How Do University Credits Work? - Student’s Guide (2023)

Students tend to talk about the percentage they achieved in an exam or a piece of coursework, but they don’t really talk much about university credits. University credits are essential to completing your degree and yet it probably doesn’t even cross most student’s minds. Credits could be the difference between you passing a module and could even result in having to repeat a year in university – probably a student’s worst nightmare!

You gain credits for each module you complete during your time at university. Without credits students would not be able to progress throughout university as credits are evidence that you have passed all your exams and assignments.For a 3 year undergraduate degree 360 credits are required which are accumulated by passing all your exams,andeven doing an exchange can contribute to your credits. The number of credits gained is fixed and will not change regardless of the grade you achieved in your assessments.

If you’re unsure about how university credits work, or you would just like to gain more insight aboutthemplease continue reading!

Table of Contents

What is a university credit?

In every single university,students have to gain credits to pass each academic year, and ultimately to graduate and get their qualification at the end.The typical number of credits required to pass each academic year is 120 credits for an undergraduate degree and 180 credits for a master’s degree.So for an undergraduate degree that lasts 3 years you would need to have achieved 360 credits by the end of your time in university before you can wear your graduation cap and gown and collect your certificate!

You gaincredits for each module you complete during your time at university.A credit is essentially evidence that you successfully achieved all the learning outcomes and requirements of that module, and shows that you should have a good level of understanding of all that was taught.

How many credits do you gain for each module?

The creditsfor eachmodule varyacross different degrees and even in different academic years; the common number of credits are 15, 30, 45, 60, 75 and 120.There is a large variety in the number of credits to reflect the hard work (and long hours) that would need to be put into successfully achieve the required number of credits.

A notional hour is the formal name for the estimated hours that are expectedthat a student would need to complete a module.1credit is equal to 10 notional hours, so 15 creditsareequal to 150 notional hours.150 notional hours soundslike a lot of time, especially for only one module. However, it’s important to note that teaching for one module is spread across a semester (you may want to readHow Long Are University Semestersfor more information).

Also,the150 hours includes time in lectures, tutorials, preparing for your lectures, assessments as well as your own personal revision and studying that you would do. I wouldn’t focus too much on the 150 hours, as it could lead to you feeling overwhelmed and putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Instead I would suggest breaking it down, for example:

150 hours of work across a semester that lasts 12 weeks = 12.5 hours of work per week

12.5 hours of work a week = 1.8 hours every day

1.8 hoursof worka day doesn’t seem like a lot at all, especially for only one module! 1.8 hours would probably not even include lectures, but may only include your personal revision time. So inreality, youmight actuallygo above and beyond the expected notional hours, in particular if your degree requires a lot of independent learning you would most likely exceed the predicted hours.

There are normally 4 modules per semester each worth 15 credits so in total you would need 60 credits in semester1and 60creditsin semester2. However,if you have a module worth 15 credits and a module worth 30 credits it is expected that you spend more time on themoduleworth 30 credits; this would most likely be evident in the amount of work required by each module.

How do credits relate to your assessments and exams for each module?

There are a range of different assessments which differ for different degrees. You could have a formal exam in an exam hall whereby you need to write an essay, or a group project, or a 1000 word essayfor courseworkor multiple choice questions (MCQ),oryou could even have all of theseassessmentsin an academic year.

Below is a table of the modules taken by a student in their 2ndyear of a Biomedical Science degreein semester 1with the different ways they are assessed, the percentage of each assessment, as well as the marks they achieved.

ModuleAssessment TypePercentage WeightingMarkAchievedCredits
Molecular Biology25%77%15

Table1: Modules taken by a 2ndyear Biomedical Science student with the percentage weighting of each form of assessment and the grades achieved.

From the table you can see thateven thougheach module is worth the same number of credits, the way you are assessed in each module differs.

As there are 4modules, each with an equal number of credits, each module is worth 25% of the overall grade for semester 1. From the table above the student’s average for semester 1 is 62.5% which would get rounded up to 63%.In semester 2 there would also be 4 modules, each worth 15 credits.The average for semester 1 and 2 would be taken and this would be your final grade foryour2ndyear of university.For example,if the student fromTable 1got 73% in semester 2, their average for their2ndyear of university would be 68%.

Are credits different for different courses?

In some courses the number of credits for each moduleisnot equal and can vary significantly, especially if a student has the option of choosing their own modules.

Table 2showsan example of the final year modules chosen by a student studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).The credits assigned to each module vary;the number of credits also reflects the percentage weighting of each module to the overall grade. As the Politics and International Development module is worth 10 credits it’s worth 8.3% of the overall grade, whereas the Advanced Economics Analysis module is worth 15 credits and counts towards 12.5% of the overall grade.

For most degrees, the final year consists ofa research project that involveswriting a dissertation that spans across the duration of your final year, acrossbothsemester 1 and 2.As shown inTable2, the research project module is worth 40 credits and although it comes under semester 2 which is when it is assessed, it actually begins in semester 1.

