Ask Anna: Why move from Degree Classification to GPA?

By StudyLink

Going to university is great but when you finish you want to achieve a result which will allow you to take a big step into the world of employment. However, due to the large number of graduates applying for available roles in industry after graduation, many of the world’s top companies will not consider applicants with lower than a 2:1 degree when recruiting recent graduates. There are two major issues with this:

  • The difference between a low 2:1 degree and a high 2:2 degree is negligible on paper and may translate as one incorrect answer in an exam. The 2:2 candidate may be a more appropriate person for the employer’s vacancy but because of that dropped mark they are unable to apply.
  • The difference between a low 2:1 degree and a high 2:1 degree can be a significant difference when it comes to assessing someone’s academic achievement and this even more dramatic when comparing a low 1st class degree to a high 1st class degree. This prevents employers from identifying the most capable applicants for each role.

Due to growing pressure from employers (because the current degree classification system allows very little distinction between grades), some British institutions are changing the way assignments are graded and moving to a more international method – the GPA. But what is the difference between the traditional British degree classification system and the GPA? I’ll explain all in this article.

Degree classification

With this system each module you take is given a percentage and at the end of your degree these are averaged to get an overall percentage and translated into a classification for your degree as shown below:

0-39% – Unclassified
40-44% – Ordinary / Pass
45-49% – Third / 3rd
50-59% – Lower Second / 2:2
60-69% – Upper Second / 2:1
70%+ – First / 1st

As mentioned above the difference between 59% and 60% can limit the number of career paths you have available but in many cases the University may offer some flexibility with the grading and offer you a viva (oral exam) to determine whether you qualify for the higher or lower classification. The viva is similar to an interview and you will be quizzed extensively on the content of your degree along with a particular focus on your dissertation or final year project.

The degree classification system can also affect the way different subjects are graded, for example, if you take a subject such as maths or science your answers to questions will be specific and are often correct or incorrect. When taking a humanities or arts subject then an examiner’s interpretation of your answer can dramatically affect your result. Whilst achieving a grade close to 100% is going to be limited to only the most academically outstanding students, achieving this high grade is more feasible in a maths/science/engineering based subject compared to a subject more focussed on interpretation or creativity.

What about GPA?

The Grade Point Average (GPA) system is widely used internationally and is seen as the best alternative for UK institutions looking to appease employers. Using GPA the examiner marks modules through the use of descriptors, which are categories such as fair, good and excellent. At the end of your degree these descriptors are translated into a score which falls between zero and four (with zero being the lowest and four the highest). In some countries such as Hong Kong and Indonesia the GPA the scale is slightly different going beyond 4.0 for the higher grades.

Using this system your final degree will be a number rather than a classification, e.g. 3.6. This system allows larger boundaries in marking as ‘fair’ and ‘good’ have a large difference between them compared to 59% and 60%.

Why use the GPA system

Moving to the GPA system not only allows a comparison to be made between degrees awarded to students in different faculties/subjects but it is also the better system out of the two for allowing comparisons to be made across the world. Importantly, employers can easily see what a student as achieved through the score number they receive upon graduation.

The UK degree classification system was once the most popular system across the commonwealth but with more students travelling across the globe to achieve their education aspirations. Many UK institutions are already keen to consider the use of the GPA system, including UCL, LSE, University of Birmingham, University of Sheffield, University of Warwick, University of York and the University of Nottingham. It is suggested that the old UK system is outdated and that in the future a GPA system will have to be introduced across all of the universities in the UK as it is more suited to the needs of academics and students.

Which method do you prefer? Are you looking for a university that offers GPA classification, or do you want to study at a traditional English university and receive a traditional degree classification to match? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter!

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