What's the difference between a pass, credit, distinction and high distinction?

Basically, the difference lies in how well you have achieved the demands of the assessment task your lecturer has set for you. A pass indicates you've done the minimum, enough to just meet the needs of the task; a HD indicates you've done a great job and perhaps exceeded expectations.

What each grade actually represents will depend on the criteria set by your lecturer, the task, the discipline and the year level - in short, the content. Generally, however, the higher the grade, the better you have met the thinking demands of the task.

An example

Here's an example of a task from Social Welfare which explains the difference between grades on the basis of depth of involvement and thinking demands. It also illustrates the difference between a descriptive and critical level of writing very well.

The task

Consider the following statement: The nature of scope of the Australian Welfare State underwent considerable change from 1945 to 1990. The changes that took place over this period affected the degree of income inequality in Australian society.

Your response to the above statement must satisfy the following criteria in to earn an appropriate grade.

There is an increasing level of synthesis and evaluation for the higher grades. The mark increases as the student begins pulling the basic information together into a certain direction: the argument. At the Pass level, the key issues have been identified, which is a beginning level of synthesis. As the mark increases, more key pieces of information are pulled into the discussion to support some kind of judgement. In this subject, the judgement, or assessment of these ideas, relates to how effective the changes have been at reducing income inequality.

See 'an analytical approach' on the idea of more complex thought in your assignments.

The importance of argument

It is important in all of your written assessment that you do not simply describe or reproduce key facts or perspectives of key writers in your response. If you are after a higher grade, do something with these key facts. In most cases you will be sustaining an argument; that is, you are taking your analysis in some kind of direction. See 'Taking a position' in How do I improve my marks?

Pay attention to the basics

In preparing for your written assignment, you may have developed an insightful analysis and developed what you think is a well-supported judgement. However, all that work may be wasted if you haven't conveyed your ideas in a way that is easily and clearly understood. The point here is that it is also important to pay attention to the basics of written work: your referencing, presentation, spelling, expression. Your markers are human: they will respond better to well-presented work. (See the halo effect Opens in a new window, from Wikipedia; use your browser Back button to return here.)

Grade level Approach to task Comments
Pass Describe the major changes to the nature and scope of the Australian welfare state between 1945 and 1989. A description of key items and issues: the way Australian welfare was done and how in a specific period of time - features, characteristics of structural change.
Credit The above plus an explanation of the political and economic causes underlying the pattern of structural change. Doing something with the key items: an explanation of two types of causes - political and economic that led to the major changes
Distinction The above plus an analysis of the cumulative affect of these changes on the degree of income inequality in Australian society. Doing something further with those key items - an analysis: the kind of effect (positive or negative) these changes had on how much income inequality there was.
High distinction The above plus an argument as to which changes needed to be avoided in order to achieve greater inequality. Making an evaluation and judgement based on informed discussion: now that we know what kind of effect these changes had, make an informed argument as to what shouldn't have been pursued, if the intention was to reduce income inequality.