The university grading system will be different from what you’re used to. When you start at university, any mark over 40% is a great grade.

Getting a mark over over 40% means that you are beginning to understand the difficult work of your degree. Getting over 60% is excellent because it means you have demonstrated a deep knowledge of your subject to the marker.

You may be used to getting marks of 90–100%, but this is very unlikely to happen at university. Remember that marks in the 40–50% range are perfectly normal. Your grades will improve as you get used to working at university level, and in the style required by your degree subject.

Understanding grades

Degree classifications

UK degree classifications are as follows:

  • First-Class Honours (First or 1st) (70% and above)
  • Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1, 2.i) (60-70%)
  • Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2, 2.ii) (50-60%)
  • Third-Class Honours (Third or 3rd) (40-50%)

In your first year at university, achieving a grade of 40% or more is a good thing. You can build on your work and improve as you work towards your final grade. Scores above 70% are classed as “First”, so you should be very excited to get a grade in that range.

It is rare for students to achieve grades higher than 90%, though this can happen. Remember as well that you will be surrounded by other highly motivated and capable students – so you may not automatically be top of the class any more! Don’t worry – lots of your fellow students will be feeling the same, and there is always someone you can talk to about this. Having realistic expectations about your grades will help to reduce the possibility of feeling disappointed with yourself.

How to get a high mark

Before starting a piece of work, make sure you understand the assessment criteria. This may vary depending on your course and the specific piece of work; so ask your tutor if you are unsure.

In general, high marks will be given when you display that you have clearly understood the subject and included relevant detail. The best marks will go to students who show that they have read around the subject and brought their own analysis and criticism to the assignment.

Low marks will be given to a piece of work that suggests you don’t understand the subject or includes too much irrelevant detail. This applies to coursework and exams, so planning your work before you start is always a sensible option. Speak to your tutor if you are unsure about the requirements of a specific piece of work.

Don’t be afraid to ask

You may encounter different classifications, or courses that don’t use exactly the same boundaries. If you need help understanding the exact requirements of your course, contact your tutor for clarification.

When you’ve had your work returned to you, remember to look at the feedback to see where you could improve – this will give you the best chance of achieving a better grade in the future.