Achieving any degree at University is great, but some aspire for something greater. Getting a first-class honours at university is a way of proving your academic prowess, commitment to study, and determination to achieve the very best that you can. Getting a first is difficult, but far from impossible. In this guide, you’ll be given the essential tips and techniques so that you can excel at every stage of university.

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A first-class honours, or a ‘first’, is the highest class of degree you can get at undergraduate level. For this reason, it’s incredibly sought after by the keenest students, and is looked upon favourably by employers across all kinds of industries and fields. Generally speaking, a first is awarded to students who achieve an average of at least 70% in their university course. This means that, when the average is calculated across every formal piece of work you’ve handed in, including coursework, projects, and exams, the mean score must be at least 70%.


Having a first-class degree puts you ahead of your competition when it comes to the jobs market. While many employers expect an upper second-class degree (a ‘2:1’) or higher for graduate schemes rather than a first, having a first will give you an advantage over those who have met the minimum requirement. In 2014, the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that approximately 20% of students in the UK achieved a first-class degree. This means that having a first would potentially place you in the top 20% of students in your year, making you a great catch for employers. For this reason alone, it’s well worth putting in the time to get a first.

Aside from that, getting a first-class degree demonstrates a commitment to your studies on your part, and is something to be proud of. While you should take pride in any degree you end up with, a first shows commitment, intelligence, and a strong work ethic. In short, possessing a first-class degree indicates excellence on your part.


This guide will take you through the entire degree process. From choosing and planning your course, to acing coursework, to passing exams, this guide examines each extensively. You’ll get an insight into what kind of learner you are, the best studying styles for you, as well as tips for getting a first at every stage of assessment during your degree. With all this in mind, you’ll be in great shape to unlock your full potential at degree level.


This sample is just one of many sections containing expert tips for getting a first at university. These sections include advice for every step of the process, along with general and specific advice for different areas of study.

Once you’ve finished planning and researching, it’s time to write your piece of work. If you’ve planned well, this shouldn’t be too difficult a task; all you’re really doing is turning short bullet points into full sentences. However, there are some tips you can take on board to improve your chances of getting the top grades.

Write the Introduction and Conclusion Last

Sometimes, figuring out a great introduction can be difficult. You want to avoid opening with grandiose, sweeping statements, but you also want to give a general idea of what your argument is. If you’ve planned properly, you should already know the shape and direction of your argument. However, it’s usually better to jump straight into the main body of work.

Once you’ve finished writing everything, then you can head back and write a great introduction and conclusion based on what’s in the main part of your assignment.

Keep Things Simple

You might be aware of the famous adage from Hamlet which states that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’. In other words, you should not waste the reader’s time; explain points in as few words as are necessary, as long as you’re explaining them properly.

In addition, you don’t always need to use overly complicated terminology. In some cases, you’ll have no choice but to, but in many cases simpler language is preferable. In some subjects, you might be marked specifically on the wealth of your vocabulary and your grasp on language. In these cases, you can be more decadent with your terms.

Another way to keep things simple is to use shorter sentences. The longer a sentence is, the more unwieldy it can become. In turn, this might lead to run-on sentences which are more difficult to read than shorter sentences. Experiment with the length of your sentences to see if making them shorter gives your work more clarity.

Adopt a Good Paragraph Structure

This tip is particularly important for students writing essays. Sometimes, it can be hard to keep a paragraph contained. Students can get carried away with their argument, until suddenly the paragraph contains a lot of complex points.

As a rule, you should try and keep paragraphs limited to one main point. This way, you can stop paragraphs from growing out of control, allowing the reader to understand your argument more easily.

A great way to make your paragraphs easier to follow is to treat each of them as a miniature essay. By this, we mean that each paragraph should have a short sentence which introduces the main point, followed by the point itself. Finally, you should end the paragraph with a short sentence which briefly summarises your point, and demonstrates how it relates to the question that you’re answering. This way, you’ll have your argument for each paragraph clearly laid out for the reader to see.

If it helps, you can try coming up with a subtitle for each paragraph in your essay. Don’t include this in the finished copy, but writing each paragraph with the main point of it explicitly in mind will help you focus your efforts and create a more consistent piece of work.

Once you have a paragraph structure like this, the flow of your essay will become a lot more pronounced. This means that you’ll be able to spot parts that feel disjointed and correct their course. By ‘disjointed’, we mean parts of the essay which either stick out from the flow of your essay and don’t lead to any new points, or sections which actively move against the flow of your essay.

Imagine your essay is a river. Each part of the essay should flow into the next part, as your argument cumulatively builds up towards the conclusion. The points made in earlier paragraphs should always contribute to later ones, and those which don’t could be considered as irrelevant.

