Academic grading in the United Kingdom

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This is an article about the grading used below degree level in most of the United Kingdom. The entire United Kingdom does not use the same grading scheme (grades are referred to as marks in the UK). For degree level, see British undergraduate degree classification.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland[edit]

England, Wales and Northern Ireland use an unified system for grading secondary school qualifications. Generally, the English and Welsh secondary school grading follows in line with the GCSE grades.

National Curriculum Assessment[edit]

In the compulsory state education system up to the age of 14, assessment is usually carried out at periodic intervals against National Curriculum levels. This is especially the case at the end of each Key Stage, at the ages of 7, 11 and 14, where students are statutorily assessed against these levels. The levels are applied to each of the compulsory subjects, and range from Level 1 to Level 8, with an additional band for 'Exceptional Performance'.[1] The Department for Education states that students should be expected to reach a standard level at the end of each Key Stage. These are stated as being Level 2 at age seven, Level 4 at age eleven, and then Level 5 at age twelve, and level 6c-level 8a at age fourteen. Children are expected to make two sub levels of progress per year, e.g.: average=4c in year 6, whilst average in year 7=4a, year 8=5b and finally, year 9=6c.[2]

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)[edit]

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is graded on an 8-point scale of A*-A-B-C-D-E-F-G, with U as Unclassified (Failed).

Although any grade from A*-G is officially a pass, many employers accept only A*-C[citation needed]. The headline official school league table also measures only A*-C grades achieved.[3] Many sixth form colleges require at least 5 grades A*-C to progress on to Further education. Grade C of GCSE corresponded to grade C of GCE Ordinary Level in the late 1980s, which in turn corresponded to a pre-1975 pass.[4]

Advanced Level[edit]

The General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level ('A'-level), is graded on a scale of A*-E, with U as Unclassified (Failed),[5] and previously an intermediate N (Nearly passed) which was awarded for papers missing grade E by a very small margin. The marks in each paper are converted to a “Unified Mark Scheme” (UMS) according to the difficulty and weighting of the paper, and the individual UMS for each paper is added to give an overall score (out of 600 for a full 'A'-Level).[6] It is important to note that UMS marks for a paper are not the raw marks. The UMS marks for each grade, and maximum obtainable, are as follows:

Grade A2 UMS points AS UMS points Module UMS points, percentage
Max 600 300 100
A* 540 270 90
A 480 240 80
B 420 210 70
C 360 180 60
D 300 150 50
E 240 120 40

The new 2008 specifications for most examining boards provide an overall A* by combining both Advanced Subsidiary and Advanced Levels. To achieve this A*, the student must get above 90% UMS in a set number of A2 papers and an A overall.

International Foundation Year[edit]

International Foundation Year is graded on an 7-point scale of A-A-B+-B-C+-C-D-F, with F as Failed (not acceptable). [3]


Scotland's education system uses the following structure:

National Assessments 5-14[edit]

In these tests, there aren't Grades, but students are given tests for each level, when it's thought that they should be able to achieve them[citation needed]. Normally if they get over 2/3 they pass the test; and are "working towards" the next level.

  • Level A should be attainable by almost all pupils in P3.
  • Level B should be attainable by most pupils in P4.
  • Level C should be attainable by most in P6.
  • Level D should be attainable by most in P7.
  • Level E should be attainable by most in S2.
  • Level F is usually attained by S2.

Standard Grade[edit]

Standard Grades are sat by pupils aged 13–16 in Scotland, usually across eight subjects.

There are three different levels of exam which students may sit as a Standard Grade, namely Credit, General and Foundation. Often, students are required to take two exams, depending on their ability. For example, a Credit student will usually have to sit a General exam as well, in case they fail the former; and a general student may be asked to sit both a General and a Foundation paper.

There are two numbered grades for each level, as well as two fail grades. Should a credit pupil fail their exam, their results will drop to their general paper. For the final external exams, the percentage required for each grade is determined on a per-paper basis, usually to allow a certain percentage of people to pass. This allows for varying difficulty levels of papers.

Most writing papers allow the candidate to achieve the full range of grades (1-8) for that paper according to what percentage they attain. All other papers are level-specific, and the candidate may only be awarded with either of the two grades for that level, or a fail. As a rough guide, the top grade in each level requires 70-80% or more, and the second grade requires 50% or more, where below 50% is a fail.

The percentage bands for each exams are as follows:

Credit level

  • 1 - excellent - 70%-100%
  • 2 - very good - 65%-70%

General level

  • 3 - average - 60%-65%
  • 4 - satisfactory - 50%-60%

Foundation level

  • 5 - 70% and over
  • 6 - 50%-70%

All candidates sit the General paper and some sit the Credit or Foundation paper in addition.

Fail grades

  • 7: less than 50%
  • 8: no award (when the candidate does not attend the exam)

Schools in Scotland are now moving away from the Standard Grade system towards the new Higher Still program, which is part of the National Qualifications package. They are phasing in the new system gradually, with certain departments within the school choosing to adopt the new system before other departments. It is therefore common for pupils to sit a few Standard Grades and a few subjects from the Higher Still curriculum.

National Qualifications[edit]

Advanced Highers

  • A: Best possible grade, excellent (around 70% - 100%)
  • B: Above average grade, very good (around 60% - 70%)
  • C: Minimum pass, improvement needed (around 50% - 60%)
  • D: Close fail, (between 45% and 49%)
  • F: Fail/No Award, (0% - 45%)


  • A: Best possible grade, excellent (around 70% - 100%)
  • B: Above average grade, very good (around 60% - 70%)
  • C: Minimum pass, improvement needed (around 50% - 60%)
  • D: Close fail, (between 45% and 49%)
  • F: Fail/No Award, (0% - 45%)

National 5

  • A: Best possible grade, excellent (around 70% - 100%)
  • B: Above average grade, very good (around 60% - 70%)
  • C: Minimum pass, improvement needed (around 50% - 60%)
  • D: Close fail, (between 45% and 49%)
  • F: Fail/No Award, (0% - 45%)

National 4

The National 4 award is not graded and is only pass or fail.

Each band is further sub-divided into 'bands'. The A grade comprises bands 1 and 2, the B grade has bands 3 and 4, and so on. These bands are not shown on certificates issued by the SQA and do not need to be stated on CVs.

The National 4 Grading is equivalent to Standard Grade General, while national 5 Grading is equivalent to Standard Grade Credit. Highers remain at the same level as the previous grading under the same name, and Advanced Highers are equivalent to the old CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies).

Percentage pass marks for each grade change from year to year depending on performance levels.

National courses[edit]

  • A: best possible grade, excellent (around 75% and above)
  • B: above average grade, very good (around 65% and above)
  • C: below average grade, improvement needed (around 55% and above)
  • D: fail (around 50% and below)

Any lower standard of work will simply result in the failing of an exam, which is not graded.