How to get a first...and still have a social life

"I was always told it took a very special person to get a first. You had to go to the library on the first day of uni and not leave till graduation," says stevo23e. 


Sound familiar? Well forget it. The truth is you don’t need to lock yourself away and deny yourself a social life to get a first. To make the grade, you simply need to work in the right way.

Yes, it's absolutely possible to nab a first without becoming a hermit. Here's how other TSR members did it...

Engage with your course

This isn’t school; your lecturers will expect you to go beyond the minimum requirements. That means no longer plodding through required reading and past papers, but instead digesting and understanding the material, says Jake22. 

“Look at the course material and form a clear conception of the main points, what you're expected to understand and how best to go about this,” he adds. 

Don’t be a lecture zombie

Going to every lecture won't help if you don't put your brain in gear first. Lectures are a springboard to your own research; they're not a complete list of everything you need to know. 

Don’t just copy down the lecture verbatim. Instead, write down thoughts and ideas that come to mind during the lecture. These key points will help you identify areas to investigate later. 

Understand what markers are looking for

Make sure you know what your lecturers want from your work. Got a 2:1 on your latest assignment? Not sure why? Take it to your lecturer and ask for feedback on how you could have reached a first.

Your lecturers are there to help you and they want you to do well. If you don’t understand something, ask. “You'll feel stupid for 10 seconds while asking, but it helps so much,” says Motorbiker. 


Learn to read

You'll be reading plenty while at university, so you need to do it right. 

Reading widely doesn’t mean ploughing through just any old thing. "Too many people learn huge tracts of irrelevant stuff," says ancientone. 

Choose relevant, up-to-date and important texts, otherwise you’ll be putting in a lot of wasted time and effort. It’s better to spend less time reading one quality book rather than hours and hours reading a dozen weaker texts. 

If you’re not sure where to start, use the reading lists given in lectures, or ask your lecturer what they would recommend. 

Learn to skim text abstracts to see if the content is relevant. Be ruthless - if it isn’t going to be useful, move on. You don’t always need to read the entire book, either. The introduction, conclusion and relevant chapters will typically be enough to understand the argument. 

Understand the theory

Theory modules are often met with sighs and rolled eyes from students. Yes, theory can be drier than other parts of your course but, no, you can't get around it.

Your subject did not just spring out of thin air. Methodology, ethics and schools of thought will have evolved over the years. New trends among academics will be emerging. 

Get to grips with the theory and you will start to understand the material on a deeper level, clarifying how everything fits together. Then, you'll be able to make more critical and original arguments in your essays.


Set your alarm

"Treat your degree like a job," says Waterstorm. By keeping regular hours, you'll be chipping away at your workload every day, rather than leaving everything to the last minute. Schedule in downtime so you can completely relax and forget about uni work. 

By starting work while others are still dozing, you'll free up your evenings for meeting friends. You’ll also have fewer distractions during the day because no-one will be pestering you to go out or watch TV.

Pay attention to detail

In most courses, marks are awarded for decent grammar, clear writing and good formatting. You'll also need to ensure your references are in order and cited in the way specified by your uni. Focus on those details and you'll ensure you don't needlessly lose marks. "It’s the little details that push your mark up," says Phoenix_147. 

Keep a record of your sources while note-making so you don't have to spend hours searching for references when it comes to write-up time. A spreadsheet can be a handy tool here, making it easy to sort and search them.

Get a friend to proof-read your essays and tell them to be ruthless in their feedback. Does your wording make sense? Is your punctuation correct? Are the arguments logical, clear and easy to understand? If not, re-write it. 

Finally, double-check your essay deadlines and make sure you get yours handed in on time. Unis aren't keen on lateness penalties, and all of the above will be little help if you then get marked down because you didn't check the due date!

Do you have more questions on getting a first at uni? Or do you have any tips of your own? Add them to the comments below.