12 tips on getting a first class degree
So, you’ve got to university and you’re in the mood for a first class degree? Well, you’re in the right place.
Whether it’s your mum, the grandparents or the llama next door with a PhD, the chances are someone has tried to tell you how you should easily be winging your way to a first.
However, before you get too excited at how little you need to do to bag a winner, it’s worth thinking long and hard about the truth behind their rants.
There may be more graduates achieving firsts than in the ’80s, but the number of students attending university has also rocketed.
So despite what the oldies tell you, if you’re serious about nabbing the best a uni can give, buckle up, you’re in a for a tough – but rewarding – ride.
Here are our top tips on snagging the best grades.
Top tips for getting a first
You need to really want it
To put it bluntly, if you want to get a first class degree you have to be prepared to put in maximum effort – this isn’t for the faint hearted.
While we know you wouldn’t turn down the offer of a first, the depressing reality is you can’t just pick one up at the local pound store (not the last time we checked anyway).
The people who end up achieving are the people who have a passionate desire – minus the sloppy music and cinema style kisses – to do the best they can.
This means planning, organisation and not leaving your assignment until the day before, even if you “do work best under pressure”. Yeah, we all know that one’s rubbish really.
If you’re really struggling to get a grip on planning then check out our six steps to organisational heaven or see your university study service.
Think about the reasons you want to get a first, write them down and stick them on your wall. Whenever you feel like crumbling they’ll stare at you like an angry parent. No one wants that on a hungover Sunday morning.
Research, research, research
While not quite as famous as the three Rs (relocation, relocation, relocation, obvs) research is a key part of doing well at university.
If you have the attitude of ‘I’ve been to my lectures and seminars, I’m done’, then you may as well quit now.
You have to make an effort and you do that by digging out books, searching for journals and articles and searching the famed world wide web.
To get a first class degree you have to read around your topic (outside of the reading list) and interpret the ideas for yourself – always be critical as while your lecturer may not agree it shows you are driven by the subject.
The majority of students who achieve firsts will spend hours and hours researching and pooling together critical opinions with their own thoughts.
Don’t fret about spending ‘hours’ researching, though. Chop up your time and slot an hours reading in here and there.
It’s hard to specify how far in advance you should do your research, as long as you don’t find yourself there on Monday night poring through ten different books on astrology when your deadline is Wednesday you’ll be fine.
Make the library your best friend
Use the library – and not just as a place to sit in despair the day before your assignment is in.
Once you’ve dragged all your books back to your dwelling place, read, read and re-read if you don’t understand something.
Don’t just rely on the internet as a source of all wisdom; the best students will use a range of different sources from ancient textbooks to online journals.
First-class assignments use critical sources wisely. Whatever you do, don’t drop a critic’s name without a reason. You’ll get sussed.
Understanding the critics and making a decision whether you support or oppose their views is extremely important.
In the case of a written essay, a first class degree student will suggest one of their own ideas and then use critical sources to support them, not the other way round.
Brush up on your presentation
A large proportion of students miss out on a first class degree simply because of their presentation skills.
Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar are vital as they act as the cement which glue together a well-written sentence or paragraph.
“If. you write, sentence like this” then you’ll lose marks immediately. Great written skills help you to convey your ideas effectively… and effectively conveyed ideas are what your examiner will tick, tick, tick!
As far as these skills go, nobody is perfect. Universities offer help and advice to anyone who has problems with writing techniques or phrasing and grammar. You name it and there will be someone to help.
Most unis will also offer day-time sessions to improve key skills. These are definitely worth trying, even if they only as a reminder for things that are hidden deep in your psyche.
Don’t forget that writing style is worth an extremely large chunk of your degree mark.
Harass your tutors
We must point out this does not mean following them home and peering through their windows at night!
Book tutor appointments often, whether to talk about feedback, ideas or simply how you’re getting on. Tutors are paid to be there for you and to help you when you’re struggling. Make them earn their money…
Arrange a meeting by email or after a seminar and be prompt. If you have had results back from previous assignments marked by them, take them along and ask them to go through any improvements you can make to your writing or ideas.
