How to get a First at Uni

how to get a first at uni

In 2015/16 1.75 million students were enrolled at UK universities as undergraduates. With this figure in mind the more you can do to stand out from the crowd the better. One sure fire way to put yourself ahead of the crowd is to obtain a first class degree.

There is no full-proof method to help you get a first but, whether you are in your first or third year, here are some top tips to help you get as close a possible to that top grade.

1. Choose a subject you love

There are three ways most people choose their degree subject; they are good at the subject, they love the subject, they think it will be easy. Separately these things can work but the key is to choose a subject you love. If you love what you do, success will come easier.

If it is money that drives you check out our guide to the top 10 degrees to take to earn money.

2. Choose the right course at the right uni


Not all universities offer the same course even if it is listed as the same subject overall. A good example of how different the ‘same’ course at two separate unis can be is comparing English Literature degrees. One establishment may structure its course starting at Beowulf and Chaucer in first year and ending with Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith in third year. One may let you chose all modules whereas another might not. Look at the courses before you make your choice because if you hate a particular part of a subject and find out you have a compulsory module on it every year your grade could suffer.

It is easier to get a first a certain universities then others. So if you like to play your odds and really want a first, then picking an institute that is more generous with its awards could be in your favour. Nearly a third of students at UCL or Aston graduate with firsts (now they are good odds). Of course, the reputation of the university has to be added in to the equation. Getting a second class honours from Oxford or Cambridge, for example, is definitely not something to turn the nose up at!

3. Don’t lose marks for laziness

Go to lectures and seminars
The days of ditching class and getting a top grade are long gone. Lectures have wised up to the ways of lazy students and many now take attendance into consideration for module credit. Some unis accredit up to 20% of a units final mark to attendance. And some sticklers, who really don’t take kindly to slacking will only award the attendance marks if students contribute in seminars in an informed and insightful manner, so be prepared!

university studying

Hand it in on time
Another easy way to boost your grade is to make sure you meet all your deadlines. Most unis penalise late submissions, some by as much as 10% for being a day overdue! This is the difference between an A and B on a single submission, or a first and a 2:1 in the long run!

Proofread your work
There is nothing that will annoy lectures quicker than clumsy spelling or grammatical errors in assignments. Proofread your work and find a reliable course friend to read it to before every hand in.


guide to referencing

Check your references and use the correct style. Find out as soon as possible what referencing style your uni prefers. Most will be standardised across an entire department but always check. Lectures are pedantic and will mark work down for poor referencing. Even if you can’t remember if it is journal title in italics and article title in quote marks there are websites to help you out. Cite this for me is a good option for the Harvard style.

4. Use your Tutors

how to get good grades uni

It may not always seem like it but tutors are there to help you. You pay a lot of money to be at uni and just because you don’t have a huge amount of lecture time does not mean you can’t use your tutors. Many tutors offer weekly offices hours and workshops for exams and essays. These are here for your benefit so use them to get that top mark. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and challenge yourself.

5. Get savvy on the weightings of each of your modules

Sometimes the first year counts towards your final grade, and other times you just need to pass it, in order to get on to the next year. As well as years, some modules will be worth far more. All of the information about how much each module is worth is freely available to you; so do some careful planning on where to ensure that you focus your attention the most. For example, with some degrees a dissertation is a big deal, and with others it can be worth a much smaller fraction. If you find that your dissertation does have a big weighting, then here are a few tips on how to choose a dissertation topic:

Choose an uncommon dissertation subject/title
Think about it logically. Students are assigned to dissertation tutors based on the topic of choice and the tutors specialisms. So every film student writing about the Freudian overtones in vampire films will be given to the same tutor. Therefore try to pick something that still has research available and a suitable tutor for you to be paired with at your uni, but approach the topic from outside the box. This way there are less comparisons to be had which will work in your favour, and a tutor who is interested in an assignment is always more generous with their marks.

Make sure you won’t get bored
More importantly than if the tutor gets bored is that you don’t get bored. You will be working on your dissertation for MONTHS so pick something you are really passionate about.

We can’t guarantee you a first but if you follow all of these tips there is no reason why you shouldn’t come top of the class.