How to get a first class degree [17 Top Tips]

Aug 22, 2020

Have you set yourself a goal to excel academically and graduate with a first class degree? If you have, you’ve come to the right place! This guide on how to get a first class degree has been put together by a graduate who achieved a first in their undergraduate studies!

So without further ado, here are some actionable tips on how to get a first!

#1: Go to your university’s Academic Skills Centre 

Every university has an academic skills centre to support all students with their studies. They often run courses, workshops and one-on-one sessions.

These are designed to help you to boost your academic skills in areas such as referencing, writing essays, research skills, maths/statistics, study skills and much more. 

Much of the resources shared at the academic skills centre will directly relate to the marking criteria that your lecturers use to mark your coursework. Therefore getting help from the academic skills centre will help you to better understand the mark schemes and develop your skills in alignment with them. 

Top tip: Attend the Academic Skills Centre right at the beginning of the term before you start your assignments. Then go throughout the term for extra support.

You may even be able to get your assignments reviewed, and get general feedback before submitting your coursework. 

#2: Understand the assessment structure for each of your modules

There are many assessment methods, such as: 

  • Exams – these may be open book or closed book
  • Coursework – this could be an essay or report
  • Group work – these may be graded individually or as a group 

For each of your modules, work out what percentage of your final grade will be based on what assessment method.

For example, if you are sitting 4 modules, it may look something like this: 

-Module 1: 100% Exam
-Module 2: 50% Exam, 50% Coursework
-Module 3: 50% Exam, 30% Group work, 20% Coursework
-Module 4: 70% Exam, 30% Coursework 

These weightings are very important to note because your overall grade for each module will be calculated using these weighting. 

#3: Use a grade calculator throughout the year

To achieve a first class degree, you will usually need to get 70% or more across your modules. 

As with any goal you set yourself, it is important that you monitor your progress.

If you want to graduate with a first class degree, it is important that you track your grades throughout the year. 

You can input your target grade, and your achieved grades and the calculator will work out what you need to get in subsequent modules in order to get a first. 

One of the main benefits of using a grade calculator is that if you underperform in one element of a module, or in a module, it will work out what you need to get in other modules to make up for it. 

This helps you to focus on your work in a strategic manner, rather than hoping for the best. 

You’ll approach your assessments knowing exactly what grades you need to get, and will work accordingly. 

Top tip: Speak to your subject leader about how your grades will be calculated. Find out:

  • Your university’s regulations on rounding grades up or down
  • The weighting your second and final year has when calculating your final grade. Some unis place more emphasis on your final year grade.

Your university may be able to provide you with a grades calculator that is specific to your course or university. This will be more accurate. If your university doesn’t provide this, use a university grade calculator online, and check your calculations with your programme leader. 

Some online university grade calculators include: 

#4: Use your university library services

The library isn’t just for books. 

Take full advantage of your university library services in order to get a first class degree. 

Here are some ways you can fully utilise your library services:

  • Learning spaces. The library at your university will have various study and social environments to support your learning. For example, you can book rooms to work on group assessments, or you can go into the silent study room to help you to focus. 
  • Resources to support your learning. There will be a printing station for printing out your coursework and notes, whiteboards and pens for studying, computers, staplers and more. 
  • Learning technology. Your library will have laptops that you can borrow, assistive technology, projectors and screens for practising presentations and more. 
  • Borrowing books and access databases. Borrowing core textbooks instead of purchasing them can help you to save money. You can also access databases to help you with research for your assignments. In order to get good grades, you will need to use various credible sources of information. These may include books, peer-reviewed studies, e-books and more. 
how to get a first degree
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

#5: Attend and record your lectures 

At university, you won’t have someone holding you accountable to attend lectures and tutorial sessions. You must be self-motivated to attend. 

It is so easy to skip lectures. It’s much easier to stay in bed on a rainy Monday morning, instead of going to a 9 am lecture. But students who achieve first-class grades are the ones who are dedicated to getting up and showing up. 

Before every lecture, do some preparation so that you are familiar with the content that will be provided. 

Instead of taking notes throughout the lecture, you may find it more helpful to record the lecture and take notes later. 

There will be some lectures where the lecturer talks about your exams or assignments. It is vital that you record these. 

