Grading in the UK

Dec 8, 2017 12:00:00 PM

There are plenty of differences between the UK and Canadian education systems, but maybe the biggest change is the grading system. I’ve written up a short list to help prepare you for your first day because Canadians tend to get a little surprised when they encounter the syllabus for the first time. The course requirements will vary by academic department and university, but below are the big differences I’ve discovered in my first few months in the UK.


Formative Assessments

This semester I will write four essays and four mid-sessional exams, and none of them will count towards my final grade. These essays are called formative assessments and they’re used as an indicator of progress and a way to practice the skills we’ve been learning without the pressure of grading. They also let the tutor know how we’re handling the course material, and provide helpful feedback. The mid-sessional exams held in December also don’t count towards our final grades, but they’re a great way to practice studying and experience an exam setting, again without the nerves we often associate with exams. So far, I like having the practice as I’m certain I’ll feel for more confident for the important assignments and final exams at the end of the year.


Final Exam Weighting

There is a higher emphasis on final exams in the UK than what I’ve experienced in Canada. UK students have encountered this style in their secondary school studies, but it can be intimidating to Canadian students. At least some of my classes will have exams that are worth 100% of my final grade (although I realize this can be specific to law students and other subjects may have a different arrangement – check your university’s website or ask an advisor for more details). A single exam covering the entire year’s course material can seem terrifying, but you do get a month-long study break around Easter to prepare, so good marks are absolutely feasible. 


Firsts, Upper Seconds, Lower Seconds, Thirds

Finally, the actual assignment and distribution of grades is entirely different from Canada. Below is a chart indicating the percentages and conversions.

 Loleini Grading Chart.png

It can initially be disappointing to get handed back an assignment with a grade 20-30% lower than you would normally receive in Canada, so it helps to be prepared! You might see online that an upper second class is written “2:1” and a lower second class is written “2:2”. Most employers in London want you to have at least a 2:1 degree for them to hire you.


In my program at Queen Mary there is no bell curve redistribution, which means that if every person earns a First class, everyone will get a First class. This is different from many of my subjects at university in Canada. I’ve found that this system makes for a comfortable and less-competitive environment, where we’re all encouraged to support one another and work together. The learning is far more enjoyable in this way.



The changes are significant, but like any part of studying abroad, you get used to them very quickly! If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please contact one of our Advisors