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How are Master's degrees graded?

How are Master's degrees graded?

by Anna Brown

Whether you're interested in a Master's, already studying towards a Master's, or perhaps you're just curious - read our blog post on how Master's degrees are graded. 

When it comes to studying at postgraduate level, grading systems can vary based on the type of Master's you're studying, the country you're studying in and the nature of your course.



  1. What type of Master's am I studying?

  2. What is an integrated Master's degree?

  3. What is a stand-alone Master’s degree?

  4. How are Master's degrees graded?

  5. How is a taught Master’s degree graded?

  6. How is a research Master’s degree graded?

  7. How difficult is a Master's degree?

  8. How do I get a distinction in my Master's?

  9. What do I need to get in my Master's to do a PhD?


What type of Master's am I studying?

The grading of Master's degrees varies depending on the nature of your course. How your Master's is graded will depend on whether you're studying an integrated Master's, or a stand-alone Master's. 


What is an integrated Master's degree?

An integrated Master's is a continuation of your undergraduate course. For example, you may apply for a four-year integrated course in your chosen subject. This would mean deciding whether to continue your undergraduate degree or go on to do a specialism, such as MChem or MPhys, once you reach your second year. This is most common in science subjects. 

These sorts of Master's degrees are usually graded in the same way undergraduate degrees are, however, more weighting will be given to the last two years of your course than the first couple of years. Overall, with an integrated Master's you can achieve the following results: a first, 2:1, 2:2, 3rd, or a fail.


What is a stand-alone Master’s degree?

A stand-alone Master's degree is the more common type of Master's and refers to a degree that's independent from your undergraduate degree.




How are Master's degrees graded?

Essentially Master’s degrees are graded by creating a weighted average, this involves combining your results from the different assignments and exams you complete throughout the year. In the case of an integrated Master's, more weighting is applied to your last two years of studying. Once you’ve completed all your modules and you have your final mark, you get the grade depending on which boundary it falls into. You need to get 50% to get a Pass, 60% to get a Merit and 70% to get a Distinction.


How is a taught Master’s degree graded?

In total, a taught Master's is 180 credits. You will earn your credits through a combination of taught modules, projects, exams and a dissertation.

These 180 credits are split across modules. You might have three modules that are each worth 20 credits in Semester One, six modules that are each worth 10 credits in Semester Two, and a 60-credit dissertation in Semester Three. Each ten-credit module would contribute 1/18th of your final grade, but your dissertation would be worth one-third of your final grade. 

Additionally, within each module, you will have multiple assignments and/or exams. So you may have two assignments within a ten-credit module that are each worth 50% of your final grade for that specific module.

Your credits then translate into either a Distinction, Merit, Pass, or Fail once you've finished your Master's.

The boundaries for these may vary depending on your university, but as a general rule:

  • Distinction - 70%+
  • Merit - 60%
  • Pass - 50%

How is a research Master’s degree graded?

A research Master's, sometimes called an MPhil, MRes and MLitt, is graded as Pass or Fail. If you're interested in studying a research Master's, read our blog post by postgraduate student Hannah on the difference between a taught and research Master's.




How difficult is a Master's degree?

You will likely find a Master's degree more difficult than an undergraduate one, for several reasons. Specifically, a Master's involves a lot of independent study which some students find difficult.

There are also higher expectations placed on postgraduate students to engage in seminar discussions, due to the smaller class numbers. 

These challenges teamed with the fact you're studying a very specialist topic quite intensely means a Master's degree isn't the easiest. But it's not supposed to be. Completing a postgraduate degree is a huge achievement, and just as it can be testing, it can also be hugely rewarding. 

What's more, university staff will be on hand to support you and ease you into the postgraduate way of studying.


How do I get a distinction in my Master's?

To get a distinction in your Master's, you must earn 70% or higher in your final grade. How you achieve more than 70% will depend on the nature of your course, and how you best learn.

However, some good points to help you are:

  1. Leverage each individual's skills in group projects and encourage open, constructive criticism of each other's work.
  2. If you notice a gap or issue in your research, don't turn a blind eye. Return to it and explore it further. 
  3. Rely on the support available to you. Though you will have a supervisor, there's no reason why you can't reach out to other relevant academics for their opinions and insights.
  4. Research your dissertation topic thoroughly and explore different angles before diving in head-first. It can be tempting to feel that spark of inspiration and run with it, but you need more than a spark for a long-term dissertation to be coherent and viable.
  5. Always start well in advance of your hand-in date. Allow time for backtracking, exploring new avenues and even personal challenges that you may bump into along the way. It's always better to overcompensate when it comes to time.


What do I need to get in my Master's to do a PhD?

Though there is no 'hard-and-fast' rule, when it comes to the Master's results you need to be able to do a PhD, naturally you want your application to be as strong as possible. As a general rule, you will need an upper-class undergraduate degree (2:1 or above) and an upper-class Master's (Merit or Distinction). For more information on studying a PhD, read how PhD student Brett Cherry prepared for his studies as a mature student.


We hope you have found this blog post useful, and would encourage you to read more of our postgraduate content for helpful advice as you consider postgraduate education. From sourcing funding for your Master's to how to write a personal statement, we've collated blogs from our own teams and students to help you on this journey. 


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