Oxford degree classification/grading scheme at the Master's level? Watch

redrose27
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Hello,

as an international student, Oxford's degree classification system is immensely confusing to me. I know that at the undergraduate level, the classification system goes something like first class honours (above 70%), second class (between 65 and 70?), lower second class (60 to 65?), and pass (50% or higher)? Please correct me if i'm wrong.

Do these same standards apply to graduate degrees? The entire grade for the degree hinges on just exams and a paper in Trinity term, which is pretty stressful.

how likely is it to get each of these grading levels at the masters degree? e.g. would most students get only a pass? are failures likely? and how do schools abroad interpret these grades? In north america, most students get at least a B- (usually around a high 60 or low 70 depending on the school) at the master's level and failures are rare except for drop-outs. Would schools look at a british degree and see a 60% and imagine that it's a fail or marginal pass?
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sphericalbessel
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Are you talking about 4 year undergrad degrees (like MPhys, MMath, MChem, etc.) or actual graduate degrees?

Regarding grades (this is for undergrad, both BA and Master, but not graduate), generally to convert to the North American system 1st= A, 2nd = B, 3rd = C. They won't care about the actual percentage. However, (this is my impression, please correct me if I am wrong) I believe grades are quite inflated at Oxford. Think of an Oxford first as getting a high GPA at Harvard; it's not that rare.
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redrose27
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Hi, I was speaking about actual master's degrees. as in an MPhil in International Relations or an MSc in Economics or an MSt in Theology.

It's actually a little surprising to hear that oxford has inflated grades; i had heard quite the opposite. a 70% in Canada would be a B-, whereas it'd be a first class honours in Oxford (which is supposed to be the equivalent of a high A/low A+ average in Canada). for comparison, the minimum grade in a graduate program at Toronto for most programs (not including people who withdraw) would be a 70%, whereas at Oxford a 70% would be achieved by probably only 1 or 2 people in a grad program from what i have heard.

this question is probably quite dependent on the program in question, but what are the usual dispersion of grades at the postgraduate level? e.g. what would be the median or mean grade? is it uncommon for people to fail or barely pass a graduate program or are students who are at risk of failing usually "encouraged" to withdraw?
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colourtheory
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(Original post by redrose27)
Hello,

as an international student, Oxford's degree classification system is immensely confusing to me. I know that at the undergraduate level, the classification system goes something like first class honours (above 70%), second class (between 65 and 70?), lower second class (60 to 65?), and pass (50% or higher)? Please correct me if i'm wrong.

Do these same standards apply to graduate degrees? The entire grade for the degree hinges on just exams and a paper in Trinity term, which is pretty stressful.
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Wrong.

70% - First
60% - Upper second
50% - Lower second
40% - Third
30% - Pass without honours
0-29% - fail

I don't know what you've heard about inflated grades, but it's *******s. We don't work like America. Bell curves aren't used to hand out a specific number of firsts etc. Who ever meets the standard is awarded the grade. Oxford kids are bright, hence a large percentage of firsts for science students. Humanities degrees are more subjective, hence a rate of around 20% of firsts.

Trying to compare grades to America is fruitless. You can do a graduate programme at Ox or Cam with a 2:1. It's a difficult thing to achieve here.
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mishieru07
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(Original post by redrose27)
Do these same standards apply to graduate degrees? The entire grade for the degree hinges on just exams and a paper in Trinity term, which is pretty stressful.

how likely is it to get each of these grading levels at the masters degree? e.g. would most students get only a pass? are failures likely? and how do schools abroad interpret these grades? In north america, most students get at least a B- (usually around a high 60 or low 70 depending on the school) at the master's level and failures are rare except for drop-outs. Would schools look at a british degree and see a 60% and imagine that it's a fail or marginal pass?
Not sure which programmes/ faculties you're interested in, but as an example, you can see the grade distribution for the various law postgraduate programmes here (click on the examiners reports): http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/publications/docarchive.php

At Masters level, I think the grading system is simply Distinction, Pass and Fail (not 100% sure about this though). For my programme (Bachelor of Civil Law), the ratio of Passes to Distinctions is around 50:50. Once every few years, someone will get a Fail, but they're generally rare. Obviously, this may not be representative of what occurs on other programmes.