ModuleAssessment TypePercentage WeightingCredits
Semester 1
Advanced Economics Analysis12.5%15
International Economic Policy12.5%15
Politics and International Development8.3%10
Semester 2
Research project33.3%40
Concept notes25%
Capitalism, Justice and Society16.67%20
Machiavelli to Mussolini16.67%20

Table 2: Modules chosen by a final year student studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE)

How is your final degree grade calculated?

Most people aim to get afirst class, or ‘first’ (formally called first class honours)in their degree which means their average of all their assessments in universityis70% or above.A 2:1 is equal to 60 – 69% while 2:2 is equal to 50-69% and 3rdis equal to 40-49%. There is a clear distinction between the grades as achieving 70% and above requires a significant level of both knowledge and understanding of your subject, as well as the willingness to go beyond the scope of what you are taught, do extra reading and see things from a different and new perspective.

If you want to learn more about the university grading system check out this Think Student article.

In most universities the first year of your degree doesn’t count towards your final degree grade, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your first year seriously – you can be complacent!In order to progress to your secondyearyou need to pass your first year, achieving the required 120 credits– so you need to put in the hard work from the beginning. The first year of your degree can really set the tone of your attitude towards your education and it’s best to start taking it seriously at the very start. Of course, you shouldstill make time to relax and socialise, otherwise your university experience wouldn’t be complete!

The table below shows an example of the breakdown of each academic year for both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and the percentage weighting of each year towards the finalgrade.


Table 3:Percentage weighting of each academic year

For a bachelor’s degree,the final year carries the most weight of 65% while the second year is worth 35%. Once again it’s best to always be consistent in your effort throughout your degree, but as the final year does weigh the most it does tend to lead to the most amount of sleepless nightsunfortunately.

If a student achieved 60% overall at the end of their 2ndyear and wanted to get a 1stat the end of theirdegree, this would mean the student has to achieve a minimum of 75% in their 3rdyear in order to achieve a 1stoverall.

It’s important to always try your best in every assignment or exam you have in order to achieve the best grade possiblethat is a reflection of yourtrueability.

What is the pass mark at university?

No one plans on failing a module or exambut sometimesit does happen,and you could even have missed the pass mark by literally just 1%.The standard pass mark at university is 40%, so even if you get 39% this would mean you failed.

If you don’t achieve the minimum of 40% overall in a module you will not achieve the 15 credits required.The number of credits you can achieve is fixed so regardless of whether you get 40% or 60% overall in a module, as long as you pass, the only number of credits you will achieve is 15. If you get below 40% for a module, for example,38% you will not achieve 15 credits but will receive 0 credits which means you failed the module.

How can you fail a module?

Due to the different percentage weightings for the different assessments in a module it is possible to pass some assignments and still fail a module. Likewise, you could fail some assignments and still pass a module.

FromTable1in the Biochemistry module the student passed both of the MCQ’s but failed the essay as they got 30%. As the percentage weighting of the essay was higher, at 60%, this meant that itdecreasedtheiroverallgradefor this module, even though they passed the other two assessments (the MCQ’s). As a result their average for Biochemistry was 38% which means they failed the moduleanddid not achieve 15 credits. This once again reiteratesthe importance of doing your best in all your exams, in particular the ones that have the highest percentage weighting as it could make a significant difference to your grade.

Below is a table similar toTable1, except in this instance the student failed the MCQ and passed the essay. This resulted in the student instead achieving 50% overall so they passed the module and achieved the 15 creditsrequired.

ModuleAssessment TypePercentage WeightingMark AchievedCredits

Table 4: Biochemistry module taken by a 2ndyear Biomedical Science student with the percentage weighting of each form of assessment and the grades achieved.

What happens if you fail a module?

If you fail a module by getting lessthan40% you would have to redo the assessmentsfor that moduleagain.For example, fromTable1, in the Biochemistry module the student failed the essay so would have to do the essay again in an attempt to pass the module.If you’ve passed an assessment or module you can’t redo any of the assessments again in an attempt to get a higher grade, the only way you’re allowed to redo an assessment is if you faileda module.

If you failed a module your university will contact you on the next steps you should take,there may also be a fee involvedand they would also advise you to speak to your supervisor who could provide more guidance.When you’re doing a retake on a piece of courseworkor an examthe grade is usually capped between 40-50%,40% is the minimum as this is what is needed to achieve 15 credits.

When you do a retake depends on where you are in the academic year. If you fail a modulein semester 1, you would retake it at the end of semester 2 with your other assessments. If you fail a module in semester 2 your retake would take place in summer, anytime between July and August. If you re-take a module this is shown on your transcript that holdsthe details of all your modules, your module marks and the grades achieved, similar toinTable1.

To learn more about what happens if you fail a module at university, check out this Think Student article.

If you fail a module can you still progress to the next academic year?

Although 120 credits are required in order to pass onto the next academic year, there are some instances whereby a student may have failed a module but is allowed to continue to the next academic year.For example,if a studentin their 2ndyear of universitypassed all their modules in semester 1 and gained 60 credits, failed 1 module in semester 2butpassed all their other modules in semester 2, their total number of credits for the academic year would be 105 credits.They would retake this module in the summer and if they still didn’t pass they could also retake it again in the next academic year in the 1stsemester, while continuing with their3rdyear.

