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Comparative Grade Scales

For saffronjan and anyone else who would like to know...

Comparison of Percentage Equivalents
in American, Canadian, and British grading systems
PercentageU.S. CanadaU.K.U.S. 4.0 GPA *
90-100 AA+4.0
80-90 BA3.0
70-80 CB1st class/Distinction2.0
60-70 DC2.i class1.0
50-60FailD2.ii class
40-50E **3rd class
35-39E **Pass
Below 35FailFail

* GPA stands for Grade Point Average. I don't think this system is used in Canada, but I don't actually know. Most institutions use a 4.0 scale, but I've heard of 5.0 scales as well. Mostly it's a quick way to compare grades on a numerical basis. (Although, of course, percentages do that too.)

** The U of T gives Es for near misses. I'm therefore extrapolating that it's used elsewhere in Canada too, but I don't actually know.

Confusion Alert: Just because two grades in two different countries have the same percentage value does NOT mean that they are held to be of equivalent value in their respective countries. For example, a 1st class degree in the UK is equivalent to an A-range average in the US and Canada, regardless of the actual percentages involved.

Note on pluses and minuses: Most of these systems can be further differentiated by pluses and minuses: A-/B+. That kind of thing. But to keep this chart legible, I've left those off for now. Generally, pluses are in the top 3 percentage points of a grade range and minuses are in the bottom 3 percentage points of a grade range. (So a B+ would be 77 percent - 79 in the US system.) The major exception is that 90 percent and above is where A+ falls in the Canadian system.

Note on Graduate Schools and grades: In the UK, as an undergraduate, you generally need II.1 caliber grades to go into graduate school, and need to maintain that level of accomplishment in order to obtain a graduate degree. Similarly, one generally needs a B-range or above grade average to get into graduate school in the US and Canada, regardless of percentages.

Also, it is my impression that it is easier to obtain an A-range average in the US and Canada than it is to finish with a 1st class degree in the UK.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2003 01:42 pm (UTC)
That is scary...to think I'd only have got a 'D' in the US...
May. 21st, 2003 01:57 pm (UTC)
Only based on percentage, and percentages are based on how challenging exams and the like are. Instructors write tests in order to produce an appropriate assessment with regard to the system its administered in. You could equally call this grade inflation for the US, and a reflection of the UK system being more rigorous, and needing to use lower percentages to maintain a reasonable and fair grade distribution. Good students are still good students regardless of the system.

Somehow, I don't think you'd've been a D student.
May. 21st, 2003 02:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Differences
The idea that perhaps it was easier to get higher percentages in the US occured to me, especially as only 2 or 3 people in my year got a first, and at least 1 of them only scraped it.

I wonder what those in the UK who cry out about the education system 'dumbing down' qualifications would think of the comparison...but then I suppose adding in different grades for the higher percentages makes up for it.
May. 21st, 2003 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Differences
Oh yes. I would say it's easier to have an A-average in the US and Canada than it is to get a first in the UK.

Hmm. This reminders me. I should add GPAs (Grade Point Averages) to the scale so you can have yet more information to puzzle over. It's another system used by US universities and high schools and things to calculate grades.
May. 21st, 2003 02:41 pm (UTC)
Some Canadian universities do use GPAs (though I've never heard of a Canadian high school using them), mostly for purposes of comparison with US schools. McGill, where I did my undergrad, had percentiles, letter grades, and GPAs, though some profs used only one of the first two.

To add to the confusion, I know that McMaster, where my husband did his undergrad, has a 12-point GPA system, which may or may not be totally unique.
May. 21st, 2003 02:54 pm (UTC)
A 12-point GPA? A point for every plus and minus? I don't know if it's unique or not, but I've certainly never heard of the system before.

In the US, GPAs only applied to how grades were calculated at an institutional level. They were never given - or applied to - a particular class. It sounds like McGill did the same. Some schools in the US using the 4.0 scale will, just to confuse things, award a 4.3 or a 4.5 to reward A+s. Neither my high school nor college did - an A+ counted as equal to an A.
May. 21st, 2003 02:59 pm (UTC)
McGill didn't believe in A+ - the highest grade we could get was an A, which encompassed everything over 85%. And yes, I realize I wasn't clear - each individual course was graded with percentage or letter grades, or both, and an overall GPA was calculated for each term. Other schools in Canada do give out 4.3 for A+ grades, though.
May. 21st, 2003 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's right, the McMaster system was (and I believe still is) a 12-point system where a D- is a 1 and an A+ is a 12. It was a subject of much complaint by students who had conversion difficulties getting into grad schools and professional programs.
Apr. 13th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
A 12-point GPA system is not unique to McMaster. My undergraduate institution -- in fact I think all five of the associated schools -- used a 12-point scale. It's easier to understand in some ways, I think. I've used it for calculation purposes in classes, on occasion.
May. 21st, 2003 02:43 pm (UTC)
Some universities and departments award something called a `starred first' - typically at most one per department per year or two will be awarded (and some places don't do it anyway). This is usually 80%+