I'm fairly sure schools abroad are familiar with interpreting UK grades in general. Obviously the exact grading depends on faculty, but for many essay based subjects (eg History, English, Law), the highest mark in the entire level is usually around 75 at best, sometimes lower. There simply isn't a practice of giving marks beyond the high 70s, and no one ever gets a full mark for sure. Given the rates at which my friends in UK schools have received postgraduate offers from institutions elsewhere (including North America), I'm fairly confident that the universities do understand the differences in grading practices.

Also, even if the grades for a postgraduate Masters are solely based on exams taken at the end of Trinity, it's still very manageable in my opinion. Compare that to the Arts undergraduates - the lawyers for example take 9 exams at the end of 3 or 4 years, including 6 papers back to back, and that is the only thing that counts for their entire degree. The pressure is far, far worse then.
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Noble.
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(Original post by colourtheory)
Wrong.

70% - First
60% - Upper second
50% - Lower second
40% - Third
30% - Pass without honours
0-29% - fail

I don't know what you've heard about inflated grades, but it's *******s. We don't work like America. Bell curves aren't used to hand out a specific number of firsts etc. Who ever meets the standard is awarded the grade. Oxford kids are bright, hence a large percentage of firsts for science students. Humanities degrees are more subjective, hence a rate of around 20% of firsts.

Trying to compare grades to America is fruitless. You can do a graduate programme at Ox or Cam with a 2:1. It's a difficult thing to achieve here.
No, that's not true. In maths definitely (and other science subjects as far as I'm aware) raw exam marks are scaled up/down to maintain a certain percentage getting firsts. It's pretty common to need 75-80% raw marks on maths papers to get a first on them.
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colourtheory
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(Original post by Noble.)
No, that's not true. In maths definitely (and other science subjects as far as I'm aware) raw exam marks are scaled up/down to maintain a certain percentage getting firsts. It's pretty common to need 75-80% raw marks on maths papers to get a first on them.
Not at Ox! It might be the case that the classifications are work out relative to the top performing student, so marks would appear scaled. But otherwise no.
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Noble.
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(Original post by colourtheory)
Not at Ox! It might be the case that the classifications are work out relative to the top performing student, so marks would appear scaled. But otherwise no.
https://www1.maths.ox.ac.uk/system/f...-%20public.pdf
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KombatWombat
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(Original post by colourtheory)
Not at Ox! It might be the case that the classifications are work out relative to the top performing student, so marks would appear scaled. But otherwise no.
Marks are definitely scaled in chemistry, to ensure a roughly consistent average of 65. Many years ago this was 55 - they decided to bring it up to make grading more consistent to other unis. The scaling isn't incredibly strict (i.e. to get exactly 65 as the average) but it does happen. Compare number of firsts in 2000 and 2014, there's a clear difference! (They're in the examiners reports here).
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BJack
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(Original post by KombatWombat)
Marks are definitely scaled in chemistry, to ensure a roughly consistent average of 65.
You can get a 65 average across the papers by writing them well – then there's no need to scale afterwards. Similarly, the average mark would be raised from 55 to 65 by writing the papers differently, not by setting the same papers and then adding 10 to everyone's score afterwards. (Or whatever more appropriate scaling mechanism you employ!) I don't believe scaling is generally used in chemistry: there seemed to be a bit of a fuss when the second year organic paper was scaled up in 2012. Also, a recent set of finals had paper averages ranging from 60-70 (I think) and these weren't scaled because the overall average came out around 65.
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redrose27
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why is it that marks above 70% are rarely given out? And for the graduate level, I had heard that a pass was 40% or 50%, and not 30%. Were the grades you mentioned for the undergraduate level only?