After each lecture, reflect on what you have been taught. Write out any key points that you feel will be relevant to your assignments or exams. There is a skill in being able to be presented with a lot of information and working out what’s most important. 

#6: Form a study group of like-minded students

Find a group of students who are as determined to achieve a first class degree as you are. Doing this will help you to stay focused and motivated during your university studies.

Tip: Schedule study dates with your study group at your university’s library.

During your group sessions, it is a good idea to take turns to explain to each other key concepts and study for exams.

If you are able to confidently explain concepts to your peers, it is a good indication that you understand the course material well.

Try not to get over-competitive, or to compare your grades with others in your study group. Aim to help everyone in the group to achieve their best grades.

It is a really good idea to create a WhatsApp group for your study group so that you can easily keep in touch.

#7: Go to office hours

It is a common misconception that office hours are only for when you are falling behind or struggling with your course material.

This is not the case. You should attend office hours regularly for all your modules.

Tips for attending office hours at university:

  • Go to your office hours prepared with specific questions
  • Ask the lecturer if you can record the office hour
  • Use the time to find out as much information as you can about upcoming exams and assignments
  • Bring samples of your coursework for review and samples of your revision to see if you are on track
  • If the lecturer is happy to review your work before submitting it, ask them what you could do to improve it

Remember, your lecturers and programme tutors design the syllabus. They create the assignment titles, exams and marking criteria. In order to get a first class degree, find out as much as possible from them.

#8: Set artificial deadlines

Getting a first class degree requires you to develop great time management skills.

The worse thing that could happen is to submit a piece of coursework late and have your grade capped.

Tip: write down all of your deadlines, and aim to complete your work ahead of the deadline so that you can get it reviewed by the academic support centre at your university and by your lecturers.

Being this organised and scheduling this time to review and improve your coursework before submitting it can boost your grades, helping you to achieve a first class degree.

Do the same with exams. Don’t wait until the night before your exam to start doing practise tests. Ensure that you are able to complete practise exam papers under timed conditions well in advance of the exam. If there are any questions that you do not understand, seek help from your lecturer or study group immediately.

#9: Study smart, not hard

Whilst we all have different ways that we learn best, there are some study techniques that are scientifically shown to boost recall.

For example, a very popular study technique is to highlight and take notes and to read the textbook. However, evidence shows that this is not the most effective use of your time. The reason we tend to gravitate towards it is that… let’s face it – it’s easy and it makes us feel like we have done a lot of work.

Evidence-backed study techniques include:

  • Active recall – this involves testing yourself and practising retrieving information from your brain.
  • Spaced repetition – this is the opposite of cramming. It involves learning over a longer time period by regularly reminding yourself of the content you are trying to learn. Do not leave your revision until exam season. Revise throughout the term.

Watch the following two videos by YouTuber, Ali Abdaal. He explains the science behind the best ways to study for exams.

Episode 1: Evidence-based study techniques

Episode 2: Spaced repetition

Before planning out your revision timetable, find out as much as you can about your exams or coursework. Work in alignment with these findings.

For example, if you know that two questions out of a possible 4 questions will come up in an exam, focus on those topics. Furthermore, if you know that analysis and evaluation will be assessed highly in your essay, ensure that you demonstrate this skill.

#10: Embrace Feedback and develop your resilience

On your journey to getting a first class degree, you may experience setbacks.

This might be: grades that are lower than expected, or poor assignment grades.

If you implement tip 3 really well, a few lower grades should not be too damaging, as you will be able to make up for it by scoring higher in other modules. remember, your grade will be averaged out.

Getting a low grade can be really disappointing. Especially if you felt as though you put in a lot of work.

The best thing to do is to read your feedback carefully and to speak to the lecturer who marked your work. Explain to them that you would like to know what you can improve next time.

Your degree is not over until it’s over, so use setbacks to motivate you even more to achieve a first.

If a grade is far below your expectations, you can always request to have your work remarked. Opt to do this cautiously as your paper could potentially get marked down.

#11: Do a placement year

You might be wondering what doing a placement year has to do with achieving a first class degree in your undergraduate studies.

However, gaining a year of experience will teach you several skills that will help you to ace the final year of your bachelor’s degree.

For example, you will develop the following skills:

  • Communication. This will help you to better communicate with your lecturers and peers.
  • Teamwork. This will help you to work more professionally in group assignments.
  • Organisation. This will help you to get your work done in good time.

