The secret to getting a first

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Photograph: Mae Reddaway

When you’re lying in bed on a Monday morning and debating whether to get up for your nine o’clock lecture, it can be difficult to keep the larger scheme of things in your mind. For most of us at the moment, we’re juggling mountains of coursework or dissertation deadlines as well as gearing up to dive head first into the exam period, so I think I’m right in saying that getting that elusive first seems impossible. Yet, with these tips in mind, having a first glowing on your interactive transcript could be easier than you think.

First off, going to all your lectures and seminars is the best thing you can do, even if you have to drag yourself out of bed with a hangover the size of Britain. If you do English Literature like me, you’ll know that PowerPoint slides can be close to meaningless if you haven’t been in the lecture! If you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself, try giving yourself rewards when you make it to all of your 9ams (and yes, it can be in the form of a Subway). You’ll certainly be putting yourself in the best position to do well.

The main tip I can give you, however, is to plan, plan, plan. The secret to getting a first is often about preparation, so if you know that you’ve got five pieces of work to hand in in the space of a week (lucky me!), start early and plan out your time to avoid late night cramming sessions. If you’re writing an essay, set yourself deadlines for when you need to have a plan, a first draft, and a final draft written by, and stick to them. Personally, I swear by my diary and to-do lists, but however you choose to do it, planning and preparation are essential.

Essays, however, are also not just about regurgitating lecture notes. If you really want a first, the key is to read everything and be critical. Markers love it when they see original or refreshing takes on questions and when students critically assess the secondary material that they’ve read. Poke holes in whatever you read and try to incorporate it into your exam, essay, discussion, or whatever else you have to hand in. University is about individual learning and development instead of being spoon-fed, so be brave and put your opinion out there. So long as you can back it up, or it’s based on solid facts, you could be on the way to boosting your grade.

Finally, the secret to getting a first is making the right choices. If, like me, you get given a vast amount of choice for both exams and coursework, you’re far more likely to do well if you choose something that interests you rather than plumping for the easy option. Doing what you want to do will also help you to be critical as well as turning what could be long, dull hours of research in the library into something far more enjoyable. Studying at university isn’t meant to be a chore; put some love, thought and effort into it and firsts will be rolling your way! We can all achieve what we want to achieve if we put our minds to it. Be determined, get out of bed on a Monday morning, and getting a first won’t be nearly so impossible.