What are the Equivalent Grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction?

In A-Level by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

It can be difficult to compare different qualifications in the UK, even when they’re at the same level. This is because many of them use different grading systems that can leave you feeling confused about how they match up. This can be especially true for less used grading systems, such as the Pass, Merit and Distinction system, when being compared to more typical grading systems, such as the lettered grading system.

In short, many grades can be equivalent or roughly equivalent to the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades based on what level they are at. At GCSE-level, the Distinction* grade is equivalent to a bit higher than an A* or grade 8. For A-Level equivalents, the Distinction* grade is equal to A*A*A* compared to a D* in T-Levels or equal to a single A* for BTEC Nationals and Cambridge Technicals. At undergraduate and postgraduate level, the Distinction grade is equivalent to a first-class honours degree of a bachelor’s degree.

Continue reading to learn more about the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system and how it matches up to other UK grading systems. Whether you’re a student, parent or simply interested, this article will help you to understand what the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades really mean.

Which qualifications use Pass, Merit and Distinction?

The Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system is widely used across the stages of education and qualification levels in the UK. Due to this, it can be hard to tell which qualifications actually use this grading system.

The Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system is primarily used to grade vocational qualification, although this isn’t it’s only use, and it isn’t used for all vocational qualifications. Vocational qualifications are a type of qualification that train you more directly for a specific trade.

They include qualifications, such as BTECs, T-Levels, CTECs, Cambridge Nationals, higher national certificates (HNCs), higher national diplomas (HNDs) and foundation degrees, all of which use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system. To learn more about vocational qualifications, check out this Think Student article.

However, other qualifications, that are more academic, may also use Pass, Merit and Distinction grades. For example, it is also used to grade postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas and master’s degrees.

For more detail about how all of these qualifications are graded and how their use of the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system matches up to other grading systems at the same level, keep reading the following sections. To learn more about how the qualification levels and stages of education works in the UK, check out this Think Student article.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction?

It can be easy to look for a simple answer to this question. However, due to the nature of the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system, this will generally not be possible.

As mentioned above, the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system is used for a range of different qualifications at different levels. Due to this, it can be difficult to directly compare Pass, Merit and Distinction grades with grading systems as there isn’t one general answer or grade equivalent.

This means that in order to figure out what grades are equivalent to Pass, Merit and Distinction, we have to directly compare them with specific qualifications at specific levels. To learn more about how this will be done, particularly for GCSE-level, A-Level, undergraduate and postgraduate level qualifications, check out the following sections.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction at GCSE level?

GCSEs are level 2 qualifications. When finding the equivalents of the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades, it is best to compare within the same qualification level so that these different grades will truly mean the same or similar things.

The main qualifications at level 2 that use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system are BTEC Firsts and CTECs. These two types of qualification are very similar, the main difference being their exam boards, and as a result measure up to GCSEs in the same way.

A Pass grade for a BTEC or CTEC at level 2 will be roughly equivalent to a grade 4 in the numbered grading system or a C grade in the lettered system. A Merit grade for BTEC or CTEC at level 2 doesn’t match up as evenly and is roughly equivalent to a grade 5.5 in the numbered grading system or somewhere between grades B and C in the lettered system.

At level 2, a Distinction grade for BTECs or CTECs is roughly equivalent to a grade 7 in the numbered system or an A in the lettered system. At this level, there is also the Distinction* grade, which is roughly equivalent to a grade a bit higher than a grade 8 in the numbered system or an A* in the lettered system.

BTECs and CTECs also have Pass, Merit and Distinction grades at level 1, rather than just level 2. However, these aren’t equivalent to GCSE passing grades.

To see this information more clearly, please refer to the following table.

New 9-1 GCSE Grades BTEC/ CTEC grades
9
D* (level 2)
8
7 D (level 2)
6
M (level 2)
5
4 P (level 2)
3 D* (level 1)
2 D (level 1)
M (level 1)
1 P (level 1)
U

To learn more about these grades, check out this Think Student article. CTEC is a much less common term, if you would like to learn more about these qualifications, check out this Think Student article.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction at A-Level?

A-Levels are level 3 qualifications and as a part of the optional further education stage, there are a vaster range of qualifications that are equivalent to them. A significant portion of which use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system.

The main qualifications at level 3 that use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system are BTEC Nationals, Cambridge Technicals and T-Levels. As level 3 qualifications, these as well as A-Levels have UCAS Tariff points attributed to them, making them easier to compare.

However, due to the nature of these qualifications it can be difficult, as a single one of these may be worth more than a single A-Level. For example, T-Levels, BTEC National Extended Diplomas and Cambridge Technical Extended Diplomas are all worth 3 A-Levels each. Also, BTEC National Diplomas and Cambridge Technical Diplomas are equivalent to 2 A-Levels each.

