‘Luck is…(explored)’ (Salvagnin, 2008).

When starting my undergraduate degree, I had no clue about the marking system. From my school days, I knew that A* was outstanding, that C was pretty decent, and that anything less wasn’t much to get excited about. So, talk of 1sts, 2.2s and other such codes left me clueless. The higher the code, the better, right? Wrong. This short piece lays out what marks along the spectrum mean. By the end of it, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding of what’s going on!  

Many students come to see us in Skills with a mark in the low 70s, concerned about having received a ‘low’ score. Coming from environments where you’ve been marked out of 100, and are used to scoring 90+, 70 would clearly seem a disappointment. However, at university, in general anything over 50% demonstrates a solid grasp of your subject matter.  

It’s a historical curiosity of the UK university system that marks have typically been awarded along a 35% – 75% spectrum. For example, when I started my undergraduate degree in 2005, we were explicitly told not to expect marks over 72%. Don’t ask me why! However, when I became a university teacher and marker in the Humanities in 2012, we undertook training sessions advising us to widen the marking spectrum from 20% – 80%. This was in line with what was happening across the rest of the UK higher education sector at the time. Now in the 2020s, it’s not uncommon to be awarded a mark of 90+%. Marking, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences, isn’t a clear-cut exercise. Rather, it’s a subjective (albeit subject to stringent internal and external review processes) activity; one that a marker will undertake by drawing upon their own personal and professional experience, as well as university, faculty and discipline norms. 

The crucial thing to do when receiving a mark is to correlate it with your module marking rubric/assessment grid. It’s essential that you are clear as to why, for example, a particular assignment has been awarded 52%, as opposed to 57%. There’s clearly a difference in the quality of a piece that receives a 52%, from one which receives a 57%. Whilst both would fall in the category of lower second-class honours, this grid helps distinguish these marks.

If you’re unsure why you’ve received a particular mark, or want to work on your skills of interpreting (and decoding) feedback, feel free to get in touch and arrange a one-to-one appointment with one of our team. After all, we’ve all been students ourselves, and a major part of our role is to help demystify the peculiarities of studying at university.


Salvagnin, U. 2008. ‘Luck is…(explored)’. [Online]. [Accessed 20 May 2021]. Available from: http://www.flickr.com