Canadian "firsts" in university
June 20, 2010 2:07 PM   Subscribe

UK university terminology in 1940s Canadian university - what would a "first" have been?

Old diaries mention someone receiving "several firsts" when marks were issued at Dalhousie University in the early 1940s. Does this mean the same as it would in the UK (and what is that, exactly?)?
posted by TAP to Education (5 answers total)
This means that the person in question graduated with highest honours. It's more or less the same thing as graduating summa cum laude. C.S. Lewis, for example, graduated as a Triple First--this means he achieved highest honours in three subjects.
posted by smorange at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2010

In the UK, a first is (almost*) the highest honour you can receive for your undergraduate degree (roughly equivalent to a 3.5-4.0 GPA). Currently for most courses this is an average result of more than 70%.

I don't know how this relates to Canadian unis circa 1940, but "a string of firsts" could refer to a number of undergraduate tests or essays that receive very high marks. At least, that seams more likely than several first-class degrees, as firsts usually only refer to your undergraduate degree.

On second thoughts, this answer is not nearly as helpful as I thought it might be - sorry!

*FWIW, some courses here grant a "starred first", reserved for those with a first with distinction, or around 85-90% average score across your degree marks.
posted by dumdidumdum at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2010

At the University of Toronto, I've heard (mostly British people) refer to those graduating with High Distinction as having a first. These graduates have a GPA of 3.5 and above out of 4.0, and therefore an average in the B+ and greater range.
posted by betafilter at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2010

Cambridge still splits degrees into Parts I & II (& potentially III if you do maths), each of which are given individual grades. Generally, people talk about their Part II grade as their "degree grade" though.
posted by pharm at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2010

At both Oxford and Cambridge, the term 'first' can be applied to an individual exam result, as well as a degree. The same is presumably true at Dalhousie.

I think there has been some grade inflation since the 1940s, so a smaller proportion of people received firsts then than now.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:42 AM on June 21, 2010

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