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How Is Medical School Graded? (And Is It Pass Or Fail?)

How Is Medical School Graded? (And Is It Pass Or Fail?)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

If you’re planning on going to medical school then you’re naturally going to want to know how you’ll be graded.

That’s because medicine generally attracts ‘type A’ personalities. I met plenty during my time at medical school and am undoubtedly one myself… So, during your time studying medicine at university, how is your performance graded?

Medical degrees in the UK are broadly ungraded. This means medical students don’t graduate with the usual first, second or third class honours. Instead, medicine graduates are evaluated against their peers, with individual medical schools using different systems to then determine merits or distinctions.

Medical degrees are unique in many ways, with one of them being how they’re graded. You can’t stand out by getting a first or lag behind by graduating with only a 2:2.

However, although medicine degrees aren’t classified in the traditional way, there are still ways you can differentiate yourself from your peers.

In this article, I’m going to shed some light on exactly how medical schools actually evaluate students’ performance, including what the average pass mark is for UK universities.

What Are the Medical Degree Classifications?

Strangely enough, there are actually a few different ways that medical degrees are classified in the UK. It all depends on which university you went to.

Broadly, everyone graduates with the same ‘base’ degree, and then the top 10 or 20% say are awarded either ‘honours,’ a ‘distinction’ or a ‘merit.’

For example, at Warwick Medical School, typically around 10% of students are awarded honours:

“Those achieving very good grades in assessments are awarded points. At the end of the course, these points are added together and those achieving a very high aggregate score are awarded honours.”

However, at other medical schools, such as Queen Mary’s in London, these same top students are instead awarded a ‘distinction.’

Two university students studying for a medical school exam

Often, the way it works is you can get a ‘merit’ in each individual exam you sit (if you perform well enough), and then you’re awarded either honours or a distinction at the end of your course if you’re one of the top students.

Because there’s no unified way that every medical school rewards its top performers, it’s not always possible to directly compare two medicine graduates from different universities.

However, if a student has graduated with some sort of additional distinction then you can be pretty sure (a) that they’re a very smart cookie, and (b) that they probably came in the top 20% in almost every exam they sat!

Is Medical School Pass Or Fail?

Throughout your time at school, you’ll have been assigned grades from A-F, 1-9 and excellent to poor. Does this all change at medical school then with your university only caring if you’ve passed or failed?

Medical schools generally use a pass or fail system to examine students. Any student graduating from medical school in the UK has been deemed to meet the minimum standards necessary to practice as a doctor in the NHS. Students who have not met this standard are not awarded a medical degree.

I’ve got to say this was music to my ears when I started at university. It’s not that I think that exams are the worst things ever to have been invented in the history of the world (bruised bananas are), but I was certainly ready for a bit of a break from constantly being put in a box along every step of my educational journey.

As long as you reach the minimum pass mark for each exam in medical school you’ll pass. And if you pass finals, you’ll be a doctor!

Every medical school in the UK is held to the same standards by the General Medical Council. They’re inspected to make sure they’re producing graduates of sufficient quality to be allowed to work as doctors in the NHS.

That means if you do graduate from medical school you’ve met the required quality standard- and are just as qualified to be a doctor as anybody else.

However, because medical school does just use this more binary ‘pass or fail’ metric, it does mean that the pass marks for medicine exams are a fair bit higher than any other regular degree…

What Is The Pass Mark In Medical School?

I can’t tell you how much sleep I’ve lost over exams in medical school. Thankfully, they’re all over now for me now, but getting through five years of testing certainly wasn’t a walk in the park.

Even if you only get over the pass mark by one mark, you’re home safe. However, this can still be a considerable challenge when medical schools’ pass marks are considerably higher than that for other degrees.

The pass mark for medical school in the UK generally sits between 50-60%, although there is considerable variation between universities. Medical schools often use a combination of both students’ performance and an evaluation of the exam’s difficulty to determine what the pass mark should be set at.

I remember jealously listening to my non-medic friends telling me how their first-year pass mark was close to 40% while mine had sat stubbornly at over 60%.

Two medical students studying for an exam together

The exact pass mark will vary for each exam you sit but medical schools do generally try to keep them roughly consistent. For Leicester Medical School, where I studied, this was usually between 57 and 62%.

The pass marks will normally be lowered if it’s a particularly difficult exam but kept high if it’s a relatively easy one. It’s not that they’re trying to make you fail but they do have to ensure everyone is keeping up with the minimum standard needed to progress through the course.

How Are Intercalated Degrees Graded?

Many medical schools offer the option of taking an intercalated year within your medical degree. As part of this intercalated year, students take time away from their usual medical studies to study a different field.

This intercalated year can even be done at a different university, so many students welcome it as a way to break up their time studying medicine and explore a new subject.

At the end of this year, students generally are awarded a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMedSci).

In contrast to the actual medicine degree itself, these intercalated degrees are in fact classified using the traditional honours system.

So although you can’t get a first in your medical degree, you can get a first, 2:1, 2:2 or even a third in your intercalated degree!

As well as being a welcome mental break, intercalated degrees can also make a candidate more competitive when applying for postgraduate doctor jobs- so you would want to try and not get a third to make it worth your while!

Final Thoughts

Not only are medicine courses two years longer than a normal degree, with a unique blend of theory and practical skills taught throughout, they’re also graded in a completely different way.

Us medics just love to be different!

I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who manages to graduate with either honours or a distinction- because for the majority of my time at medical school my mind was firmly fixed on just passing the exams!

If you’re just starting down the road of medical training then I’m confident, that if you put in the work, you’ll fly through any and every pass mark your university can set you and you’ll be a doctor in no time.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.