Understanding & Converting German Grades

For those who studied or will be studying in Germany and other German-speaking universities, understanding the grading system might be rather confusing for those used to the UK and US system of grading; this is made worse by the fact that very few people in Singapore are truly familiar with the grading system in German-speaking universities. For this reason, after conducting much research and comparisons, we have put together some useful in-depth information to give you a better understanding of the German grading system!

1. Die Noten – Understanding the German and the UK/US Grading Systems

Generally speaking, the German grading system is one that is based on banding and each individual grade (called Note) are usually awarded based on the following banding descriptors, which range between 1,0 to 5,0. A 0,3 or 0,7 is usually added to the individually listed grades for finer differentiation within the grade band (e.g. a 1,3 is better than a 1,7 although both grades fall under the same  band). For this reason, the following individual grades (Note) may be awarded: 1,0; 1,3; 1,7; 2,0; 2,3; 2,7; 3,0; 3,3; 3,7; 4,0; 4,3; 5,0.  The best possible attainable grade is a 1,0 and 4,0 is generally the lowest passing grade, with some universities awarding a 4,3 whilst others do not. Additionally, some universities may also have an additional 6,0 to denote a complete failure (i.e. no re-sits possible).

In addition, an European Credits Transfer System (ECTS) grade, established as part of the Bologna Process to facilitate the transfer of credits between European institutions, is awarded in addition to the German grade. The ECTS grade is usually added in the Diploma Supplement, a certificate which provides detailed information about the programme and the university in which the degree was awarded. It is important to note that the ECTS grade is a ‘relative’ rather than an ‘absolute’ grade, and students are awarded the grade based on their class position in a test or examination as seen in the table below. Based on information provided by the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, or the Association of Universities and other Higher Education Institutions in Germany, and the ECTS User’s Guide, this is the recommended guideline for the awarding of ECTS grades in relation to German grades:

 

ECTS Grade % Rank German Grade German Definition English Definition
A Top 10% 1,0 – 1,5 Hervorragend Excellent
B Next 25% 1,6 – 2,0 Sehr Gut Very Good
C Next 30% 2,1 – 3,0 Gut Good
D Next 25% 3,1 – 3,5 Befriedigend Satisfactory
E Final 10% 3,6 – 4,0 Ausreichend Sufficient
F/FX 4,1 – 5,0/6,0 Nicht Bestanden Fail

As seen from the table above, “Mit Auszeichnung” is considered the topmost band where the best grades are awarded, whilst “Befriedigend” is the minimum for a pass grade. However, the use of “Mit Auszeichnung” or “Befriedigend” may differ from university to university and from degree programme to degree programme, with several universities using “Sehr Gut” as the top band instead with a different set of grade requirements (see examples from Universität Mannheim (Page 14), Universität HeidelbergLMU München, and the Karlsruhe Institut von Technologie). As such, it would be best to refer to the examination regulations (Studienordnung) for the specific degree programme to understand the grading system used for the ranking of students.

Generally speaking, most conversion tables from organisations such as the British Department for Education or the National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) recognise grades within the top band as being equivalent to a First Class Honours grade, grades within the second band as being equivalent to a Second Class (Upper Division) or 2:1 grade, with the remaining passing grade (namely all grades up to the “Befriedigend” or “Satisfactory” band) generally recognised as being equivalent to a Second Class (Lower Division) or 2:2 grade (Click here for more information).

However, the most important thing to take note about grading in Germany is that just like its education system, grading is highly decentralised and may vary even within a university depending on the faculty or even professor, where some even make it clear that they do not give out the top grade of ‘1,0’ unless they deem a work to be particularly exceptional! In fact, top-tier and more competitive universities in Germany are well-known for being rather harsh in terms of grading at times, so much so that several reputable UK universities such as Imperial College and University of Warwick make it clear in their graduate and postgraduate application websites that they would lower their grade expectations for applicants who graduate from such universities. Most universities, including the so-called “Elite” German universities, typically state a minimum grade of 2,5 to 3,0 (i.e. a grade within the “Gut” or “Befriedigend” band, depending on the university and degree programme in question) for entry into most Masters courses, although the grade expectations may be higher for more competitive graduate NC-courses such as Psychology (2,3 or better).

2. Comparing German Grades against UK and US Grading Systems

Whilst it is very difficult to generalise the way German grades are awarded due to the aforementioned reasons in this section, we have nonetheless done some extensive research and put  together the information we gathered in a table to help those who are unfamiliar with the German system to get a feel of what each German grade is roughly equivalent to.

As mentioned earlier, do note that most UK and US universities also often take the reputation of the individual German universities into account as top tier universities are usually well-known for being harsher in the awarding of grades – for this reason, some leeway and a lowered grade expectation are granted for graduates from such universities. Information for this section have been sourced from and compared against those provided by the following organisations’ and universities’ websites: UK National Recognition Information Centre (UK NARIC), the University of Aberystwyth’s EU Qualifications Comparability Calculator (that is based on UK NARIC’s International Comparisons and Grading Transfer System), the University of St AndrewsKing’s College London (KCL) and World Education Services (WES). The first four sources provide a comparison based on the UK system, whilst WES is a a third-party verification agency in the US that is used by many US universities – such as the Harvard Business School, amongst others – for transcript conversion purposes.