Make sure you question them about any single query, no matter how trivial it may seem to you.
Now we don’t want you to literally badger your tutor as it might get us into trouble but you should always ask questions and spend a lot of time with your tutor during the whole semester.
Even if you are not a hard worker they’ll probably assume you are if you’re constantly getting in touch.
Attend all your lectures
Okay, so earlier we did say something about researching being top dog, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t go to lectures.
Turning up to all – yes all – of your timetabled hours is the very least you should be doing to get the most out of your degree.
While it may not seem the most inviting prospect at 8am on a rainy Wednesday morning, it’s the very minimum you need to be doing.
Trust us, the slides online will not contain all of the information you’ll go through by actually going. And who really wants to waste £9,000 a year?
Make sure to check out our top tips on how to get the most out of lectures too.
Study at university, literally
So, studying at university is a bit of a given, but we mean this in a literal sense.
Lying at home in your bed, or even just sitting at home in your PJs, is not conducive to a good work ethic.
Even if you don’t know it yourself, your brain connects certain environments with certain scenarios. Bed = sleep, library = study.
Get up, get dressed and get down to the library right now. Yes. Now.
Ditch your Facebook addiction
Everyone loves a bit of Facebook stalking. Who wouldn’t want to look at the outfit your best friend’s second cousin’s girlfriend wore to their engagement party two years ago?
That said, as great as time wasting is, spending your life on your computer is not only bad for your grades, but your social life too.
Between us, Britons will spend an average of 62 million hours on Facebook every single day, which is quite possibly the biggest waste of time in the history of the world.
So, close the window and get on with your studying. Deactivate your account if need be – don’t panic you can get it back – just do whatever you need to to escape its clutches of time wasting doom.
Pick topics you’re passionate about
The whole point of doing a degree should be your passion for the subject, so this shouldn’t be too tricky.
While not every assignment is going to thrill you, try and choose a topic you have a connection with, even if it’s only based on your love of the word cheese.
You’ll definitely be more inclined to spend time writing the aforementioned essay and the best assignments ooze a level of enjoyment on the part of the writer.
You’re also much more likely to impress prospective employers if you’ve spent several years honing a specialism that’s not drinking to excess.
Find a study buddy
No matter how good your motivation, there will always be days when you need a kick up the backside.
Socialising with people on your course will not only make hard work significantly more enjoyable, but also help you come across new ideas and approaches.
No matter how hard you study, people will always have a different take on stuff to you and can offer help with any tricky problems.
That and they can update you on all the latest gossip too. Win win.
Make sure to take a break
Sounds counter-intuitive, but trust us, it’s not. If you don’t make space in your study diary for a little down time, you’ll burn up or just procrastinate even more.
Whether you’ve got a secret addiction to Sex in the City or enjoy the odd night out at the pub, make sure to schedule some time in for things you enjoy.
Having funzies will mean you’ll be much happier and more inclined to study more productively.
Again, this isn’t strictly study related, but your health can have a huge impact on your ability to study.
Make sure you stay fit and active – it sounds strange but exercising can give you a huge energy boost. We’ve got a huge list of ways to stay active for less, as well as way to cut down on your gym costs.
Similarly, make sure you eat some meals that aren’t pizza. If you’re stuck for inspiration check out our cheap and easy recipes section.
We must point out there is no way to guarantee anyone a first class degree (if only), so don’t take this guide as your passport to success.
What we can say though, is the people who take the time to read and follow these tips should end up being much more engaged and committed to their studies, so you’ve made a good start.
It’s also worth mentioning that not everyone will get a first and that is totally okay. After all, it is hard to achieve for a reason and some of the most successful people don’t even have a degree.
Life is what you make of it, no matter how cheesy that sounds, and there’s also loads of other stuff you can do to help improve your prospects after graduating.