Wherever you go, whatever subject you study, achieving a university degree is undoubtedly hard work. There are countless essays to complete, seminars to attend, deadlines to meet, and so on. Hopefully, after three years, all of this work results in you being awarded a degree. But it can be hard to work out exactly what work has contributed towards this degree and its classification. What exactly are credits, and how do they work? What do people mean when they say ‘first year doesn’t count’?
Overall, the university degree classification you achieve is based on a combination of your performance in modules, and how many credits each module has been assigned. However, not all modules will contribute. As a general rule, the modules you complete in the first year of university will not count towards your degree classification. Second year, on the other hand, will count. Third year is the most important, with final exams and dissertations often contributing to a large part of your degree.
Keep reading for plenty more information on how degrees are classified, and how much individual years of your degree really matter when it comes to your final degree.
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How are degrees marked and classified?
Most students have at least vaguely heard of degree classification terms – first, honours, 2:2 and more. For a detailed guide, have a look at this Think Student article. But how are these actually worked out?
Generally speaking, your course will be broken down into modules, and each of these will be assigned a number of credits – say, 15 credits. Your marks or grades in that module, combined with the number of credits it’s worth, contribute to your overall degree.
For example, if you fail a module worth 15 credits, it will have less of an impact on your final grade than if you fail a module worth 30 credits – even if you got the same marks in both modules. Have a look at this article from Think Student for a detailed guide to university credits.
Your marks and credits from each module make up a percentage, and this is what decides your ultimate degree classification. Typically, 70% or more gives you a first class degree.
If this sounds confusing – don’t worry, a lot of students feel this way! Check out this overview from the University of Sussex for a quick guide.
In the meanwhile, the critical thing to know for this article is that, although you will complete modules and earn credits every year you are at university, not every year contributes equally to your final degree.
Does your first year of university count towards your final grade?
You may have been told that the first year of university doesn’t count. While this can be misleading, it is true that for most university degree courses, the work you do in the first year will not contribute to your final degree classification.
For more on this, have a look at this dedicated Think Student article.
Students have conflicting views about this. Some may have done really well with their first year work and are disappointed to learn that it won’t contribute to their overall classification.
Others are glad for the reduced pressure this puts on an already busy first year. After all, there are a lot of changes associated with going to university, and adjusting to both a new lifestyle and new academics can take some time.
First year is often a steep learning curve, getting used to new styles of teaching and working. It is nice to know that if you make a few mistakes while getting used to it and don’t do as well as you feel you could have, it won’t impact on the degree you achieve three whole years later!
Is attendance important in your first year of university?
Even though the work won’t affect your final classification, first year studies are still certainly important, so you should try your best to keep your attendance high. You can check out this Think Student article that discusses whether attendance is actually that important at uni.
While the stakes might be lower in the first year, most universities will still require you to achieve at least 40% to pass the year and move on to the second year of the course. Although the exact percentage may vary, 40% is the standard – for instance, it is stated on this page of the University of Edinburgh’s website.
If you get less than this, you will likely have to resit modules you failed, to increase your percentage, before you continue the course.
Furthermore, rather than using first year as a free year, it is far more helpful to use it to get yourself used to the demands of university work. If you learn your own working styles, what you struggle with, and favourite study techniques in the first year, you will then be all set to use these skills in the years where you work will indeed count towards your final degree.
For more discussion on this, have a look at this article from Times Higher Education about why your first year of university still matters.
How much do second and third year count towards your degree?
Because there are such a wide range of universities, module combinations and credits available, the exact weighting of second and third year varies. You should be able to ask your tutor for information specific to your degree.
However, as a general rule, modules from second and third year both count towards your final degree, with third year contributing more. This is because there are certain aspects of third year which are weighted more heavily.
Final exams often include a range of modules, so the marks you achieve will have a significant impact on your grade. Additionally, if your course includes a dissertation, this will likely be in third year.
Undergraduate dissertations are normally worth 40 credits (rather than the normal 15 or 30 for modules), as explained on this page of Northumbria University’s website. Therefore, your marks in your dissertation will have more of an impact on your degree classification than a normal module.
It is still worth checking individually with your university about their grading systems, because they might be slightly different. For example, Bedfordshire University may calculate your classification based on second and third year, or just on third year, depending on your grades in each. This can be found on their Student Union website here.
Does a placement year count towards your degree?
Some courses, particularly practical ones such as engineering, may include a placement year. Essentially, this is a year spent not studying in university, but getting experience in the industry through some sort of work placement. For more on this, check out this helpful Think Student article.
Generally, your placement year will be graded as a standalone pass or fail and won’t count towards your overall degree. That being said, a placement year is still a hugely valuable experience. You gain insight and experience into what a career in the field looks like, and this often increases employability.
You can read more about this, as well as more on how different years contribute to your degree, on this page of the Brighton University website.