Table Comparing German University Grades to UK, US and Singaporean Grades

German Grade NUS/NTU SMU WES (US Grades) UK NARIC
1,0 A+ A+ A(Until 1,5) UK First Class Honours(Until 1,9)
1,3 A A
1,7 A- A- A(Until 2,5)
2,0 B+ B+ / B Second Class Honours, Upper Division (Until 2,8)
2,3 B B-
2,7 B- C+ B(Until 3,5)
3,0 C+ C Second Class Honours, Lower Division (Until 3,9)
3,3 C C-
3,7 D+ D+ C(Until 4,0)
4,0 D D Third Class Honours
4,3 F F F Unclassified
5,0/6,0

**N.B. The WES and UK NARIC comparisons are for the overall averaged-out grades for German degrees (i.e. Durchschnittsnote or Gesamtnote), whilst the German grades compared against the NUS, NTU and SMU grade conversion tables are for grades awarded in individual course modules. Therefore, when converting a degree as a whole (e.g. for purposes of Honours classification), the WES and UK NARIC reference should be used as a guideline. Alternatively, you can calculate your GPA by first converting the German grades into the Singaporean grade equivalent before checking to see how they correspond to the Honours/Cum-Laude & Merit Awards system using the guidelines provided by NUS, NTU and SMU respectively.

Degree with Honours and Classification?

Due to education being under the purview of the individual Federal States (Bundesland) rather than the Federal Government (Bundesregierung), Germany generally does not have an Honours system nor a degree classification system akin to that of the UK or Singapore. For this reason, with the exception of certain courses such as Law or postgraduate courses, honours – be it latin honours or degree classifications – are very rarely given out at German universities. Some universities might award special distinctions (e.g. “Mit Auszeichnung” or “cum laude”) to students whom they consider exceedingly exceptional (viz. a final grade of 1,1 and better), but this is extremely rare and far between for those completing a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Having said that, the UK Department for Education recognises the German Bachelor degree as being equivalent to British Honours degrees, meaning that a German BA or BSc is equivalent to a British BA (Hons) and BSc (Hons). This is also the case for other German qualifications such as the Staatsexamen, Diplom or Magister. For this reason, you should have no worries about having your degree recognised as an Honours degree in Singapore as well as most Commonwealth countries! What is interesting to note is that unlike Singapore and UK system where only certain Honours students are given the option of writing a thesis or dissertation (called a Bachelorarbeit or Masterarbeit), all German university students are expected to write one without exemption as part of their course requirement in addition to attending a colloquium or viva prior to graduation – this is a practice carried over from the former 4 to 5-year Magister/Diplom system that has now been phased out. In view of this, you can be assured that the regular Bachelor or Master course in German universities are definitely as rigorous as those courses with Honours back in Singapore or the UK – if not more!

Having said that, the conversion of the overall grade or classification of a German degree for graduate or postgraduate admissions is often done on an individual, case-by-case basis as many Anglophone universities are cognisant of the highly subjective German grading system which may be particularly harsh on students who come from more renowned traditional universities – such a practice is commonly followed by top universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and UCL who have replied to our members’ queries in the past. This is largely due to the widely acknowledged fact that the Universitäten (Unis) and Technische Universitäten (TUs) are notorious for being harsher and more stringent in the awarding of grades in comparison to the Fachhochschulen, even though the latter also award degrees that are technically recognised as being equivalent to those awarded by the traditional universities (See this article for more information).

For holders of German degrees who would like to further their studies outside of Germany, Austria or Switzerland, the following universities have provided some rough guidelines as to how the grades of the German degrees would be converted:

  • University of Edinburgh (Business School), Scotland (UK): An overall grade of 2,5 or better that falls within the “Sehr Gut” or “Gut” band is generally accepted as meeting the university’s expectation of an Honours degree from a good university, with an excellent or very good classification that is equivalent to a First Class or Second Class (Upper Division) degree classification.
  • University of Brighton, England (UK): An overall grade within the first band (i.e.”Sehr Gut”) is considered equivalent to a First Class Honours degree classification, whilst a grade in the second and third bands (i.e. “Gut” and “Befriedigend”) are considered as 2:1 and 2:2 equivalents respectively.
  • University of Warwick, England (UK): A score of 2,0 – 2,4 is considered as a 2:1, while a score of 2,5 – 3,1 is considered as a 2:2.
  • University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada: An overall grade classified as “Gut” according to the German banding system is considered equivalent to a Second Class (Upper Division) degree classification or 4.0 CAP according to the Singapore university grading system (NUS/NTU/SMU), a Second Class (Upper Division) or 2:1 degree classification according to the UK system, or a B+ average on a 4-point GPA scale according the Canadian or US system. Further individual comparisons can be made on the UBC website which allows users to toggle between the various international qualifications vis-à-vis the expected grades for admission into a UBC graduate or postgraduate course.
  • University of Sydney (Business School), Australia: An overall grade of 3,0 according to the German system is considered as being equivalent to a ‘Credit’ or an overall score of 65% in the Australian system.

Do note that the overall grade and degree classification conversions were provided by the various universities as rough guides and are not meant to serve as an absolute reference for cut-off scores – these are subject to further individual considerations on a case-by-case basis, as well as possible future changes to the conversion agreements!

3. Grading System for Courses graded through Staatsexamen

In the case of courses such as Medicine and Law where candidate sit for the Staatsexamenor Staatsprüfung instead, a different grading system may be used from the aforementioned. In these instances where a point-based system is used instead of the usual grading system, it is best to refer back to the individual German universities’ websites for explanation on the grading system. For most medical courses that are recognised by the Singapore Medical Council, however, the usual German grading system that is explained earlier on in this section is generally used for most module examinations as well.