For BTEC Nationals and Cambridge Technicals, you will receive a single, double or triple grade, depending on how many A-Levels your course is worth. These double or triple grades can be separate and by adding up the UCAS points of each one, you can see how they would compare to A-Levels. Check out the following table to see how BTECs and CTECs compare to A-Levels based on their UCAS points.

BTEC Nationals/ Cambridge Technicals UCAS Tariff points A-Level grades
D* 56 A*
D 48 A
40 B
M 32 C
24 D
P 16 E

Unlike BTEC Nationals and Cambridge Technicals, you will only get a single grade for a T-Level, although it is worth 3 A-Levels. To see how the T-Level grades are attributed UCAS points and compared to A-Levels, check out the following table.

T-Level grades UCAS Tariff points A-Level grades
D* 168 A*A*A*
D 144 AAA
M 120 BBB
P (A*- C) 96 CCC
P (D or E) 72 DDD

To learn more about this comparison, check out this page by UCAS. If you would like to learn more about T-Level qualifications, check out this Think Student article.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction at undergraduate level?

As a whole, undergraduate degrees are level 6 qualifications, however in a typical, full-time degree, the first year is equivalent to a level 4 qualification and the second year is equivalent to a level 5 qualification. This means that to consider what the equivalent grades of the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades are at undergraduate level, they need to be split up into their distinct levels. To learn more about undergraduate degrees, check out this Think Student article.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction for level 4 qualifications?

Level 4 qualifications are equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree. Due to this, using the degree classifications of undergraduate degrees as equivalents, can be the best way to compare them.

At level 4, the main qualifications that use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system are higher national certificates (HNC) and certificates of higher education (CertHE). Look at the table below to see how they compare.

HNC/ CertHE grade Percentage Degree classification
Distinction 70%+ 1st
Merit 60- 69% 2:1
50- 59% 2:2
Pass 40- 49% 3rd

To learn more about the HNC/ CertHE grades, check out this guide by the University of Kent. To learn more about the undergraduate degree classifications, check out this Think Student article. You can also learn more about level 4 qualifications, such as higher national certificates and certificates of higher education, by clicking here to go to a Think Student article.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction for level 5 qualifications?

Once again, as equivalent to part of an undergraduate degree, finding the equivalent grades to level 5 qualifications that use the Pass, Merit and Distinctions systems is best done using the undergraduate degree classifications.

The main level 5 qualifications that use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system are higher national diplomas (HND), diplomas of higher education (DipHE) and foundation degrees. To see the equivalent grades to the Pass, Merit and Distinction system used in these 3 qualifications, look at the following table.

Foundation degree HND/ DipHE Percentage Degree classification
Distinction Distinction 70%+ 1st
Merit Merit 60- 69% 2:1
50- 59% 2:2
Pass Pass 40- 49% 3rd

To learn more about foundation degree grades, check out this guide by Oxford Brookes University. To learn more about the HND/ DipHE grades, check out this guide by Oxford Brookes University.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction for level 6 qualifications?

As mentioned above, the main qualifications at level 6 are bachelor’s degrees. Due to this, there is less information available about the vocational or less mainstream qualifications at this level, some of which might use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system.

As a result, I’m unable to give you a specific answer to what grades are equivalent to Pass, Merit and Distinction at level 6. However, due to the previous levels, showing that the Pass, Merit and Distinction grades largely match up with undergraduate degree classifications, particularly as these grades are attributed based on percentages.

What are the equivalent grades to Pass, Merit and Distinction at postgraduate level?

Postgraduate level consists of both level 7 and level 8 qualifications. Considering that doctorate degrees, the main qualification at level 8, don’t use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system, in this article we’ll be primarily focusing on level 7 qualifications.

Unlike the previous qualification levels, the main qualifications that use the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system at this level are both ones that are more academic and ones that are vocational. The main qualifications that use this grading system at level 7 are master’s degrees, postgraduate certificates (PGCert) and postgraduate diplomas (PGDip).

As there is no “mainstream” grading system to compare them to at level 7, it’s easiest to think of them in terms of their percentage grade, which can also be translated into other grading systems, such as the undergraduate degree classifications. To see the equivalent grades to PGCerts, PGDips and master’s degrees based off percentage, check out the table below.

Master’s grade PGCert/ PGDip grades Percentage Undergraduate degree classification
Distinction Distinction 70%+ 1st
Merit Merit 60- 69% 2:1
Pass Pass 50- 59% 2:2
Fail Fail 40- 49% 3rd

To learn more about the postgraduate certificate and diploma grades, check out this article by Find A Masters. To learn more about the master’s degree grades, check out this Think Student article.

If you would like to learn more about postgraduate degrees in general, check out this Think Student article.

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