Essay Grades University

Here you will find a full explanation of the qualities associated with the marks and grades used in assessing your work. All written work you submit is marked in relation to these grade descriptors.

These grade descriptors can also be found in the English Literature Writing Guide.

Criteria for assessment

The numerical mark you receive should be understood in relation to these descriptors, which itemise for you not only the different aspects of your performance that are being assessed but also what you need to achieve in order to attain a particular class of mark.

We assess what you achieve in your written work with reference to four broad areas:

The extent and depth of your knowledge and understanding of the primary texts, your grasp of the conceptual, formal and historical issues and frameworks relevant to their analysis in this context, and your understanding of the scholarly and critical debates and analyses that bear upon the texts and topic.
Argument and Analysis
What you manage to do with the knowledge you’ve accumulated – how far you construct a logically clear and coherent argument in response to the question posed, how alert that argument is to textual and conceptual nuance, how wide-ranging your claim, and how aware you are of possible counter-arguments that you might need to address. In addition, we’re assessing whether you’ve been able to support your argument convincingly and thoroughly in referring to the primary texts under discussion, so that there’s sufficient evidence cited, and it is sufficiently telling, to ensure that your argument gains purchase on those texts. Finally, we’re looking here to assess how far you’ve managed to make your argument your own, or whether it is too substantially dependent either on lectures, tutorial and seminar discussions, or your reading in the secondary material.
Language and Expression
How you say what you say – whether your spelling is good and you write in a grammatically correct fashion, certainly, but also the extent to which your writing is clear and your vocabulary and tone appropriate to the task. We’re also looking here to see how far your sentence and paragraph structure help to support and convey the argument you’re looking to make.
Scholarly Apparatus
Have you provided references for all cited work, and is it completely and properly clear when you are speaking in your own words, and when you are paraphrasing or borrowing another’s? Is the risk of plagiarism successfully avoided? Are your references in the appropriate format? Is your Works Cited list consistent with the references in your text?

These four components are all important, and all related to each other, so we cannot give a fixed and single figure for the proportion of marks available for each one. However, it is fair to say that Knowledge and Argument and Analysis are clearly fundamental, and the balance of strengths and weaknesses in these areas will have a big impact on your overall mark. Some weaknesses in Language and Expression have a more serious impact than others: poor spelling is a problem, and needs to be addressed where possible, but significant problems in sentence and paragraph structure are likely to result in more serious impairment of your work.

The descriptors are the same for all years of undergraduate study, but we assume that your work should develop in terms of depth, sophistication and range substantially during your four years of study with us. Consequently, the application of assessment criteria takes account of the year of study in which work has been completed, and expectations are more stringent for honours assessment.

The grade descriptors

A 1, 90-100, I: Highly Excellent - Exemplary

A2, 80-89, I: Highly Excellent

A3, 70-79, I: Excellent

B, 60-69, II.i: Very Good

C, 50-59, II.ii: Good

D, 40-49, III: Satisfactory

E, 30-39, Fail

F, 20-29 Clear Fail

G, 10-19 Bad Fail

H, 0-9 Very Bad Fail

Assessment methods

When you start your course at the University of Sussex, you will come across a range of assessment methods that are designed for you to demonstrate your learning and knowledge as you progress through each module. You should consult Sussex Direct for the details of how your modules will be assessed. Some examples of assessment methods are:

  • Exams
  • Essays
  • Projects
  • Take-away papers (you are given a number of days to complete them)

It is important that you are aware of your responsibilities regarding assessment and progress. For further information please refer to the Student Handbook


When you get to university, your work will usually be graded using percentages. At Sussex the undergraduate pass mark is 40% and your grades will be calculated according to the grading scheme relevant to your level/year of study. Each percentage awarded corresponds to a class of degree (see table below) and your final overall percentage and credit total will determine your degree classification.

Class of degreeWeighted mean
First class
Second class, Division I
Second class, Division II
Third class 40-49%

*All the above subject to attainment of 120 credits in the final year

No work undertaken in the first year of your undergraduate degree course counts towards your final classification but you do need to pass the first year. The second and third years of a three-year degree are usually weighted in a proportion of 40:60. This may vary on four-year courses; please refer to the Examination and Assessment Handbook for specific information about classification rules. 


Second year maths

View Charlie's student perspective 


Math's in general is mainly exam based assessment. However, there is the odd project which we get which are a couple of word essays or a project, a computer programming project. Exams are 80% of each module.


Second year of the Foundation Year plus MEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering

View Aron's student perspective


Most subjects in the foundation year were both coursework and exam based usually courses are 70% exam 30% coursework. So we will be doing coursework throughout the year as well as homework every week will be set for each subject. The second year, which I have been doing (which is the first year of the engineering course), has been much the same although some subjects have been purely coursework and some 80/20% exam.

Assessment criteria

Assessments you complete will be marked against a set of assessment criteria, which will usually be published in module or course handbooks. The criteria have two purposes: first, they are intended to ensure learning outcomes are met; secondly, they help you to understand the basis on which your work is assessed.

Assessment criteria allow tutors to focus their feedback on any given piece of work. Ideally, they should note those areas in which you are doing well and areas that you could improve on, enabling you to develop knowledge and skills.

Before starting any piece of assessed work you should check any instruction you have been given about how your work will be graded and what will be expected of you. For example, if you are doing an assessment with multiple questions, make sure you know how many you need to answer.

Assessment deadlines

All deadlines for formally assessed work (any piece of coursework that counts towards the mark for a course or any formal submission) and examination times are shown on your student study timetable in Sussex Direct.

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