We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
There are many cultural differences between the United States and the UK. For example, Brits call American cookies “biscuits” and biscuits “scones.” Although both countries speak English, they have different terms and systems for almost everything. This is especially apparent in their educational grading systems.
While the United States uses letter grades for college students, UK schools tend to give their students percentages. These numbers are very different from US percentages – for example, a 70% at a British university is comparable to a 90% at a US institution. Here’s everything you need to know about the UK grading system and how it compares to American grading.
British Grading System
When British students reach 16, they enroll in sixth form, also known as college. This is very different from American college, which Americans also call university. British students go to university after completing two years of college. These two years help them narrow down their interests so they can choose a career and study more effectively.
There are four grade classes for an undergraduate degree in the UK. The highest grades are 70% or above, also known as first class. Second-class grades are divided into two categories – grades at 60-69% earn a 2:1, or upper second-class. Students who earn 50-59% on their grades receive a 2:2, or lower second-class.
If you earn 40-49% as your grade average, you’ll receive third-class and still pass your course. Usually, 39% and below means a fail. However, every school has different requirements and rules to help their students pass courses and succeed in their studies. Most UK students receive a 2:1 at university, which amply qualifies them for future education.
US vs. UK Grading
In the United States, 92% and above is generally graded as an A. The American grading scale runs A through F, with A being the highest score and F being shorthand for fail. Because an A means you have near-perfect work, many teachers encourage students to aim for a B. B grades mean that you’re learning but not obsessed with your studies.
By contrast, 70% in the UK means that you’re doing excellent work. This does not equate to a 70% on the American grading scale – UK university courses are assessed differently than American college classes. British students must work very hard to achieve a 70% – grades of 80% and above are rarely ever reached.
Many UK universities also weigh grades differently depending on the student’s year at school. For example, many first-year classes are pass/fail. This gives students time to acclimate and adjust to university life. Every year after that, classes are worth more toward students’ final grade average. Every college in the UK determines final grades a bit differently.
What About a Masters?
Say you’ve already finished your undergraduate degree and want to study for a master’s in the UK. Master’s programs in the UK are also very different from those at American universities. For example, many UK master’s degrees take only one year to complete instead of two. Like in America, students with higher grades are more likely to be considered for paid positions.
Master courses are graded on a very similar scale to undergraduate classes in the UK. A 70% is considered excellent and equates roughly to an American grade of A. If you graduate with a 70% or above in the UK, you’ll be granted a distinction. Students with a 60-69% grade average may earn merits or commendations.
Before you enroll in a master’s program in the UK, double-check the requirements. Some schools aren’t accredited in the United States – meaning your degree might not help you reach your goals. Other programs are specific to certain countries. For example, a nursing program in the UK won’t help you become a nurse in the US.
Making Sense of UK Grades
The educational system in the UK is very different from that in the US. College is called university and British schools grade their university students with percentages. Learning is tested and weighed differently than at American schools. As an example, a 70% in the UK equates to an A grade in America.
If you’re planning to study abroad, you’ll need to adjust to these new methods of teaching, learning and grading. Don’t be upset if you get a 70% on your first assignment – or even a 50%. These numbers are actually quite good. With enough work, you can pass all your courses and graduate with a prestigious UK degree.
latest in learning!
Get the latest updates in learning, teaching and everything in between! Whether you're a student or an educator, we offer the inspiration you need to fuel your classroom experience.