What Happens if You Fail Your Dissertation?

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A dissertation module is one of the key things that defines the step up from secondary school to university. It’s one of the biggest pieces of writing you’ll do for your degree, in terms of research and word count. It’s no mistake to think that a lot rests on a good dissertation. However, it’s always good to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You’ve probably already asked the question – what actually happens if you do fail?

If you fail your dissertation for the first time at any degree level, you will be allowed one resubmission, which is usually capped at the pass mark. However, if you fail your dissertation resubmission, there are different consequences. If you fail your undergraduate dissertation, you can still graduate as long as you have enough credits, although this may be with an ordinary degree. However, if you fail your master’s dissertation or PhD thesis resubmission, you will not be allowed to graduate.

The topic of failure is quite daunting for most students. Not to worry! This article is here to help you understand failure criteria for a dissertation, and what happens in the event of failure.

Is it possible to fail your dissertation?

Like with modules of your university course, unfortunately it is very much possible to fail your dissertation. Although this sounds daunting, don’t worry too much! Dissertations are not designed for you to fail.

The grading systems for university modules and dissertations are very similar. Across most universities, the pass mark for a dissertation is 40% or 50%. For example, check out this guide by Royal Holloway University, London to learn more about their dissertation grading.

This means that while it is certainly possible to fail your dissertation, it is unlikely that you actually will. However, in the event that you do fail your dissertation for whatever reason, don’t panic. Your university will usually let you resit your dissertation.

Keep in mind you’ll only be able to resit your dissertation once, so try your hardest to achieve the grade you want. For all the details you’ll need about a dissertation, I’d definitely recommend reading this Think Student article.

In summary, while it is possible to fail a dissertation (just like any other university module), a dissertation only requires a pass mark of 40%. Although a dissertation is different to a module, it is still pretty difficult to fail.

In the event you do fail your dissertation, don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep reading further to find out what happens if you fail your resit dissertation.

How bad does a dissertation need to be to fail?

To understand how “bad” a dissertation has to be to fail, you need to know what examiners are looking for.

Your university will have published the marking criteria for dissertations. These will normally feature comments on the key areas to earn marks in. As an example, check out the University of Edinburgh’s dissertation criteria here.

Therefore, if you failed your dissertation, it isn’t necessarily because you’re “bad at researching and writing”. To fail, it has to be the case that you didn’t meet the criteria to achieve a passing mark. It’s important to keep your confidence, so that you can do better when you resit.

If you haven’t written your dissertation yet, I’d definitely recommend looking through your university’s marking criteria. Similarly, your tutor will want to help you as much as possible, so you can ask them for advice if you’re really struggling.

If you’re seeking advice on how to write a dissertation, you should check out this Think Student article.

Can you graduate without passing your dissertation?

For an undergraduate degree, you can still graduate as long as you have enough credits to pass the other modules.

However, if your degree is a BSc or BA with Honours, if you fail your dissertation and the resit dissertation, you will graduate with an ordinary degree. You can read more about what an ordinary degree is in this Think Student article.

If you fail your first dissertation attempt, but pass your resit undergraduate dissertation, you will still pass with whatever class of degree you earned.

However, the rule is slightly different for master’s dissertations and a PhD thesis. These rules also depend on the university you attend.

At all universities, you are allowed one resit of coursework (dissertation is a form of coursework, as it is not a timed exam), even for a master’s degree and a PhD. However, if you fail your resit dissertation for your master’s degree, you cannot be awarded a master’s degree.

In the case of a PhD, you will not be able to graduate with a failed resit thesis. I’ll explain this in more detail later in the article, so keep reading!

What happens if you fail your master’s dissertation?

Failing your master’s dissertation for the first time isn’t ideal, but it isn’t the end of the world. You’re allowed a resit, which if you pass, means you can still graduate with a master’s degree.

However, a failure is a lot more serious if you fail your dissertation a second time. Failing a resit dissertation at master’s degree-level means you cannot graduate with a master’s degree.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be awarded anything at all for your effort. For example, the this page by the University of Nottingham states that if your dissertation is not passable but still “adequate”, you may still be awarded a diploma.

What happens if you fail your PhD thesis?

Like with an undergraduate or master’s degree, you’re allowed to resubmit your thesis once only. Given that you pass the resubmission, you’ll still be on track to graduate with a PhD.

Failing a PhD thesis resubmission means you cannot graduate. The pass mark for a PhD thesis is usually around 60, such as at the University of Cambridge, which you can learn more about on their website, here.

In most cases, a PhD thesis will account for around 50% of the degree. Looking at it this way, it makes sense that if you failed half of your degree, you wouldn’t be able to graduate. A PhD is a research-based degree, and the thesis proves you have good research skills.

If you’d like to know more about how a PhD is graded, I’d recommend this Think Student article.

How often do students fail their dissertation?

As I established earlier, it’s pretty hard to fail your undergraduate dissertation module. It’s also quite hard to fail a master’s dissertation or a PhD thesis given the pass mark.

According to this article by The Healthy Journal, up to 50% of PhD students will not finish their thesis or graduate. This statistic sounds quite extreme, but keep in mind that not many people choose to complete a PhD because of the amount of time and money it takes.

If you really are concerned about failing your dissertation, speak to your tutor. They will have been in your position and will know how to help. Don’t struggle on your own!

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