A university degree is one of the highest educational levels most people will achieve and it has a lot of prestige attached to it. However, a First-Class Degree is an even greater achievement, as it shows that you are one of the best in your university cohort. For this reason, many students wonder how they can reach this goal and get a result of which they are proud. It can be difficult to know how to gain a First-Class Degree, so knowing the hints and tips that have worked for other students can be immensely helpful.
A first-class degree is a high honour awarded to students gaining over 70% in their course. It takes a lot of work to achieve but gives you greater career opportunities after graduating. The most important way you can improve your chances is to fully engage in your course. This means attending all your lectures and handing in all assignments. It doesn’t stop there: getting to know your tutors by going to office hours is key. Other tips include checking past exam papers for ideas and also keeping healthy study habits.
This section will have given you a skim of the tips we have for getting a First-Class degree, but as this is a complex subject, please read on to find out more details and examples.
What is a First-Class Degree?
Most students’ first question about this topic is what a first-class degree is. You may have heard about it as an academic achievement, or a type of qualification, but often have no idea what it is or how to achieve it.
Simply put, a first-class degree is usually awarded when you gain over 70% average scores in your university exams and coursework. At some universities, if you achieve a high 2:1 and gain 70% in some of your coursework, you may also be given a “first” (another name for a first-class degree).
For more information on types of degrees and Firsts, please check out this helpful Think Student guide.
How Hard is it to Get a First-Class Degree at University?
As a rigorous academic honour, gaining a first-class degree takes hard work and dedication. They are not given easily and will require you to spend a significant amount of time studying and doing wider reading and work to engage in your subject to the highest level.
However, the rewards from achieving a first-class degree will be worth it. It shows to potential employers that you are dedicated and knowledgeable above other candidates in your field. It may qualify you to enter at a higher pay scale or role level in your chosen job. If you want to find out more about using a First-Class degree in your CV and other scenarios, please read more here.
A First is a much sought-after honour, so read on to find out more about how you can achieve it.
1. Engage Fully in Your Course
While it may seem obvious, students at university can get very wrapped up in the social aspects of living away from home and being independent for the first time. This can mean they forget why they have come to university: to get a qualification that will educate them and to improve their job prospects.
Often, students do not attend all their lectures, tutoring sessions, and seminars. This leads to being behind on course content and struggling to understand assignments. In time this will mean your valuable study time is taken up by trying to teach yourself content. This is not productive, as you could have learned the content from the source, who is also setting your exam. Not only do lectures teach content, but they also often have extra tips on how to improve presentations, essays, or even exam hints. Therefore, it is key to attend all of your lectures and tutoring sessions and engage in them by making notes and asking questions.
Learning what the difference between a seminar, lecture, and tutoring session can be confusing. If you want to know more about the different types of lesson you get at university, this helpful guide can help you understand.
Tutoring sessions and seminars are equally important. These are where you can ask for clarification on topics you do not understand, and also get to know your tutors better. This will be helpful to you when studying, as you know not only what sort of questions they are likely to set, but also that you can ask them for help if you are struggling, as you have established a relationship with them.
Of course, you do not have to attend every single lecture, but it is important to only miss them when you have a valid reason, such as an appointment, illness, or secondary commitment. Remember that you are paying for your education and you should make the most of it if you want to achieve a First-Class degree.
2. Check the Feedback You Are Given
In all subjects at university, you will be given assignments to complete. These may be essays, practice problems, or bigger projects such as presentations or even your dissertation. These are key to improving your understanding of the content, so you should complete them all, however, the work does not stop once you hand them in.
When you get back grades or corrected assignments, it is very important to compare these to your previous assignments, to see how you are improving. This will help you to know where your weaker areas are. Therefore, this will help you know what to work on which is key to getting a first-class degree.
Also, when you get assignments back, check through your writing or work for any comments by the marker. These could come from the syllabus, or direct annotations onto the work. It is key to highlight the sections you have struggled in (as above), but also to see that any comments you get are made into action plans of how you can change or apply the skills needed further in the next assignment.
If you have any questions on grades or feedback, go to your tutor’s office hours or seminars as above and ask them about it. This shows that you are a conscientious student, while also giving you the information you need to improve.
Your teacher is the one grading the course, and remember, a 70% average overall is required to gain a First-Class degree. Therefore, you should maintain a good work ethic throughout, and ensure that your assignments are all up to standard. Applying feedback is the best way to improve your grades overall.