If paragraphs A, B, C, and D all support a larger argument made in paragraph F, but the argument in paragraph E has no bearing on it, then you need to consider where it’s paying off for you. If it isn’t benefitting your argument, then you should probably get rid of it and use the space to write something relevant.

There’s no set length that a paragraph needs to be, but they can be too long. If you have a single paragraph that’s significantly larger than the rest in your essay, it might be worth revisiting it and seeing how to can divide it into smaller parts. This will prevent your essay from becoming ‘bogged down’. Likewise, lots of tiny paragraphs can look too fragmented or poorly developed.


Let’s skip forward a year or two now and assume that you’re at university. Either you’ve just started your degree, or you’re a year or two in. Usually, students at university have at least some choice in which modules they take. You’ll be given a list of available modules before the start of the new academic year, and you’ll have to choose between them.

This can be a difficult decision to make, but we recommend that you choose modules in a similar way to how we suggested that you choose your choice. Consider the following questions:

  1. Does the content of the module interest me, and will I find it enjoyable enough to go the extra mile and do more work?
  2. Is the teaching structure more lecture-based or seminar-focused?
  3. What is the assessment structure of the module like? Is it more coursework-based or exam-focused?
  4. Is assessment constant throughout the year, or do I write and submit everything at the very end?
  5. Are there any unusual elements to the module, such as practical lab work, field-trips, or anything else that I might enjoy or struggle with?
  6. Do I need to take specific modules this year to access modules in later years?
  7. Can I find out more information about the module on the university website so that I know I want to take it?
  8. What is the quality of teaching like in the module?
  9. What do students in previous years have to say about the module?
  10. How long does the module last for?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions in a bit more detail:

Does the content of the module interest me, and will I find it enjoyable enough to go the extra mile and do more work?

As we said in the previous section, enjoyment should be your priority when choosing a module. Most university departments will have their own website – modules should be detailed there. Find a breakdown of the module’s content and see what the areas of study are before picking it. This is important because if you enjoy the module, you’re probably going to perform better in it than one that you either hate or don’t care about

Is the teaching structure more lecture-based or seminar-focused?

This will be important to you when creating a study timetable. It’s also important to find out what is expected of you during these sessions. For example, seminars might require that you do some extra reading, create a presentation, work with others, or complete a homework exercise. If possible, find out if a module includes these before you choose it.

What is the assessment structure of the module like? Is it more coursework-based or exam-focused?

As previously mentioned, some courses and modules will be more focused on one style of assessment or another. Some modules might only have coursework and others might only feature exams. You’ll find that a lot of modules will make use of both, with coursework assessment to be found throughout the year and exams at the very end of it.

It’s also important to find out how much of the assessed work counts towards your final grade. For example, a module might require that you write three essays, but only two of those are summative. This means that only two of them will count towards your final grade. This means that you can prioritise the work which will have the biggest impact on your degree.

Finally, find out what the ratio of marks between the different assessments is. For example, a module might be weighted so that 60% of the marks are available in coursework, whilst 40% is available in the final exam. If the coursework is made of two essays of equal value, then you know that each essay is worth 30% of the module. You can use this to plan out your work and make sure that you secure as many marks as possible.

Is assessment constant throughout the year, or do I write and submit everything at the very end?

This will be important to you if you have a particular style of working. If you have constant assessment throughout the year, then you’ll be forced to constantly work in order to keep to deadlines. In contrast, having all of your work to do at the very end of the year could make you complacent until the final weeks, which could put you in a lot of trouble. Think about how you’ve dealt with assessment, revision, and studying in the past and how that relates to the assessment structure of a module.


Written and researched by the UK’s leading recruitment experts, this ultimate guide consists of:

  • A guide to your degree – From planning to succeeding, this guide contains a step-by-step approach to your university degree.
  • Course and dissertation advice – This guide is packed with expert tips for making sure that you secure as many marks as possible before you even go into an exam!
  • A guide to studying independently – In this resource, you’ll have all of the know-how to make use of all the resources at your disposal to improve your chances of success.
  • Learning style guidance – Two whole chapters of this guide are dedicated to finding the learning style that suits YOU.
  • Revision tips and exam techniques – Learn how to prepare as effectively as possible for an exam, and how to ace it on the day.
  • A guide to avoiding stress – Get an idea of what exam stress is and how to prevent it from negatively impacting your studies or your life.
  • Example and Sample Timetables – These can be used to get some ideas about how you can plan your revision.

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How to get a first at University Download

✓ Guides to different learning styles and revision methods;
✓ Tips on how to organise your learning at degree level to improve your grade;
✓ A breakdown of how to plan, research, and write your dissertation;
✓ Broken down into clear, easy to read chapters;
✓ Expert advice for students on how to ace exams and coursework;
✓ Improve your grade and achieve a first!
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How to get a first at University Download

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