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First class degree: Wikis


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The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading scheme for undergraduate degrees (bachelor's degrees and some master's degrees) in the United Kingdom. The system has been applied (sometimes with significant variations) in other countries, such as Australia, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Latin honours system used in the United States and Canada is different but has some similarities.


Degree classification

A degree may be awarded with or without honours, with the class of an honours degree based on the average mark of the assessed work a candidate has completed. Below is a list of the possible classifications with common abbreviations. Honours degrees are in bold:

  • First Class Honours (First or 1st)
  • Second Class Honours, Upper Division (2:1)
  • Second Class Honours, Lower Division (2:2)
  • Third Class Honours (Third or 3rd)
  • Ordinary degree (Pass)

If students fail the course entirely, no degree is awarded.

At most institutions the system does allow for a small amount of discretion and candidates may be elevated to the next degree class if their average mark is close or the median of their weighted marks achieves the higher class, and they have submitted many pieces of work worthy of the higher class. However, they may be demoted a class if they fail to pass all parts of the course even if they have a high average.

There are also variations between universities (especially in Scotland, where honours are usually reserved only for courses lasting four years or more, with a three-year course leading to the awarding of an Ordinary degree; see Master of Arts (Scotland)) and requirements other than the correct average are often needed 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 Highers exams are taken at age seventeen, not eighteen, so four-year courses end at the same chronological age as a rest-of-UK three-year course, assuming no gap years.)

When a candidate is awarded a degree with honours, "(Hons)" may be suffixed to their type of degree, such as BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons).

At Oxford and Cambridge, honours classes apply to examinations, not to degrees. Thus, in Cambridge, where undergraduates are examined at the end of each Part (one- or two-year section) of the Tripos, a student may receive different classifications for different Parts. The degree itself does not formally have a class. Most Cambridge graduates use the class of the final Part as the class of the degree, but this is an informal usage. At Oxford, the Final Honour School results are generally applied to the degree.

In 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 set at the same level as the final year of a British BEng.


First-class honours

First-class honours degrees (often simply "firsts") are the highest level of degree awarded and are taken to indicate high academic achievement and ability. Many holders of first class degrees go on to further academic study, becoming researchers, academics and professors.

[citation needed]

In most universities, First-class honours are the highest honours that can be achieved, with about 11% of candidates achieving a First nationally for the academic year 2006/07.[1]

A minority of universities award First Class Honours with Distinction, informally known as a Starred First (Cambridge, York, UEA) or a Congratulatory First (Oxford). These are seldom awarded; among notable recipients are the writer Karen Armstrong[2], the philosopher Bernard Williams, historian Simon Schama, and the classicist Bob Cowan [3].

A Double First can refer to First Class Honours in two separate subjects, e.g., Classics and Mathematics, or alternatively to First Class Honours in the same subject in subsequent examinations, such as subsequent Parts of the Tripos at the University of Cambridge. At Oxford, this term normally refers to a First in both Honour Moderations and the Final Honour School.

Some Universities although using this traditional classifiation system will find tese catagories have been re-named (or simplified in definition). I.e. The Open University issues; Grade 1 - 4 Passes, and fails. Although this classifications are ultimately the same as the traditional classificaton in real terms.

Second-class honours

The bulk of university graduates fall into Second-class honours, which is usually divided into Upper and Lower divisions.

Second-class honours, Upper division

The upper division is commonly abbreviated to 2:1 (pronounced two-one).

In the academic year of 2005/06 about 45% of all graduates achieved a 2:1.[2]

Because of this the 2:1 degree is losing its shine, companies are dropping their recruitment criteria from a 2:1 to a 2:2 to broaden the talent pool from which they recruit and to find graduates with skills specific to their own sector, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters. [3]

Many reputable universities have a university-wide minimum requirement of a 2:1 for entry into their postgraduate degrees.[4][5]

Second-class honours, Lower division

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

Third-class honours

Third-class honours is the lowest honours classification in most modern universities. (Until the 1970s, Oxford awarded Fourth-class honours degrees, but did not distinguish between "Upper-Seconds" (2:1s) and "Lower-Seconds" (2:2s), and so still had four classes like other establishments.) Roughly 7.2% of students graduating in 2006 with an honours degree received a Third.[2][6].

Ordinary degree

An ordinary degree is a pass degree without honours. A number of universities offer ordinary degree courses to students, but most students enrol 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 ordinary degree courses lasting three years as well as an honours degree over four years. This is in contrast to English universities that have honours degree with three years of study, though a similar program in Scotland is not unheard-of, provided a high entrance grade is achieved. An ordinary degree from a Scottish university (also known as a designated degree) is sufficient to study a post graduate course. An ordinary degree in Scotland is not, as in England, a failed honours degree. Students can decide whether or not they wish to continue on to a fourth Honours year.

Aegrotat degrees

A candidate who is unable to take his or her exams because of illness can sometimes be awarded an aegrotat degree; this is an honours degree without classification, awarded on the understanding that had the candidate been well, he or she would have passed.

Progression to postgraduate study

Regulations governing the progression of undergraduate degree graduates to postgraduate programmes vary between 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 on a postgraduate course and to obtain funding. Some institutions specify a 2:1 minimum for certain types of master's program, particularly the masters by research. Candidates with a Third or 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; in addition, public or university funding is often only available to those with a First.[citation needed]

Medical degrees

In Britain, medicine is taught as an undergraduate course and, upon successful completion of the course, the student is awarded joint bachelor degrees in medicine and in surgery (MBChB, MBBS usually) and entitle the holder to be called "doctor". The two degrees cannot be awarded separately.

The bachelor of medicine awarded in the UK is equivalent to the doctor of medicine (MD) in the US, Canada, etc. However a doctorate of medicine degree (if awarded in the UK) is a separate academic degree equivalent to a PhD which a medic can undertake in postgraduate study. Some clinicians hold both PhD & MD degrees.

Unlike most undergraduate degrees they are not awarded first, second or third class honours degrees. Individual degrees are marked as pass, fail or merit (which is the equivalent of a first in most other degrees, although the system varies between medical schools).

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. Very few are awarded.

Undergraduate degree honours slang

A form of rhyming slang has developed from degree classes, usually using names of famous people. Due to the conventions of rhyming slang, only the person's first name is used, the last name referencing the degree by rhyming with it.[7]

International comparisons

An approximate mapping between UK classifications and US Grade Point Averages can be inferred from the University College London graduate admissions criteria.[10] Canadian GPAs differ slightly; the UK Graduate Admissions Fact Sheet from McGill University states that in their system, where standings are reported in lieu of an average, the CGPA (cumulative grade point average) is determined on the following basis:[11]

UK class US GPA CGPA Grade Percentage
First 3.6–4.0 3.3–4.0 A 70–100
Upper second 3.3–3.59 3.0–3.29 B+ 60–69
Lower second 3.0–3.29 2.8–2.99 B 53–59
Third 2.1-2.79 C 42–52
Ordinary pass 1.0–2.09 D 38–41
Fail 0.0–0.09 F 0–37
US GPA equivalents from UCL;[10] other equivalents from McGill University.[11]

It is worth noting that some universities operate with different percentile thresholds, namely; the Open University. Further to this, ongoing assessment might mean that results are not calculated by a mean average but by meeting a benchmark percentage in all set work, this puts an emphasis on students consistent approach to teir work.

See also


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