How to get a first-class degree
Got your sights set on a first-class honors degree? Good on you – we’ve got a few tips to get you on the right track.
To get a first-class degree at university, you will usually need to get 70% or more overall in your assessments and exams.
But, at some unis, you may also be given a first if you averaged as a very high 2:1, and you’ve produced work at uni which scored over 70% – check with your tutor to see if this is the case in your department, and what the specific conditions would be for this to happen.
If you’re serious about getting the best result possible out of your uni years, buckle up – you’re in for a tough (but rewarding!) ride.
How to get a first-class honors degree
Here are the best ways to get a first-class honors degree at university:
1. Stay focused on getting a top grade
Not to state the obvious or anything, but if you’re aiming for a first-class degree, you have to be prepared to put in maximum effort. Students who manage to achieve a first-class honors degree tend to be those who consistently try their hardest throughout the year – not just nail the occasional top grade and hope they’ll pull up a few bare-minimum passes.
To get consistently good grades at university, you’ll need to plan ahead, be organized, and always aim to finish your assignment with plenty of time to spare ahead of the deadline. Plus, you’ll need to work on becoming more productive. Even if you think you work well under pressure, don’t be foolish enough to think you’ll get a first by leaving everything to the last minute. If you frequently leave coursework until the day before the deadline, ask yourself just how much you really want this first-class degree.
2. Develop your research skills
If you find yourself thinking, “I’ve been to all my lectures and seminars, so I’m doing everything I can”, you might as well quit now. Uni contact hours are notoriously low. And, while it’s obviously important to go to all of your classes, it’s the hours you put in outside of class and lectures that really matter. Read through your course handbook carefully and you’re likely to find that you should be putting in a substantial amount of work in your free time, too. Getting a first-class honors degree isn’t about blagging your way through or managing to write an essay in a day. If you’re serious about it, reading around outside of your recommended reading list is crucial.
3. Use the library resources at the university
Although online journals are a great resource, the best grades are usually awarded to students who can demonstrate they’ve made an effort to use a range of different sources – including trusty old paper books.
Now, we’re not suggesting you set up shop in the library from dawn until dusk, spreading half the contents of your bedroom across the desk to make yourself feel more at home while you pretend to work. As you may have guessed, we’re not a fan of this.
Instead, make the library your place to focus. After a while, you’ll start to actually enjoy the process of searching for books and finding ones that are relevant to your ideas.
Just make sure that you take note of every idea and fact you use from the book before putting it back on the shelf (i.e. jot down all relevant page numbers, chapters, authors, serial numbers – the lot). Chances are, if you haven’t taken these details down, you’ll need to find the book again – and you’ll hate yourself for it.
4. Improve the presentation of your work
It’s not uncommon for students to miss out on a first-class honors degree simply because they think presentation doesn’t matter.
It’s vital to have correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar in an essay. Unfortunately, a lot of tutors will downgrade you substantially if your presentation’s not up to scratch – no matter how great your ideas are.
Good writing skills help you to convey your ideas effectively and can even make a relatively dull topic sound interesting (which is a feat in itself).
If you struggle with presentation skills when writing essays, it’s not the end of the world. It just means that you need to start your coursework a little bit earlier to leave enough time to thoroughly proofread it later.
5. Ask tutors for help
Book appointments with tutors as often as you can, whether it’s to discuss an upcoming assignment, get feedback, or just chat about an idea you have. Tutors are paid to be there for you and to help you when you’re struggling.
You can also score some brownie points by discussing an interesting idea related to their field of expertise. This shows you have a genuine interest, and gives them a fresh perspective on a subject that they’ve probably been drowning in for the last decade.
You can arrange a meeting by email, or just by asking after a seminar. Or, if you’ve recently had an assignment graded by them, bring it along and ask how you could improve. Tell them about anything you’ve found hard, but don’t waste their time asking for detailed feedback on everything you’ve written – that’ll get you in the bad books.
6. Go to your university classes
As we alluded to in point one, attending lectures and seminars is another (very important) part of the first-class degree puzzle.
Turning up to all of your timetabled commitments is the very least you should be doing to get the most out of your degree. If you need any more convincing, use our cost-per-hour calculator to work out just how much money you’re wasting every time you decide to sleep through that 9 am lecture.
Turning up to class is also key to winning over your tutors (who happen to be the people who will grade your work). They’re likely to be a lot tougher when grading work from someone they know doesn’t bother to show up to class, compared to someone they see participating and trying their best each week.
7. Limit your time on social media
As fun as social media can be, very little is generally achieved with it. In fact, studies have even shown that social media just adds to uni stresses as you become more likely to compare yourself to classmates. So, unsurprisingly, spending hours of your life on social media are pretty bad for your grades. If you have the willpower, set yourself a goal to avoid social media until the evenings. And if you struggle a bit in this area, or your addiction is seriously bad, you might want to consider temporarily deactivating your accounts.