One of the most common concerns Canadian students have about studying in the UK is the grading scheme, which varies considerably from the Canadian system. Indeed, navigating the UK grades can be challenging. But don't despair! Once you understand the basics, entry requirements and the grades you receive while a student make much more sense.
Canadian universities do not have consistent grading schemes, which makes a comparison to the UK system even more difficult. In Canada, universities use percentages (for instance, 65% or 78%), as well as letter grades (such as C or B+). Many schools also use grade point systems, and these systems can be on scales anywhere between 4.0 and 13.0. So even within your own country it can sometimes be difficult to transfer and translate academic results.
If you are applying for an undergraduate program in the UK right out of high school, you will need to understand how UK students are assessed in high school; if you are applying for a graduate level program, you need to understand how undergraduate degrees are classified in the UK. Students applying to LLB programs in the UK will need to provide both high school and university transcripts (if they already hold a Canadian undergraduate degree), and therefore may need to understand both systems.
Undergraduate Entry Requirements
When applying to a UK university, you might see entry requirements described as "ABB" or "Upper Second". These terms -- or similar ones -- describe the level of results a student receives for A-Levels, which are a series of qualifying tests in specific subject areas at the secondary (high school) level. In the UK, students typically take A Levels in three major areas, hence the three letter sequence.
For Canadian students, the subject areas under consideration will vary depending on the program, but the grades that will be reviewed are those from the last year of secondary school (typically Grade 12 U or M courses). An "AAA" ranking means that a student scored within the A-range for all three exams. In the Canadian system, this equates to results between 80-100% area. An "AAB" ranking would equate to mixed results,
so approximately 73-79%). An "ABB" is slightly below that, with a spread of approximately 63% or 64% to 72% (mid- or high C to a low B).
When you graduate from a UK undergraduate program, your degree will be given a "class" based on your results. Typically, these classes are "First," which represents results in the 80%+ area; "Upper Second," which represents results from the mid- to high 70s; "Lower Second," referring to the mid-60s to the low 70s;"Ordinary Pass," which encompasses everything else considered a passing grade; and "Fail," which falls under the 50% pass threshold.
How your grades convert into the UK system will depend on the grading scheme from which they arise. If, for instance, you are in a school with a 4.0 grade scale, an Upper Second degree would encompass GPAs between 3.00 and 3.33. If you were on a 12.0 grade scale, then you would fall into the 8.0-9.0 range for this degree class.
Receiving Grades: Shocks to Expect!
Many of the graduate programs in Britain use a sliding scale based on 85 points rather than 100 for percentages, with 70 being the cut-off point for distinction (with the distinction being akin to an honours or "A" in Canada). So, remember: if you get a 68, don't panic! That's actually a solid grade. If you get a 72, even better! It might feel odd at first to see numbers we associate with lower grades, but you'll get used to it.
The best thing you can do to be sure of how your grades convert and how they fit within the requirements for your application, is to consult with an Across The Pond Personal Advisor; our team is fully trained in working with these conversions and do so on a daily basis.