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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 Kingdommarker. The system has been applied (sometimes with significant variations) in other countries, such as Australia, Barbadosmarker, Canadamarker, Hong Kongmarker, Indiamarker, Irelandmarker, Jamaicamarker, Kenyamarker, Malaysiamarker, Maltamarker, Mauritiusmarker, New Zealandmarker, Nigeriamarker, Singaporemarker, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobagomarker.

The Latin honours system used in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker 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)
  • Fail

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. A student who achieves a 2:1 that has been converted from a high 2:2 average is often known as a "Jimmy Riddle".

There are also variations between universities (especially in Scotlandmarker, 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 ) and requirements other than the correct average are often needed to be awarded honours. (In Scotland it is normal 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 Oxfordmarker and Cambridgemarker, 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 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.

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.

A minority of universities award First Class Honours with Distinction, informally known as a Starred First (Cambridge, York) or a Congratulatory First (Oxford). These are seldom awarded.

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 Cambridgemarker. At Oxford, this term normally refers to a First in both Honour Moderations and the Final Honour School.

Second-class honours, Upper division

The bulk of university graduates fall into Second-class honours, which is usually divided into Upper and Lower divisions. The first of these is commonly abbreviated to 2:1 (pronounced two-one). This is often known as a "Bezza".

Many competitive jobs in the UK now have a minimum requirement of a 2:1 for graduate entry.

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

About 45% of all graduates achieve a 2:1.

Second-class honours, Lower division

This is the second division of second class degrees and is abbreviated as 2:2 (pronounced two-two). This is commonly known as a "Desmond" i.e. Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.

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. .

Ordinary degree

An ordinary degree is a pass degree without honours. A number of universities offer ordinary degree courses to students, but most students enroll 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 is sufficient to study a post graduate course.

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.

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.

  • A First is known as a "Geoff" or a "Damien" after Geoff Hurst or Damien Hirst.
  • A 2:1 is known as a "Trevor" after Trevor Nunn, or an "Attila" after Attila the Hun.
  • A 2:2 is known as a "Desmond" or a "Dezza" after Archbishop Desmond Tutu or a "Drinker's Degree".
  • A Third is known as a "Douglas" or a "Thora" after Douglas Hurd or Thora Hird; it is also sometimes called a "Gentleman's Degree". A Third is also known as a Richard after the monarch Richard III. However, this is used primarily as a derogatory term, due to the more common meaning of that term, a fecal reference in rhyming slang to the word turd. Getting a third in each year of your degree is referred to as a 'Vorderman' after the British television celebrity Carol Vorderman who managed this unusual feat when studying Engineering at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridgemarker.
  • Those who fail to pass the degree altogether are sometimes said to have obtained a "Dan Quayle".

International comparisons

An approximate mapping between UK classifications and US Grade Point Averages can be inferred from the University College Londonmarker graduate admissions criteria. Canadian GPAs differ slightly; the UK Graduate Admissions Fact Sheet from McGill Universitymarker 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:

UK class US GPA CGPA Grade Percentage
First 3.6–4.0 3.1–4.0 A 70–100
Upper second 3.3–3.6 2.8–3.0 B 60–69
Lower second 3.0–3.3 2.1–2.7 B– 53–59
Third 1.1–2.0 C 42–52
Ordinary pass 1.0–2.0 D 38–41
Fail 0.0–1.0 F 0–37
US GPA equivalents from UCL; other equivalents from McGill University.


  1. SFR 117: Higher education student enrolments and qualifications obtained at higher education institutions in the United Kingdom for the academic year 2006/07, Higher Education Statistics Agency, 10 January 2008
  2. 2:1, or not 2:1?, Prospects, 13 June 2005
  3. Entrance requirements: Graduate Prospectus 2010–11, University of Cambridge, September 2009
  4. What are the entry requirements for graduate programmes at LSE?, London School of Economics
  5. HE qualifications obtained in the UK by level, mode of study, domicile, gender, class of first degree and subject area 2005/06, Higher Education Statistics Agency
  6. David Dutton, Douglas-Home (Haus Publishing Limited, 2006), page 4 ISBN 9-781904-950677
  7. Student slang leaves parents dazed, BBC News Online, 8 December, 2000
  8. Richard the Third, The Phrase Finder
  9. Degree classification: Have the Desmond and Vorderman had their day?, The Independent, 24 November 2005
  10. General entrance requirements, University College London
  11. Future graduate students: European Fact Sheets, McGill University

See also

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