything below 5 is a failing grade, similar to the United States scale. If you add an extra zero on the end of Spanish grades, you’ll end up with a ten-point system that looks similar to the college grading system you know. Then, it’ll be easier for you to calculate your grades on Spain’s educational scale.


France grades on a scale of 1 to 20. Though American students might not recognize the grading system based on numbers instead of letters, the gist of it is the same. Anything below a 10 is failing, similar to how most American schools consider below a 50 failing. In France, teachers seldom award a perfect score of 20. Most students end up falling around the 16 or 17 mark.


German schools offer grades from 1 to 5, but sometimes, students might end up with a 6, which means their work wasn’t sufficient enough to allow them to pass the class. Anything between 1 and 5 is passing, though, with 1 being the highest score you can attain in a course. 

Sometimes, schools only rely on the 5-point scale rather than adding the 6. In this case, you should know that the scale is a bit different.

  • 1 – 1.5: The highest score a student can attain.
  • 1.6 – 2.5: The second-highest score — a B in American schools.
  • 2.6 – 3.5: An average score.
  • 3.6 – 4: The lowest score a student can make without failing the class.
  • 4.1 or Higher: This score indicates that a student has failed the class.

While the scale can be tricky to learn, with enough practice, you’ll start to understand how the grading scale in Germany stacks up against the American grading scale.


Unlike some other countries’ educational systems, Italy’s university experience is three parts: the first cycle, the second cycle, and the third cycle. They are similar to the standard degrees you’ll find in the United States.

The first cycle, Laurea Triennale, is similar to the United States’ Bachelor’s degree, and it takes only three years to complete. Laurea Magistrale, the second cycle, takes about two years to achieve and is the rough equivalent of a Master’s degree. Finally, the third cycle, if you choose to complete it, has two categories: the Dottorato di Ricerca, the Doctorate degree, or Scuole di Specializzazione, the specialization schools.

The grading scale in Italy is quite different from the States’. Teachers grade students from 0 to 30, and 18 is the lowest possible score a student can make without failing a class. The classes don’t operate on a standard curve, as each student is judged based on their potential rather than the potential of a whole class.


In Finland, university scores are relatively easy to follow. Teachers grade students on a scale from 0 to 5. Grades of 1 to 5 pass, while a 0 constitutes a failing grade. Another fantastic thing about Finnish universities is that you don’t need to convert your high school grades to a Finnish scale to study in Finland. Your high school diploma is enough to prove that you deserve to enroll in a university.

The Netherlands

Based on a scale from one to ten, the Netherlands’ grading system can be tricky to understand. To pass, a student must earn somewhere between four and six points for a class, though the exact number can change depending on the university’s thoughts.

A student might find themselves more likely to fall in the middle with grades. Teachers don’t often give out extremely low or high grades. Scores of 6 or 7 are far more common. Grades are also rounded, so if your grade is above a .5 mark, your teacher will round you up to the following whole number.

Who Wins the American Grading System vs. European Grading System Battle?

Because their grading scales vary differently based on location, it’s hard to conclude who wins the American grading system vs. European grading system question. The American grading system might come more naturally to you if you grew up in the United States. The best route to take is to learn everything you can about the country you want to study in before committing to a university there. Once you know the grading system you’re up against, nothing will stand in your way.

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