3. Make Your Essays Your Own
When writing an essay, it can be very tempting to look to previous critics, or other students to try and figure out the “right” opinion on a topic. Indeed, many students formulate their ideas based on critics, without ever considering their personal feelings on the topics. However, if you want to get better marks it is key to formulate your own opinions.
If you find this confusing, remember that it is always best to form an opinion for your “thesis statement” or main point in an essay then use critics to back it up, not the other way around. There may be a provided essay structure to follow, but do not be constrained by this. Formulaic essays without development and debate are a sure-fire way to drop marks and not engage your teachers.
The best way to make an essay engaging is to find a fresh perspective on the topic. If you can convincingly and correctly back up your argument while being original, this is where you will gain the best marks. Professors have usually taught the same courses and subjects for years, so finding something new or original to bring them will make them interested. This is the best way to raise your marks, and raising your marks is key to getting that First-Class degree.
Of course, if your papers are not original there can be serious consequences, for example, if you copy someone else’s work. For more information on plagiarism, please read this article.
4. Find Your Interests Within Your Degree
The whole idea of a university degree is to improve your understanding of a certain area of study. Therefore, it is always advisable to choose a degree that you are passionate about. However, inevitably within the degree, there will be topics that you are more interested in, as well as those that you do not enjoy.
For this reason, you may pay more attention to some areas, and neglect others. As the First is gained for the whole of the course, not just the units you enjoy, it is important to give attention to all parts when revising. However, it is also key to spend time developing your knowledge of the parts you enjoy with further research and reading. This can even help you in the parts you don’t enjoy, by finding links between the two you can deepen your knowledge and find things you like within all the topic areas.
Throughout your course, make notes of any areas you particularly find interesting or wish to know more about. These can be invaluable when you come to write a dissertation or presentation and suddenly have no idea what topics interest you. Further reading you have done will also be especially important at this point, as it will give you a head start in preparing what you need to complete these.
5. Check Past Exam Papers
Getting consistently high marks on exams is key to gaining a first-class degree. Students can be extremely stressed by the unknown nature of the questions and content when it comes to exams. However, there are ways to reduce this and even to guess what may be on the exam.
The first way is of course to attend lectures. Along the way many teachers will give hints about the content of exams and what to revise, so making a note of this is essential to getting the best marks you can in an exam.
The second way is to look at past exam papers. Most university courses will have a bank of past papers for each module in the library, which you can look through for ideas on questions. One way to predict the topics is to look through and make a note of which question areas come up every year and also topics that haven’t come up in the last few papers. These are the most important areas for you to focus on in revision (although be sure to cover everything at least once), as they are the most likely to come up.
This technique can also help you prepare, as you can practice answering past questions and see what style of questions often come up, which will help you to revise in the right way. For more information about techniques that help with focus and revision, check out this Think Student guide.
6. Get to Know Your Tutors and Lecturers
This is one of the hardest parts of learning at university. In school and sixth form college, your teachers were likely very hands-on and made the effort to get to know you and to ask for your work. However, at university, you are expected to make your own way through the course and motivate yourself to complete work. This can be a very difficult transition to make for many students.
One way to make this transition easier and therefore lead to a better degree is by getting to know your tutors. Most tutors hold office hours, where you can come and ask them questions about the course. If you have a question about an assignment or are struggling with a topic, the best way to find out what to do is to attend these office hours and speak to the person who knows the course best: the teacher. You will probably be told the office hours at the start of the year or in the syllabus, so be sure to pay attention to these.
If you cannot attend office hours, send your tutor an email, or speak to them after classes. Essentially, making yourself known to the professor will increase your chances of getting a first-class degree because they will see you as a motivated student who cares about their learning.
7. Stay Healthy and Take Breaks
When in a new environment such as university where you are suddenly responsible for all of your health and care as well as your academics it can be very easy to let one slip by the wayside. However, it is impossible to get good grades if you are not taking care of yourself, as the saying goes – if you do not take breaks, breaks will take you. In other words, you will burn out and be unable to complete your course.
One way to do this is to eat nutritious meals and get regular exercise. Your body needs to be healthy for it to do the work it needs to. Your brain will struggle to understand the content if it is not correctly fuelled. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having treats – it is a great motivator and is healthy to sometimes indulge yourself! For more information on healthy foods that boost your brain, check out this guide.
Another keyway is to take breaks from work – go out in the evening some days and others stay in and watch a film or do another relaxing activity. As long as you are keeping on top of assignments and reading, with a little extra work, there is no need to be overwhelming yourself with study time every second of the day. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or you cannot complete all your work, speak to your supervisor or student advice service, they’ll be able to help you.