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Graduation Whether you're applying to uni this year or nearing the end of your undergrad course you'll be wanting to know all about the British undergraduate degree classification system. This a grading scheme which is used to distinguish between the achievements of undergraduate degree holders - both bachelor's degrees or undergraduate master's degrees.

Our community have pulled together some information on all you need to know about the grading of the UK undergraduate qualification.

Degree classification

Nearly all students will be awarded a degree with honours at the end of their course. If a student is awarded an ordinary (or pass) degree (i.e. a degree without honours) this is usually because they have failed the honours examination, or significant parts of it. If this is the case some universities will allow the student to retake the examination for a pass degree only.

Most universities award a class of degree based on the average mark of the assessed work the student has completed. Below is a list of the possible classifications with common abbreviations. rough percentages for each class are also listed, these percentages vary between subjects and universities.

  • First-Class Honours (First or 1st) (70% and above) (OPEN UNIVERSITY 85%+)
  • Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1, 2.i) (60-70%) (OPEN UNIVERSITY 70-85%)
  • Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2, 2.ii) (50-60%) (OPEN UNIVERSITY 55-70%)
  • Third-Class Honours (Third or 3rd) (40-50%) (OPEN UNIVERSITY 40-55%)
  • Ordinary degree (pass) (OPEN UNIVERSITY AWARDED AT 300 CATS POINTS)
  • Fail (no degree is awarded)
  • Unclassified (some degrees aren't classified eg medicine or masters degree)

First-Class Honours

In most universities, First-Class Honours is the highest honours which can be achieved, with about 15% of students achieving a First nationally.
Undergraduate degree scroll
A minority of universities award First-Class Honours with Distinction, informally known as a starred first.

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, e.g. subsequent Parts of the tripos at the University of Cambridge

Second-Class Honours

The bulk of university graduates fall into Second-Class Honours, which is sub-divided into Upper Second-Class Honours and Lower Second-Class Honours. These divisions are commonly abbreviated to 2:1 (pronounced two-one) and 2:2 (pronounced two-two) respectively. Despite 2:1s and 2:2s just being subdivisions of the same class (though a large one), the perceived difference between them is high (employers usually only make the distinction between graduates with 2:1s and above or 2:2s and below).

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Third-Class Honours

Third-Class Honours is the lowest honours classification in most modern universities (though until the 1970s, Oxford used to award Fourth-Class Honours degrees, although they did not divide Second-Class Honours and so still had four classes like everyone else).

Aegrotat degrees

A student who is unable to take their 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 not been unwell, he or she would have passed.

The degree classification system does allow for a small amount of discretion and students may be moved up to the next degree class if their average mark is close 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. If you're unsure as to how this could affect you, then it's worth confirming with your personal tutor or exam officer.

There are also variations between universities (especially in Scotland, where honours are usually reserved only for courses lasting four years or more) and requirements other than the correct average are often needed to be awarded honours.

When a candidate is awarded a degree with honours, they can add 'Hons' to their class of degree, such as BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons).

Progression to postgraduate study

Regulations governing the progression of undergraduate degree graduates to higher-degree programmes vary between universities, and the rules are often flexible. A candidate for a postgraduate master's degree is usually required to have at least a 2:2 honours degree (though some institutions specify a 2:1). Candidates with third class honours or pass degrees are sometimes accepted, provided they have acquired satisfactory professional experience subsequent to graduation. A candidate for a doctorate/doctoral programme who does not hold a masters degree is nearly always required to have a First or 2:1.

Oxford & Cambridge

At University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, honours classes apply to examinations, not to degrees. In Cambridge, where undergraduates are examined at the end of each part of the tripos, a student may receive different classifications for different parts. The classification of the final part is usually considered the classification of the degree. At Oxford, the Final Honour School results are generally applied to the degree.

Why are some students awarded a Certificate of Higher Education?

In some universities, students who successfully complete one or more years of degree-level study, but choose not to or fail to complete a full degree, may be awarded a lower qualification - a Certificate of Higher Education or Higher National Certificate for one year, or a Diploma of Higher Education or Higher National Diploma for two years.

Undergraduate degree honours slang

Rhyming slang has developed from degree classes, relying on the names of famous people that sound similar to the classes:
  • A First is known as a Geoff Hurst/Damien Hirst (as 'First' sounds like 'Hurst' or 'Hirst')
  • A 2:1 is known as an Attila the Hun (as '2:1' sounds like 'the Hun')
  • A 2:2 is known as a Desmond Tutu (as '2:2' sounds like 'Tutu')[2][3]
  • A Third is known as a Douglas Hurd/Thora Hird (as 'Third' sounds like 'Hurd' or 'Hird')

According with the conventions of rhyming slang, only the person's first name is used. Thus, one can be awarded a Geoff (First), Attila (2:1), Desmond (2:2), or a Douglas (Third).