Furthermore, doing a placement year will help you to put your degree into perspective. Ultimately, you will want to turn your degree into a career. Experience will help you significantly to achieve this.

Read: What is a placement year and how do I find one?

#12: Stay healthy

It is vital that you take good care of yourself whilst you are at university.

If you are living on campus, make sure that you have registered with the GP and Dentist.

As well as taking care of your physical health, it is important that you take care of your mental health too.


  • Exercise everyday
  • Maintain your social life
  • Eat healthily and drink plenty of water
  • Take frequent breaks when you are studying
  • Find ways to reduce your stress levels such as going for walks or practising yoga.

#13: Pick your modules strategically

If getting a first class degree is your main priority it is important that you pick the modules that you think you will perform better in.

To determine this:

  • Speak with your programme tutor
  • Find out as much as you can about the optional modules available to you
  • Play to your strengths. If you are very good at coursework, pick a module that has a large coursework component
  • Pick modules that you are interested in

Some degrees require you to complete a dissertation whereas this is optional for some degrees. If a dissertation is optional think carefully before choosing to do one over modules as your dissertation will usually have a higher weighting when it comes to calculating your final grade.

You’ll want to ensure that you get a good mark for your dissertation. Here are some top tips from a first class UCL graduate.

Adama Lorna

#14: Go beyond your recommended reading list

In order to attain high marks in your assignments such as essays or reports, lecturers will look at your references.

The references you use will indicate the depth of your research, as well as your ability to critically identify credible sources that are relevant and up to date.

Your lecturers will be very familiar with the resources on the recommended reading list. In order to make your work stand out, reference a few other peer-reviewed studies or textbooks that are not on the reading list.

#15: Get used to independent study

Most university courses require students to spend several hours a week studying independently.

In order to get a first class degree, you must learn how to teach yourself how to use the learning resources provided as well as further research.

When studying or revising make sure:

  • That you take breaks – try the Pomodoro technique
  • Make your study space comfortable and ergonomic
  • Try listening to music or white noise to see if this helps you to concentrate
  • Keep all of your learning materials organised
  • Limit your time on social media

Here’s how Holly Gabrielle ranked first in her second and final year at the University of Cambridge. She shares tips on everything from her mindset to writing essays, dealing with failure, independent study and much more.

Holly Gabrielle

#16: Network with students in the year above

As well as forming a study group with other members of your course, it is a good idea to network with students in the year above.

If they have already taken the modules that you are currently taking, they may be able to share their experiences and give you advice.

#17: Make your first year count

Whilst your first year of university might not count towards your final grade, it is still a very important year.

Doing well in your first year of university creates a solid foundation for your subsequent years at university.

Use first year to brush up on your academic skills such as essay writing, report writing, presentations, group work and exams.

#18: Get subject-specific advice

Whilst all degree subjects are largely delivered and assessed in a similar way, the will be some tips that you can gain that are specific to your degree subject. These tips could help you to boost your marks and increase your chances of graduating with a first class degree. Here are some tips from students/graduates of some of the most popular degree subjects.

Remember, learning from others is a great way to accelerate your learning and personal development.

How to get a first class degree in Law

Here are some tips from an LLB Law graduate who achieved a first class degree.

Nicole Davies

As law is an essay-heavy subject, if you want to get a first class degree in law, it is a good idea to brush up on this skill. Here is a video from an LLB law student from the University of Exeter.

Liberty Miles

How to get a first class degree in Psychology

Here are some top tips on how to get a first class degree in psychology from an Oxford graduate.


How to get a first class degree in Biomedical science

In this video, a first class graduate who studies Medical Biochemistry at The University of Leicester shares their tips on how to get a first.

Amy Anna

Summary: How to get a first class degree

Getting a first-class degree doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a lot of strategic planning, preparation and perseverance.

In order to get a first, you must be ready to go the extra mile and sometimes making sacrifices.

Following the tips in this guide on how to get a first class degree will help to boost your chances of scoring top grades at university.

Whilst getting a first class degree is an amazing personal achievement, it will not convince employers to hire you. You must be able to demonstrate employability skills.

Here at Graduate Coach, we help students, graduates and career changers to turn their degrees into graduate careers.

Featured Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

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