In North American schools it isn't uncommon for multiple students in a grad program (maybe 1/5th) to get As. In fact in some grad programs you need to have a B average to even stay in the school, so the majority of students are in the A-/B+ range. It would be a little strange to employers unfamiliar with the different grading system to see someone with a graduate degree have a 55% average.

And thank you for the examiners' report for law! Would you happen to know where the other examiners' reports can be found? I tried looking it up for different departments (international development, economics, politics) but couldn't find one accessible publicly like the law one was
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mishieru07
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(Original post by redrose27)
why is it that marks above 70% are rarely given out? And for the graduate level, I had heard that a pass was 40% or 50%, and not 30%. Were the grades you mentioned for the undergraduate level only?

In North American schools it isn't uncommon for multiple students in a grad program (maybe 1/5th) to get As. In fact in some grad programs you need to have a B average to even stay in the school, so the majority of students are in the A-/B+ range. It would be a little strange to employers unfamiliar with the different grading system to see someone with a graduate degree have a 55% average.

And thank you for the examiners' report for law! Would you happen to know where the other examiners' reports can be found? I tried looking it up for different departments (international development, economics, politics) but couldn't find one accessible publicly like the law one was
That's simply the way the marking goes. It works, and I don't see why they would change it drastically now just to be in line with other marking standards (you can equally ask why shouldn't the US universities mark to UK standards!) You'll find that this is sort of mark distribution is fairly standard practice across UK universities in general. There's simply no such thing as getting an 80 on an Oxford law paper (well, once in a decade we might have someone that good, but I digress).

In any case, it's just a question of adjusting expectations. The other universities are certainly well aware of how Oxford grading works, and most employers are as well. I don't see why this would cause major difficulties, unless perhaps the field you want to go into is very niche/ US specific, and the employers aren't familiar with UK grading systems. If you're planning to work for major corporations or NGOs (eg World Bank, JP Morgan), I doubt that they'd misunderstand your grades given the number of UK hires they have. There's some explanation on the back of your transcript at any rate, and you can always include other details like class rank or grade distribution profile to provide context if need be.

I should also add that 55% is generally seen as not good, at least for Arts subjects. You should be aiming to achieve solid 60s across the board at minimum, if not higher. 65% would be fairly decent.

I have no clue, sorry! Google is your best friend, but if they require an Oxford ID, then I'm afraid you'll have to either ask someone to retrieve them for you, or wait until you get here.
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redrose27
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(Original post by mishieru07)
That's simply the way the marking goes. It works, and I don't see why they would change it drastically now just to be in line with other marking standards (you can equally ask why shouldn't the US universities mark to UK standards!) You'll find that this is sort of mark distribution is fairly standard practice across UK universities in general. There's simply no such thing as getting an 80 on an Oxford law paper (well, once in a decade we might have someone that good, but I digress).

In any case, it's just a question of adjusting expectations. The other universities are certainly well aware of how Oxford grading works, and most employers are as well. I don't see why this would cause major difficulties, unless perhaps the field you want to go into is very niche/ US specific, and the employers aren't familiar with UK grading systems. If you're planning to work for major corporations or NGOs (eg World Bank, JP Morgan), I doubt that they'd misunderstand your grades given the number of UK hires they have. There's some explanation on the back of your transcript at any rate, and you can always include other details like class rank or grade distribution profile to provide context if need be.

I should also add that 55% is generally seen as not good, at least for Arts subjects. You should be aiming to achieve solid 60s across the board at minimum, if not higher. 65% would be fairly decent.

I have no clue, sorry! Google is your best friend, but if they require an Oxford ID, then I'm afraid you'll have to either ask someone to retrieve them for you, or wait until you get here.
Thank you for the perspective. I wonder if there's a sort of grade conversion or explanation page or service that could be attached to an application. As far as i know, most local north american employers and schools are unfamiliar with the system. For further graduate schooling and scholarships in Canada, for instance, they wrote that you are expected to have a minimum 80% or A average, and As seem to correspond with 70s in oxford (much harder to get a 70 in oxford than an 80 in Canada or the US).

