Firstly, Irish universities traditionally use a verbal grading system to classify overall degree results, rather than a GPA. A high achieving student might for example graduate with a degree with first class honours (“a first”) based on their average marks (grades).
The second main difference is that universities here traditionally grade work between about 40% (pass) and 70%-75% (excellent). Only a relatively small proportion of students in a class are awarded a mark of over 70%, particularly in disciplines such as the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
This is quite different to universities in the USA and other countries that follow the US system, where work is generally graded between 60% (pass) – 100%. A student from the US for example, who is accustomed to receiving A grades, may therefore get a mark of 70-75 at an Irish university for work of the same general standard.
A mark of 70% awarded by NUI Galway is therefore the same as a 70% awarded by a US university. In fact, the different marking system means that a 70% from NUI Galway is generally considered equivalent to an A grade (usually over 90%) at a US university.
If you’re a visiting student, your home university will be aware of the different marking system used here and will normally convert your NUI Galway mark back to the corresponding letter grade in your home country (see table below).
If you are a full degree-seeking student from a country that follows the US system, it’s equally important to remember that scores of 70% or greater are usually only awarded to a small minority of students for work deemed “excellent”. Therefore, if you receive a 70% 0r greater then you’re likely to be one of the better performing students in your class.
For the same reasons outlined above, it is important also not to be fooled into thinking that it’s easier to achieve a passing grade in Ireland, given that the pass mark is normally 40%. A paper or exam awarded a 60% in the US for example would probably be awarded a 40% in Ireland, which means that the overall standard of work needed to pass is generally the same.
Here is a rough guide to how the grading system in Ireland might compare to the letter grade/GPA system common in other countries*:
|Verbal Grade||% Grade||Equivalent Grade||Equivalent GPA|
|First Class Honours||70% or above||A+ (93%-100%)||4.00|
|Second Class Honours, Grade 1||60% or above||A (90-92%)||3.33|
|Second Class Honours, Grade 2||50% or above||B (80-89%)||2.66|
|Third Class Honours||45% or above||C (70-79%)||2.33|
|Pass||40% or above||D (60-69%)||2.00|
|Fail||Less than 40%||F (0-59%)||< 2.00|
*Note: These are suggested equivalents only. Interpreting grades from other countries and education systems is highly complex and no single definitive system exists. Individual universities may use their own system for interpreting grades.
There are many reasons why different grading systems are used in different countries around the world. As well as historical, cultural and other pedagogical reasons, one contributing factor may be the different systems of assessment used in different education systems.
For example, while Continuous Assessment is increasingly used in Ireland, you may find that the academic culture at NUI Galway is more heavily geared towards end of semester examinations compared to your home country.
Students can generally expect that approximately 70-80% of their grade for a particular class will be based on a formal end of semester exam, which is usually essay based rather than short answer or multiple choice questions (depending on the discipline) and usually covers the full semester’s material.
The remainder the grade is normally based on a mid-term assignment(s), but again this can vary by discipline.
Also, unlike in the USA, where even attendance at lectures and/or class participation may contribute to your grade, your performance in the end of term exam will generally determine your grades in Ireland.
For more information about assessment, please refer to the previous post about Undergraduate Programmes and Teaching, Learning and Assessment at NUI Galway.