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MSc Degree Classification

An MSc is a Master of Science degree, awarded for subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Computer Science. You will mainly be awarded an MSc for doing a standalone masters – if you do one built into your undergraduate course, you may instead find it known as an M.Chem, M.Phys or similar. This article will focus on the MSc degree classification system, so if your course is one of these alternative abbreviations, the information will differ. For more information on different kinds of scientific postgraduate study, please see our overview here.


Masters degrees are awarded with different classifications to undergraduate degrees, although the range of marks is often similar. With an undergraduate degree, you’ll receive either first class honours (1st), second class honours, upper division (2:1), second class honours, lower division (2:2), third class honours (3rd), or ordinary degree (Pass).

However, the MSc degree classification system or masters grading is very different. In every case, the two main possibilities are Pass and Distinction (and, although not technically a class – fail). However, many universities also add in a middle class, known as merit. Below, we’ll look at exactly what you need to do to get each of these classes.

Regulations for MSc degrees

In general, the regulations for MSc degrees don’t vary much between universities, making it easy to compare what you can expect. That said, there are some differences between the specifics of a university's MSc degree classification so whilst this article is good for general advice, it’s recommended that you check your university's regulations too. These specifics can even vary by course, so do make sure you’re being specific.

To obtain a masters degree you need to have done enough work to add up to 180 credits in total, any less than this, and you are not eligible to be awarded one. However, should you start and be unable to complete this, 120 credits is worth a Postgraduate diploma, and 60 credits a Postgraduate certificate. Not gaining enough credits shouldn’t be an issue though, as masters courses are designed to consist of 180 credits, built of a combination of modules, projects and dissertation writing.

Other rules may apply, for instance, most universities require that you spend at least three terms studying full time, or six terms part time working on your MSc degree. It is therefore worth ensuring you know what your university expects from you.

MSc degree classification – Pass At most universities, you will find that a pass requires a weighted average mark over all your modules of 50% or more. However, in many cases, universities will allow marks between 40 and 49.9% to be compensatable, if this is something which happens to you, it is highly recommended that you ask about this possibility! Do be aware that marks below 40% will often prevent a pass.


MSc degree classification – Merit Whilst not all MSc degree classifications will include Merit, we will detail it here as it is growing more common. For a merit, expect the mark required to be a weighted average of 60% of above, often requiring a mark of above 60% in any project or dissertation module. If you are very close to a merit (specifically, within two%), it is often worth querying, as this is known as the boundary mark and it is occasionally possible to cross up to the higher classification. One thing that can really help to get these higher marks is to have an original, interesting thesis.


MSc degree classification – Distinction Finally, the distinction. This is the top classification, and like a first at the undergraduate level, requires a weighted average of 70% or above (although, once again, there is occasionally the 2% below boundary). In addition, you will often be expected to achieve a mark of 70% or above in any project or dissertation. Some universities are stricter than others, and may enforce a rule of no resits, only allowing first time marks to count towards this classification!


Comparing the MSc classifications with undergraduate marks

You may have noticed here that these MSc degree classifications do roughly look like undergraduate degree ones, and you’d be right – a distinction takes roughly the same marks as a first, a merit the same as a second class honours, upper division, and a pass the same as a second class honours, lower division. Don’t worry if you were on the lower end of the classification spectrum, though – with the right amount of work and determination it’s possible to achieve one of these higher marks – and here are some tips on how.

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