British undergraduate degree classification

From Academic Kids

The British undergraduate degree classification system is a grading scheme used to distinguish between the achievements of undergraduate degree holders (such as those gaining bachelor's degrees or undergraduate master's degrees) in the United Kingdom. The system has been applied (often with minor variations) in other countries, such as the Republic of Ireland. It is similar to the Latin honors system used in North America.


Degree classification

The biggest distinction made is whether the degree is awarded with or without Honours. Nowadays, nearly all candidates sit for honours; a Pass Degree (i.e. a degree without honours) is usually awarded to a candidate who marginally fails the honours examination, or significant parts of it. A candidate who fails badly is usually allowed to retake the examination for a pass degree; most universities prohibit such a student from receiving honours.

Most universities award a class of 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)
  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1)
  • Lower Second Class Honours (2:2)
  • Third Class Honours (Third or 3rd)
  • Pass without honours (Pass)
  • Fail (no degree is awarded)

The system does allow for a small amount of discretion and candidates may be elevated up to the next degree class if their average mark is close 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.

There are also variations between universities (especially in Scotland, where honours are usually reserved only for courses lasting four years or more) and requirements other than the correct average are often needed to be awarded honours.

When a candidate is awarded a degree with honours, they can suffix (Hons) to their class of degree, such as BA(Hons) or BSc(Hons).

In Oxford and Cambridge, honours classes properly apply to examinations, not to degrees. Thus, in Cambridge, where undergraduates are examined at the end of each Part of the Tripos, a student may receive different classifications for different parts. The classification of the final part is usually considered the classification of the degree. In Oxford, the Final Honour School results are generally applied to the degree.

First Class Honours

In most universities, First Class Honours is the highest honours which can be achieved, with about 10% of candidates achieving a First nationally.

A few (ancient) institutions award "starred firsts" and even "double-starred firsts" (noted recipients including Alain de Botton and Quentin Skinner) to candidates of exceptional and highly exceptional ability. A 'distinction' may also be indicated, where a student had achieved 80% or more in their final degree mark (though again only some universities do this). 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, e.g. subsequent Parts of the Tripos in Cambridge (Cambridge University Jargon (

Second Class Honours

The bulk of university graduates fall into Second Class Honours, which is sub-divided into Upper Second Class Honours and Lower Second Class Honours. These divisions are commonly abbreviated to 2:1 (pronounced two-one) and 2:2 (pronounced two-two) respectively. Despite 2:1s and 2:2s just being subdivisions of the same class (though a large one), the perceived difference between them is high (employers tend to only ever make the distinction between graduates with 2:1s and above or 2:2s and below) with 2:1s being entirely respectable while 2:2s are often referred to as 'drinker's degrees' (indicating that the graduate spent more time at the union bar than studying).

Third Class Honours

Third Class Honours is the lowest honours classification in most modern universities (though until the 1970s, Oxford used to award Fourth Class Honours degrees (though they did not divide Second Class Honours and so still had four classes like everyone else)). Paradoxically, a Third is actually rather difficult to obtain: this is because the candidate must average a Third, but avoid failing too many parts of the course (as many universities will not allow a candidate to receive an honours degree if they have failed some (or sometimes any) modules). It is therefore rare for a graduating class to include more than a small handful of Thirds.


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 not been unwell, he or she would have passed.

Progression to further study

Regulations governing the progression of first degree graduates to higher-degree programmes vary between universities, and the rules are often flexible. A candidate for a postgraduate master's degree is usually required to have at least a 2:2 honours degree. Candidates with third class honours or pass degrees are sometimes accepted, provided they have acquired satisfactory professional experience subsequent to graduation. A candidate for a doctoral programme is normally expected to have at least a 2:1, though a 2:2 with a good master's degree (or suitable postgraduate experience) is also usually acceptable.

Undergraduate degree honours slang

An interesting form of rhyming slang has developed from degree classes, relying on the names of famous people that sound similar to the classes:

According with the conventions of rhyming slang, only the person's first name is used. Thus, one can be awarded a Geoff (First), Attila (2:1), Desmond (2:2) or a Douglas (Third). This explains the cryptic saying that 'a Desmond is a drinker's degree'.

See also


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