This article was written by the Great British Mag content team on 23 June 2021.
Interested in studying a postgraduate qualification at a UK university? Want to know how the grading works and what the different degree classifications mean? Then keep reading this article because we’ve covered it all.
What types of postgraduate courses are available in the UK?
There are few different options if you want to study for a postgraduate qualification in the UK. The most popular options include:
- Master’s degree: these typically last 12 months and learning is often done through lectures and seminars, sometimes with a research focus, too.
- Postgraduate research: this is an intense period of research into your chosen field, where you’ll be working alongside a team of specialists.
- Postgraduate diploma (PGDip): these usually lasts two terms (30 weeks) and can contribute towards a master’s degree, as the study is at the same level.
- Postgraduate certificate (PGCert): similar to a diploma but only lasting for 15 weeks, PGCerts can also contribute towards a master’s degree as the study is at the same level.
- Postgraduate Professional Development: this can be completed at your own pace over a two-year period and is worth 50 credits towards a PGCert PGDip or a master’s (for comparison, a master’s is worth 180 credits.)
What are the postgraduate grade classifications in the UK?
There are three types of Master’s programmes – integrated, research and taught. A UK integrated Master’s programme is usually graded using the typical undergraduate marking system. On the other hand, a research Master’s program is usually pass or fail. Then, there’s the taught Master’s program. This is your typical yearlong, 180 credit program. Most taught Master’s programs in the UK use the same grading and degree classification, which is comprised of distinctions, merits (or commendation) and pass.
What is a distinction degree and how do I earn it?
A distinction degree is the highest and most valued degree in postgraduate studies. It means you’re the best of the best, and you’ll be valuable to potential employers. It also means you are extremely qualified to go into your chosen field and have more than sufficient knowledge about the topic(s) you studied.
To earn a distinction degree, you typically must have an overall grade of 70% or above, just like a first-class honours degree in undergraduate studies. You will have to put in the work and study hard if you want to stay ahead of the curve and earn a distinction degree.
What is a merit degree and how do I earn it?
A merit degree is also known as a commendation. It’s not considered as prestigious as a distinction degree. However, it does come in handy in the job market. It is similar to the 2.1 second-class degree in the undergraduate honours system.
To earn a merit degree, you typically must have an overall grade of 60 to 69%. It’s respectable, and it’s passing, but we still encourage you to go for the gold and earn that distinction degree!
What is a pass and how do I earn it?
A pass typically the lowest degree you can earn. If your grade is any lower than this, you would be failing. A pass is not very attractive to future employers, so try to bump up your grades if you see yourself earning a pass.
To earn a pass, your overall grade must typically be between 50 and 59%. The degree classification is similar to the 2.2 second-class degree in the undergraduate honours system.
Anything below the 50% threshold is usually a fail. However, there are some borderline passes given due to some exceptions. A student might be less than a percent away from earning a pass. However, you shouldn’t count on this. A merit or a distinction degree is where you want to be, but you especially don’t want to fail and be left hoping that a professor has mercy and rounds up your grade.
If you plan on pursuing further education after your Master’s degree, you may want to research prospective schools’ degree classification requirements. While most schools will only require that you pass your master’s program, some may require a certain degree classification for admissions.
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