Could someone familiar with English university grading explain to me the system used when one hears that so-and-so "took a First in ..." whatever academic category? I have always assumed this was an indicator of academic excellence and left it at that. Today however I encountered a statement that a certain person "moved along to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took an undistinguished Third in classics."
If a 'Third' is undistinguished, I presume it doesn't mean that he ranked third in academic accomplishment in his class of that year. It must mean something else, but what?
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Could someone familiar with English university grading explain to me the system used when one hears that so-and-so "took a ... that he ranked third in academic accomplishment in his class of that year. It must mean something else, but what?

These references to First and Third are to the class of degree awarded. This page has a pretty good explanation of the classes of Honours degrees given by English universities:
http://www.wordiq.com/definition/British bachelor's degree classification
Fran
Could someone familiar with English university grading explain to me ... of that year. It must mean something else, but what?

These references to First and Third are to the class of degree awarded. This page has a pretty good explanation of the classes of Honours degrees given by English universities: http://www.wordiq.com/definition/British bachelor's degree classification

It should be pointed out that although it is stated that about 10% of students gain a First, there is no quota, so a student can never blame the fact that s/he didn't get a First on the fact that the cohort was particularly strong that year. I remember an example of a department where approx 100 students graduated each year, where one year there were only a couple of Firsts and the next year there were something like 14.

Here's some some interesting notes on the subject of assessment: http://www.uea.ac.uk/~m242/historypgce/assess/welcome.htm

Adrian
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Could someone familiar with English university grading explain to me the system used when one hears that so-and-so "took a ... that he ranked third in academic accomplishment in his class of that year. It must mean something else, but what?

Some have A, B, C.
Others have first class, second class, third class, supplementary, fail.

Others still might call them, excellent, good, pass, fail

Steve Hayes from Tshwane, South Africa
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734/stevesig.htm
E-mail - see web page, or parse: shayes at dunelm full stop org full stop uk
These references to First and Third are to the class ... Honours degrees given by English universities: http://www.wordiq.com/definition/British bachelor's degree classification

I am pleased to learn from this that my own Third places me in a distinctive, if not distinguished, select group.
The page suggests that discretion is applied in the classification process. My impression from working as an external examiner is that discretion in assigning degree classes has reduced with the spread of modular degrees, where class depends on an accumulation of marks, often from different disciplinary areas. Complex rules are established and this occasionally leads to students missing a higher class by a very slim margin.
It should be pointed out that although it is stated that about 10% of students gain a First, there is ... and the next year there were something like 14. Here's some some interesting notes on the subject of assessment: http://www.uea.ac.uk/~m242/historypgce/assess/welcome.htm

Those notes relate to assessment in school rather than universities. There is a colossal literature on assessment in higher education: some informative links can be found at
http://www.city.londonmet.ac.uk/deliberations/assessment/

Laura
(emulate St. George for email)
http://www.wordiq.com/definition/British bachelor's degree classification
I am pleased to learn from this that my own Third places me in a distinctive, if not distinguished, select group.

And there is a school (school! - arf! D'ye see what I did there?) of thought that reckons a Third is more distinguished than a First. By the following reasoning:
A First indicates a brilliant student with whose views the examiners agree.
A Third indicates a student too brilliant to fail but with whose views the examiners disagree or whose views the examiners are not bright enough to understand.

John Dean
Oxford
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(Gosh! Sorry, but I've taken off on a ramble, not for the first time.)
The Great Henry Sweet, mentioned in another thread, had the distinction of having graduated with fourth -class honours in Greats. I may be quite wrong, but I don't think Oxford in those days offered an undergraduate course in English and related matters, perhaps not even modern languages. As an already fluent writer of German, the man who was to become the father of philology would clearly have done better in one of those fields than in the Classics. The fourth was later abolished, though not before Alec Douglas-Home (pron. Hume!) got one.
I think the new University of London made the mould for later systems by introducing Pass, or General, degrees as an optional target in their own right, and shortening the standard course to three years so that the traditional English and Scottish Master's was no longer the ordinary target for better students. To get your Master's degree you had to follow the now normal practice of adding a year's study. (Was this influenced by American practice?)
The other London innovation was allowing anybody to register in advance and sit the exams without having been an enrolled undergraduate: this had enormous influence, not just in Britain, but I think across the Empire. In most ways, it was not Oxford, Cambridge or the Scottish Universities, but London, which was the key higher education institution of the later British Empire. Several distinguished universities began life as colleges teaching for the London exams. This finds an echo today in the new and sometimes catastrophic practice under which universities may "franchise" their qualifications to other institutions anywhere in the world.

One of the many fine achievements of the busy 'sixties was the indepe ndent Open University, which rendered the London External setup pretty well obsolete with a thoroughly modernised approach.

Skitt once mentioned that in Latvia one could "challenge" for the university exams from outside: I took this to mean you didn't have to register a stated number of years in advance. Why this more informal arrangement didn't appeal to London, I don't know.

Mike.
http://www.wordiq.com/definition/British bachelor's degree classification
I am pleased to learn from this that my own Third places me in a distinctive, if not distinguished, select group.

And there is a school (school! - arf! D'ye see what I did there?) of thought that reckons a Third ... to fail but with whose views the examiners disagree or whose views the examiners are not bright enough to understand.

Therefor, the useful distinction (arf?) between types of Third. CDB
Could someone familiar with English university grading explain to me the system used when one hears that so-and-so "took a ... a statement that a certain person "moved along to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took an undistinguished Third in classics."

Unfamililar readers should keep in mind:

1. For 100 years or more, Oxford and Cambridge (theleading universities) publish in the leading London newspapers their examination results and degrees and prizes awarded. Degrees are ranked First, Second and Third Class and listed in order of merit.

2. Many readers of these newspapers take notice ofthis information (as of the Court Circular reporting the royal family's activities) because they find it useful in their social lives.
By contrast, although Canadian universities rank (or used to rank) degrees in the same way, the difference between Firsts and Thirds carries no social weight; correspondingly, no leading newspaper prints examination results of even the leading universities. This information has in Canada none of the social or professional significance it has in England.

Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
(Ottawa, Canada)
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