Number grades: U, 1-9 etc. are used in British schools to describe achievement in each subject. Whereas letter grades: F-A etc are used in American schools to describe achievement in each subject. It is usually assumed in American schools that most pupils who apply themselves can achieve an A most of the time. Philosophically it is seen as important in American schools that all students should experience success. British teachers would strongly agree, but see dangers in some children gaining 9’s (the equivalent of A*’s) with little effort, and consequently no incentive to study hard. So an 8 really is a good grade in Britain, for the majority of students. American children transferring to the British system will need help as they change systems and are elated or depressed by the grades they are given. Emotional reactions to grades received can be buried deep and it takes time, effort, love, and encouragement from a loving adult from an adult to enable a child to discuss how they feel about grades and their level of work.

Purposes of Tests/Assessments and Reports

Considerable differences may be noticed between assessment and reporting in the two systems.

In the British system, tests are geared towards processes and skills and are mainly used for diagnostic purposes, whereas American tests are to find out what the children know or can do in order to assist with grading each semester. British reports tend to be formative, written reports, setting targets, and giving an idea of the progress of the child. There is regular testing called SATs for all children at different points in their education, however they can cause considerable stress for both children and parents. Whereas American reports are more summative, giving grade levels, stating the grade level achieved rather than the progress made.

It should also be noted that the term ‘quiz’ has a very different meaning. In the British system, a quiz is something that is done for fun and has no weight to it academically. However, in the American system the term quiz has the same meaning as ‘test’ for British children. At the end of the year in secondary/upper schools British children with take ‘exams’ not ‘tests’. The seriousness of these three categories, quiz, test, exam is very different for each culture and can cause quite some upset with children if they are not understood.

Other Terminology

Check Marks

Check marks in the US are called Ticks in Great Britain. More importantly, this same check mark in a red pen is used by Americans to denote a mistake. Depending on the school a red pen may or may not be used. However, a child will expect to see marks on their work if it has been looked over, whether there are corrections, comments or questions to address. If a child receives a blank sheet back from his teacher he will assume it has not been marked rather than that it is correct.


Graduation in the British system usually only refers to the degree ceremony at the end of University courses. However, the end of every other stage of education is usually marked in some way. Some pre-schools, especially private institutions, have mini graduations to celebrate children leaving preschool to enter primary school. Year 6’s (last year of primary school) have a disco or party, t-shirts are signed, year group photos are taken. This is a significant transition for every Year 6 pupil. After the national exams, called GCSEs, Year 11’s have a prom, this is growing in popularity and is modelled much more on the American proms. For missionary children, graduation as an event can be particularly helpful for students facing the separation of long-term friendships and leaving their host country for further education.


Maths (not Math) in Britain would include some algebra, geometry and arithmetic each year rather than each being a separate year’s course. Similarly, Science would include units of Physics, Biology and Chemistry in each year’s work. This can make it difficult to move from one system to another.


Students is a term commonly used in the UK for college students, and increasingly now at High School level. Children or Pupils can be used for all school children, including High School ages. This will become apparent as you read this paper. The terms may seem strange to non-Brits, but calling five-year-olds students sounds strange to those in the British system.

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