If you were to fail 60 credits or more in an academic year this could result in having to retake the year again.Although this is not ideal and many students would hate the thought of having to repeat the year,sometimes you might encounter a situation that is out of your control.If you were put into a situation like this it would bedifficultseeingyour friends and other people on your course move on and you’re having to re-do the year, this is when you would have to focus even more and not compare your journey to anyone elseas this could distract you from what you’re meant to be doing.

An extenuating circumstance could be a reason for having to retake the year and it could involve you being seriously sick, the death of a close loved one, orinvolvement in a serious accident.All of these situations would impact your wellbeing and are out of your control, if one of the above mentioned occurred in your life you could be given leeway, for example with a piece of coursework and you could be given an extension past the deadline or your grades may be compensated.

What happens if you submit your coursework late?

The majority of degreesrequire students to submit coursework that will be assessed and will contribute to their final degree grade.You could be given coursework at the start or in the middle of semester and it would be due to hand in before the end of the semester.Coursework given tends to be due in the semester it’s given and it wouldn’t be spread across 2 semesters.

When you have to submit a piece of coursework you are normally given a deadlinein which you would need to have submitted the work.Ifyou had a deadline on a Tuesday at 4pm and you submitted it after 4pm,this could impact the grade you will achieve.In some universities youmayhave a 5 minute leeway after the time of the deadline,for example,up until 4:05pm you would not be penalised for handing it in late as the universitywill make allowances toaccount for issues with the internet connection. But after 4:05pm you may be penalised,in some universities for every 24 hours that you hand in the coursework late you will be penalised 10% of your grade.If you submitted your coursework in at 5pmonthe day it is due(on Tuesday at 4pm), when it gets markedif the actual grade is 70%,because you handed it in late your grade would reduce to 60%. Likewise if you hand the coursework in 2 days late on a Thursday, the grade would drop to 50%.

It is possible to apply for extenuating circumstances(EC’s)for a piece of coursework if you’restruggling to complete it. Normally you would need a valid reason to apply for an EC such as a doctor’s note, however in the current pandemic some universities have made it easier to apply for an EC. Students could even self-EC a piece of coursework, which means they would not need a doctor’s note to apply for an EC which makes things a lot easier for them. But what a lot of students fail to remember is that when you apply for an EC you’re giving yourself more time to complete the assignment, but this could lead to procrastination and could lead to you doing the assignment last minute.

If you do an exchange will you gain more credits?

A university exchange programme is when a student has the opportunity to go abroad and study at one of their university’s partner institutions,for examplethis could involve studying at the University of Barcelona or Texas A&M University.The degree you’re studying will determine howeasyit is for you to partake in an exchange programme. If your degree involves the study of a language it may be compulsory foryouto study abroad inthe country in which your languageis spoken.

There is the opportunity to do either one semester or one full academic yearabroad, it depends on the exchange opportunities your university has. While studying abroad you will be givenassignments and exams to do that you would have to pass although they may or may not count towards your final degree,but you won’t gain extra credits. Either way,you mustpass all of them asyour transcriptwill showthat you did an exchange and the grade you achieved.

As different international universitieswouldhave different ways of assessing students and different learning outcomes it would get confusing trying to convert credits gained in an international university to the credits in your home university.The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) was createdto allow credits gained while on exchange to count towards the creditsthat contributetoyour final degree in your home university.60 ECTS credits equal 120 credits, which is the number of credits required to pass an academic year.

If during their second year a student studying Modern Languages did an exchange programme for a semester and gained 30 ECTS credits this is the equivalent to 60 credits. So once this student returns to their home university they will continue with semester 2 and if they pass all their modules in semester 2 and gain 60 credits, they will complete their 2ndyear with 120 credits in total (60 credits gained while on exchange and the other 60 at their home university).

If you do a placement year will you gain more credits?

A placement year will not contribute to the 360 credits needed to complete your degree, but it will be shown on your degree transcript.

A placement year is when a student takes a yearoutof university to work in the‘real world’in a fieldthat interests them. A placement year is normally after your 2ndyear of university and in order to even be considered for one you need to have good grades from your 1styearand have achieved the required credits in each academic year.

Your placement could be paid or unpaid and it could even be abroad.You would normally be required to complete a certain number of hours of work to pass, even though you will not gain extra credits for a placement year. You may also have to write a report detailing your placement experience as well as give a presentation that will all be assessed and you would be required to pass even though it won’t give you extra credits.A placement year will also teach you numerous lessons and skills that can’t be taught in a lecture hall and is attractiveto future employers as it shows that you have experience working in the real world.

If you change university or course, will you lose your credits?

Whether your credits are affected when transferring to a different university or changing your course is most often dependent on the degree that you are transferring to. If the degree you’re transferring to is similar to your previous degree the credits can be transferred.

If you’re changing from one university to another, but are continuing to study the same degree your credits won’t be affected but will just be transferred. However if you’re changing to a completely different course you would have to start from the 1styear of that degree as your previous credits will not be transferred.

In both situations your university would provide the best insight and advice as every university is different and has different requirements. If you want to learn more about transferring university credits, read this helpful Think Student article.

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