Do you happen to go to Oxford yourself?
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mishieru07
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(Original post by redrose27)
Thank you for the perspective. I wonder if there's a sort of grade conversion or explanation page or service that could be attached to an application. As far as i know, most local north american employers and schools are unfamiliar with the system. For further graduate schooling and scholarships in Canada, for instance, they wrote that you are expected to have a minimum 80% or A average, and As seem to correspond with 70s in oxford (much harder to get a 70 in oxford than an 80 in Canada or the US).

Do you happen to go to Oxford yourself?
There's usually a section on most application forms (for postgraduate studies or employment) that allows you to state any other information you think necessary. I've used it because I did my pre-university schooling outside the UK, and we have a different grading system. It has never posed an issue. You can also send admissions or HR another email to clarify if needed.

That said, I have a friend who did his BA in Oxford and is now in Canada doing a Masters - pretty sure the universities there didn't have an issue with understanding Oxford qualifications. Many others have also successfully applied for US graduate programmes with UK qualifications (eg Columbia, Harvard, NYU, Berkeley, Stanford), so I really wouldn't worry too much. Chances are, you won't be the first or the last person applying to North American universities with UK qualifications.

I did the BA Law, and am now on the BCL (Oxford's version of an LLM).
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redrose27
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Ah, that makes sense. I applied for north american schools and most of them required a grading classification scheme along with the transcripts, though it still seems like the rarity of getting a 70+ in an Oxford course is much higher than the rarity of getting an A- or higher in North American schools. For some major scholarships for example, the prerequisite is an A- overall average and about 1/4 of grad school applicants are able to meet that, whereas from what I've heard in my programs (economics) at Oxford, only about 1/10 of students get a 70+.

(PS I have a friend who got over 80 on the LLM/BCL at Oxford a couple years ago so it is doable! But he is also kind of a genius and was on his third master's so that makes it more difficult).
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boffdude
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(Original post by redrose27)
(PS I have a friend who got over 80 on the LLM/BCL at Oxford a couple years ago so it is doable! But he is also kind of a genius and was on his third master's so that makes it more difficult).
Over 80 average? On the BCL? Sorry what?

http://www.legallyindia.com/20110802...ractise-at-bar

Vinerian Scholar a few years back got an average of 71.5. So yeh... 80 average is a myth bro.
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redrose27
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(Original post by boffdude)
Over 80 average? On the BCL? Sorry what?

http://www.legallyindia.com/20110802...ractise-at-bar

Vinerian Scholar a few years back got an average of 71.5. So yeh... 80 average is a myth bro.
He got an 81 on the dissertation, not sure if that was the mark for the entire degree?
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redrose27
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(Original post by redrose27)
He got an 81 on the dissertation, not sure if that was the mark for the entire degree?
Hmmm actually it may not have been a BCL after all sicne you need a first undergraduate degree in law andhe went in with a masters from a different field. Whichever course he was in it was heavily dependent on the dissertation, on which he got an 81
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mishieru07
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(Original post by redrose27)
Hmmm actually it may not have been a BCL after all sicne you need a first undergraduate degree in law andhe went in with a masters from a different field. Whichever course he was in it was heavily dependent on the dissertation, on which he got an 81
Doesn't sound like your friend was on the BCL - a dissertation only counts for 1/4 of your classification, if you choose to do it at all. You're also correct in that BCL applicants are generally expected to have done an undergraduate degree in Law, although I think exceptionally someone might get on with a law conversion diploma or equivalent.
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nexttime
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In medicine, each exam essay is marked out of 10. It's quite possible to meet all of the criteria and get 10s. If you were amazing and got 10 on every essay i.e. 100 percent, this would correspond to a degree mark of 82.
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