In the UK, as an undergraduate, you generally need II.1 caliber grades to go into graduate school

Mostly true, although if you're sufficiently bloody-minded and persistent you can sometimes get by with less (although it's highly unlikely that you'd get any funding). I got a 2ii in my BA but Warwick were happy to let me do the MSc (and, afterwards, a PhD) as long as I sorted out my own funding (I'd been carefully saving up for the previous two years). A friend of mine got a third in his undergraduate degree and is just writing up his PhD thesis at the moment, although he also had to find his own funding from somewhere.

May. 21st, 2003 02:48 pm (UTC)
Grades and funding
It's reassuring to know that lack of a 2.i isn't necessarily the end of graduate school options. Marks, after all, do not necessarily reflect ability. All sorts of things can affect the way they turn out.

I'm sure that equally it's very possible to get into graduate school in Canada and the US with less than a B-average but that it's more challenging. Again, as in the UK, it would make one less competitive for funding.
May. 21st, 2003 02:45 pm (UTC)
you're kidding me...
Here I was freaking out about the "first class with distinction" requirement for admission to UK grad schools, and it's only the equivalent of a 2.0? Boggle. Not that I'm going to slack, I still need 3.5 to have a chance in the US :>.
Thanks for the info!
May. 21st, 2003 02:58 pm (UTC)
Re: you're kidding me...
I'm afraid the percentage equivalents are completely unhelpful for actual grade conversions. Sorry for getting your hopes up!

A first class degree is equivalent to a grade point of at very least 3.5. In other words, you're aiming at the same US grade range regardless of which side of the ocean you want to do your degree. Most institutions (especially British ones receiving US applicants) know how to convert from one system to the other.
May. 21st, 2003 03:10 pm (UTC)
Re: you're kidding me...
I realize that I titled my chart rather confusingly. No wonder you thought I meant they were literal equivalents! In order to further avoid confusing people, I've changed the graph title to hopefully be more helpful. Thanks for inadvertantly making me realize how vague I'd been.
May. 22nd, 2003 03:29 am (UTC)
grading scales
Finally. Now I get it.

I wish my school were as intelligent as you!! I know on my course, it's almost impossible to get above 75. They're very hard graders.
May. 22nd, 2003 06:09 am (UTC)
Re: grading scales
Similarly, in Canada, we rarely receive any grade at all in the 90s. If we're going to, it'll probably be 90 even, to justify that rare A+. Thinking about it, I'd say most people in my MA program in England received marks in the 60s, whereas I'm guessing the majority of grades received by students in my current program are A-. This is why the actual conversion between the systems is so fuzzy in my mind.

I've gone to university in all three countries. That helped. So does being conscious of it since I'm grading undergrads these days on a different scale than the one I grew up with.

Speaking of which - a fellow grad student of mine, from the US, was assigned a TAship a number of years ago. No one told her the grading scales were different and she never thought to check. On the first assignment o the semester, she thought she'd graded pretty hard, at least with respect to the US system. Her Canadian students were absolutely delighted with how easily she'd graded them.
May. 22nd, 2003 06:13 am (UTC)
Something else!
Another thing. When you're in grad school, unless you're grading undergraduates, it's rare you get any sense for what the overall grading system is, since generally grad school grades are limited to a very narrow portion of the possible grading spectrum. I knew a number of British undergraduates, which probably helped give me a better idea of the overall system.
May. 22nd, 2003 06:14 am (UTC)
Re: Something else!
I'm pretty certain that the "toss the papers down the stairs and see which one goes farthest, thus getting the highest grade" system is at play here.
May. 22nd, 2003 06:46 am (UTC)
Re: Something else!
You turned in an aerodynamically sound paper?
May. 22nd, 2003 06:52 am (UTC)
Re: Something else!
apparently, the thickness of paper I used was satisfactory to aerodynamics.
May. 22nd, 2003 09:45 am (UTC)
Re: Something else!
*puzzled* The paper whistled if you threw it?

Sep. 23rd, 2005 10:28 pm (UTC)
thank you
hi im sorry if this isnt an open post thingy, but i just wanted to thank you for putting those up, itll make my university application choices much easier :). im trying to apply to a UK university from Canada and i was starting to dispair of ever finding the conversion.

also if it helps, every school ive heard of in canada uses percentages, and the 5.0 gpa scale u mentioned u had heard of could possibly be refering to AP courses, as im taking ap physics and i know that its graded out of a 5.

thanks again!

ps in case ur interested this entry made it onto the first page of google out of several million results (its how i found this XD)
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )