Useful Notes: Senior Exam Results Comparison Page

At the end of every school year, senior students (16 years old) from around the world sit their senior examinations. These vary from country to country, and the grading systems used can often confuse non-natives to said country. With that in mind, here is a page comparing the scores for exams in Britain, America (both SAT and ACT), and others, from best to worst scores. If your state or country has not been mentioned, feel free to add it.


Australia's end of year high school exams vary from state to state. But a new system called ATAR has been introduced to standardize the final high school scores of students from all states except Queensland. Scores are based on percentiles. The highest score is 99.95, which indicates that the student has achieved a total score which is higher or equal to 99.95% of the total student population. The minimum score is 30.00, indicating that the student has achieved a total score which is higher or equal to 30% of the total student population. Anything below that is considered as below 30 rather than given an exact percentile, since it does not indicate anything other than that the student didn't bother to study for the exam at all, and can be quite de-motivating. As a guide, the University of Melbourne requires around 95.00 or above to study Commerce there, 87.00 for Science and 98.00 for Biomedicine. A less demanding university might require only 60.00 for entry into its Engineering program. The cutoff scores for a particular course are based on demand, and so are not set beforehand by the university (e.g. using the U of M examples above, Biomedicine does not require a higher score than Science because it is more difficult, but because more people wanted to study it, and so the cutoff for acceptance was higher).

QCS (Queensland Core Skills Test)

The result is an Overall Position, or OP, that ranks the students against every other student in the state based on their academic results and their school's overall ranking in the QCS test. OPs range from 1 to 25, with one being the best and 25 being 'did you even attend school.'


General Certificale of Secondary Education (GCSE):

Grade What It Means
A* Best. Score. Ever.
A Really good
B Above average
C About average
D Below average
E Lowest passing score
F Failure
G Worse failure
U "Ungraded" - You did nothing
X You didn't turn up to the exam

There are three tiers to GCSE, foundation, intermediate, and higher, however intermediate isn't used for all subjects, just Maths and the like, just like some exams don't have any tiers, such as History, Geography, etc. The best grade for higher is A* , and the best grade for foundation is C. Where it exists, intermediate tends to range to B.

It must be be noted by the reader that A* is not the near unattainable distinguisher that "Best. Score. Ever." seems to represent. It is not particularly hard for an academic student who studies to get an A*. All A*s however, is seriously impressive.

A-levels: Graded A* to E. You can guess which is the best and the worst.


Highers and Advanced Highers:

Grade What It Means
A1 Best. Score. Ever.
A2 Really good
B1 Good
B2 Above average
C1 About average
C2 Lowest passing score
D1 Failure
D2 Worse failure
No Award Worst failure

Highers are somewhere between GCSE and A level, and most people sit 5 in their second-to-last year; Advanced Highers are considered better than A-levels in most subjects, the maximum number of Advanced Highers most people would sit is 3, in their last year. Highers are all you need to get into Scottish unis; English unis, however, will often ask for at least one AH because Highers are generally given less value than A-levels. Some, such as Oxbridge, will ask for up to 3 As at Advanced Higher. The grading system is the same for both.

Standard Grades or Intermediates are usually sat before the Highers, but most unis don't care about those; SGs are graded 1- 7, with 1 being the highest, 6 the lowest pass and 7 a fail; Intermediates are graded A-D.

The United States of America

SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test Scholastic Assessment Test SAT Reasoning Test)

Broken down into Math, Critical Reading, and Writing, each with a mean score of 500 and standard deviation of 100.
Percentile Score 1600 Scale Score 2400 Scale Score What It Means
99.93note /99.98note  1600 2400 Best. Score. Ever.
99+ ≥1540 ≥2290  
99 ≥1480 ≥2200  
98 ≥1450 ≥2140 Awesome Score
97 ≥1420 ≥2100  
88 ≥1380 ≥1900  
83 ≥1280 ≥1800 Pretty Good
78 ≥1200 ≥1770  
72 ≥1150 ≥1700  
61 ≥1090 ≥1600  
48 ≥1010 ≥1500 About average
36 ≥950 ≥1400  
15 ≥810 ≥1200  
4 ≥670 ≥1010 Not good at all
1 ≥520 ≥790 Abysmal


Subcategories are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning, each with a mean of 18 and standard deviation of 6. There's an optional Writing section that's scored out of 12. The composite score is standardized with the same boundaries as the four main sections.
Composite Score Percentage of Students at or Below What It Means
36 100% Best. Score. Ever.
35 100%  
34 100%  
33 99%  
32 99% Awesome Score
31 98%  
30 96%  
29 94%  
28 92%  
27 89%  
26 85% Pretty Good
25 80%  
24 75%  
23 69%  
22 62%  
21 55%  
20 47% About Average
19 39%  
18 32%  
17 25%  
16 19%  
15 13%  
14 9% Not Good At All
13 5%  
12 2%  
11 1% Abysmal

Please note that these are not secondary graduation exams, but post-secondary admission ones. It's quite possible to graduate high school and get your diploma without taking either of these; what is required varies from state to state and even to some extent from one school to another.


Leaving Certificate examination. Students (aged 16-19) sit between six and ten exams at either an Higher or Ordinary level — English literature, the Irish language and mathematics are mandatory.

Percentage Grade Higher Level Points Ordinary Level Points
90+ A1 100 60
85 - 90 A2 90 50
80 - 85 B1 85 45
75 - 80 B2 80 40
70 - 75 B3 75 35
65 - 70 C1 70 30
60 - 65 C2 65 25
55 - 60 C3 60 20
50 - 55 D1 55 15
45 - 50 D2 50 10
40 - 45 D3 45 5
<40 fail none none

The only exception to the table above is Higher Level Mathematics, that gives 25 points more at the grade of C3 or higher, with an A1 giving 125 points.

The total points for a student are the sum of the top 6 point scores, the maximum being at 625. All college and university courses have a minimum point requirement, alongside one or two mandatory subjects (e.g. Biology for a Genetics course). As a comparison, the most prestigious courses have a point requirement of around 550, nearing 600 for things such as madicine, while most other courses go for around 400-500 points.


Baccalaureate, colloquially known as the "bac". 20 is the best, 0 the worst (you didn't show up). You are tested in different subjects, and then the grades are weighed to get an average grade. 0 in any subject means you fail.

20 Best. Score. Ever.
16 and above "Very good" (summa cum laude)
14 to 16 "Good" (magna cum laude)
12 to 14 "Quite good" (cum laude)
10 to 12 You pass without mention
8 to 10 You get a chance to resit at an oral exam
8 and under You fail and have to retake the last school year


Matriculation exams. You have to take four of them to pass high school, and everyone has to take an exam in Finnish.

Letter Grade Formal Name What It Means
L laudatur Best. Score. Ever.
E eximia cum laude approbatur  
M magna cum laude approbatur  
C cum laude approbatur Average
B lubentur approbatur  
A approbatur Lowest passing grade
I improbatur Failure

New Zealand

NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) is the main secondary school qualification system in New Zealand, although some of the more prestigious schools offer IB or IGCSE exams as well. There are three levels - one, two and three - and are completed in the last three years of high school. Students take five to six subjects at each level, with Mathematics and English (or Te Reo Maori) compulsory at Level One to satisfy the numeracy and literacy requirements. English is usually compulsory at Level Two, as it is required for University Entrance.

Assessments ("standards") are assessed on either a simple pass/fail scale or a four-level scale, and each passed assessment earns a certain amount of points ("credits").

Letter Grade Formal Name What It Means
E Excellence Best. Score. Ever.
M Merit Very Good
A Achieved Average to Good
N Not Achieved Failure

Note it is more common to hear a student say "I got excellence" rather than "I got an E" to prevent their parents freaking out - NCEA was introduced in 2002, and back in their high school days under School Certificate, E was an utter fail.

To pass the respective level, you need 80 credits at Level One (ten must be in literacy, and ten must be in numeracy), or 60 credits at Level Two or Level Three (20 credits from the previous level carry over, there are no literacy/numeracy requirements). You can pass with an endorsement by getting 50 or more credits at Merit or Excellence for a Merit endorsement, and 50 or more credits at Excellence for a Excellence endorsement. About 5% get excellence overall, 20% or thereabouts get merit endorsement, and half achieve.

Also, above Level 3, for the best students, exists Scholarship. This is a harder examination similar to the the Level 3 external exam for each subject. For one or two passes, a reward of $500 each is given, and from three passes, lengthy, generous scholarships are given. The cream 40-60 students are given Outstanding Scholarships and those who receive two and an additional non-Outstanding receive yet higher scholarships. Roughly 0.3% of students who take each subject at Level 3 receive Outstanding, though few attempt the exam. If you get the top in a subject or get three or more Outstanding results, you get to go to Wellington and receive your scholarship(s) from the Governor-General.


ЕГЭ (Единый Государственный Экзамен or the Unified State Exam) is the obligatory graduation exam since 2009, which everyone has to take to obtain a matriculation certificate. There are 14 possible subjects to take the exam in, but only the Math and Russian Language are mandatory, other are elective. The exam also doubles as an entrance exam to the university, so that's where elective exams enter the play: universities set their acceptance levels in three of four subjects, and candidates must obtain the required score in them. The exam is notorious for its complicated and difficult to understand grading system, which has two separate scales — primary score, which depends on the type of test, and test score which is a weighted average of a primary score mapped to a 100 points scale. Passing score differs, but usually hovers around 20-40 test points.

This form of examination is quite new and was introduced to remove subjectivity and make it harder to rig the exam results, as all students are supposed to sit them in designated exam centers, not their own schools, and test questions are mainly multiple-choice and single-answer types, with the intent to grade them automatically. Still, the accusation of mass cheating and outright rigging (especially in the Caucasus) abound, and many Russian teachers dislike multiple-choice tests with a passion to boot, arguing that they are dumbing the students down. Universities also dislike that system, as it gives them a very little say in the selection of prospective students: they must accept everyone with a passing score, even if they have grounds to suspect a fraud.

Before that Russia used old Soviet system where matriculation and entrance exams were separate, and every exam was taken in the students home school. Grading was in the Four Point Scale, and the results of the exam bore little relation to the university entrance. Though if the student got excellent grades in all subject he would get a Gold Medal, which allowed him or her to enter an university of choice without the exam, and if his or her grades were a bit lower, then the medal was Silver, and it required only one entrance exam. Other candidates must then sit the exams of university's choice, as Soviet universities were free and thus could use only entrance examinations as a measure to regulate the influx of students.

Old Russian grading system, still used in schools and universities for other purposes than graduation exams:

Grade Formal Name Translation What Does It Mean
5 Отличноnote  Excellent. Corresponds to skill and knowledge above and beyond the study program. Tends to be used sparingly, especially in the college context.
4 Хорошоnote  Good. A complete mastery of a prescribed course, but the student is somewhat lacking in true brilliance. Tends to evoke the ire of the stage moms.
3 Удовлетворительноnote  Pass. Lowest passing grade, corresponds to the barely adequate knowledge of a subject. A grade of choice of the Unlucky Everydude.
2 Неудовлетворительноnote  Fail. As the joke goes, is given only in the case of a complete'' lack of knowledge. A province of The Ditz or the Delinquent.
1 Unused since at least tsarist times, when it designated a teacher's What an Idiot reaction.

The International Baccalaureate

The IB Diploma Programme, known as the IB. The most wide-spread IB program, it is two years of insanely brutal work with massive final exams at the end. You are tested in 6 subjects (three at "Higher" level, which are even more indepth than your 3 "Standard" subjects. Four Highers is not unheard of, albeit damned impressive), with a 7 being the highest score possible. A 4 is the lowest passing score. All candidates worldwide are graded by a central board which assigns scores based on a bell curve. The ones who scored highest on whatever exam they were taking get a 7, then the next percentile get a 6 and so on. 42 points are available in the subjects, although there are three bonus points based on the Extended Essay (in a subject of the candidate's choice) and the Theory Of Knowledge (like philosophy, but mainly focuses on logic and critical thinking skills) essay. In practice, all passing candidates get at least one of the bonus points due to the overlap in various requirements for passing.

Candidates are also required to do 150 hours of what is known as CAS (Creativity, Action, and Service, fifty of each). Creativity means taken part in some artistic endeavour, typically learning an instrument. Action means doing some kind of sport, in most schools this is covered just by going to P.E. (Gym class, for Americans). And Service generally means community service, some form of volunteer work.

The global average score is around 30 points (i.e. 5 of 7 points in each subject, give or take the +1 or 2) with a 'pass' being 24. "Good" scores are HIGHLY subjective. Australia's top university will take you on something as low as 24 (stipulating that you get 776 on your higher subjects, which is no mean feat.) whilst Oxford or Cambridge require at least a 40 to look at your application (although that can be lower, depending on course - oversubscribed courses (like History) can easily ask for upwards of 40, whilst more specialist subjects, such as Music, asking for the high 30s).

Although 38 points is the absolute minimum for Oxbridge, in reality they will not take a second glance at anyone who is predicted with less than 40. The points you need for admission not only depends on the university but also on the subject you want to take. As a general rule assuming you're not applying to a vastly undersubscribed course, a pass (24 points, not including bonus points) will get you into a good, if not great university. 34 points will get you into the likes of Essex and Birmigham. Both extrememly good universities, but founded more recently and thus considered less prestigious. 38-40 is enough to get into the older, more prestigious universities such as Durham or Exeter. And a predicted grade of 40 will at least get you an interview at either Oxford or Cambridge.

The IB is seen very differently from country to country. What is important though is that it is seen in most countries around the globe, as opposed to certain internal examination systems in different countries.

The AP

AP normally is in competition with the IB, however the AP is Advance Placement by subject, so it's quite possible to only take it in one area. Getting a good score on the AP placement exam can give college credit in many universities. However if you want to go to say Harvard, the credit may not be accepted. Thus there is the AP subject test. With a Scale of 1-5, the ranking is simple. 1 is bad, 5 is awesome. Nearly every academic subject has an AP test, and what Colleges require vary. Some schools might accept a 3. Nearly all a 5. This will waive requirements for students upon entry to college and reduce their mandatory requirement in some fields, while letting them skip to the good stuff in others. For example, a Physics Student who passes the B/C Calculus test with a 5 will be able to skip right to vector calculus and likely take a full semester or more off their schedule.