Blog Image

How to get a First at University

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Are you a university student who wants to get a first-class grade but doesn’t know how to go about it? This blog will fix that.

In 2011, I arrived at my university in the UK as an international student; this was also two years after I last studied. In my first term exam in my first year, I achieved a 2:2; I can even remember the score clearly – I got 59 in contract law. The score felt alright to me. I was going through my first year with a blasé attitude till my attitude cost me a huge chunk of my marks in one of my modules – the English legal system. I then decided to change. In my second year, I took on four modules and received four first-class grades. In my third and final year, I also took on four modules and received four first-class grades. Consequently, my final grade was first class.

Going from getting a 2:2 to getting a 1st in all subjects was one of the best things I had done up till then. I was awarded the valedictorian for my class set. Just imagine yourself in the same situation, when you check your grade at the end of every year, what you see is a first-class. That you are known as that student that always ends up getting a first-class.

In this post, I’ll share some of the first-class tips that will get you a first-class grade. It won’t be easy at first, but the rewards will be worth it. Let’s go have fun.

Prepare for your exams

If you are studying at a UK university and if you are studying courses like law, business and the like, the chances of you not writing an exam are very minuscule – to succeed in a law degree most universities favour testing their students through exams. In the UK and beyond, taking exams is heavily favoured by the universities, and counts for a good percentage of your grade.

So, if this is important, you must do everything necessary to excel in your exams. We have written a detailed blog on how to revise for law exams – the principles can be applied to all courses. Have a look at it. One of our tips is that you are better prepared for your exams when you start preparing on time.

We also advocate that you can effectively study for a course by getting a notebook that you will use to jot down your thoughts on each topic you have been taught in class. In preparing for your exam you should endeavour to go beyond the module handbook; read a textbook and then rephrase what you were taught and you have learnt in your own words, and put them down in your revision notebook.

Prepare for Your Seminar/Attempt your Class Assessments 

A lot of universities teach their students through lectures, seminars and workshops. In lectures, your tutor is going through the course outline for each week; while for workshops, your tutor might use them to go over what he/she could not finish in the lectures, or they might be used to attempt tests or exercises.

Seminars comprise a few students, and are more personal; in seminars, you go through the tasks that you were told to attempt in your handbook. A lot of students fail to understand that, to a certain extent, the seminar period plays the most significant part in your learning from your tutors.

Because you are only a handful of students, you can easily draw the tutor’s attention to your questions. And if you attempt the seminar work before the class, when you go over it in class, even if you fail, you will get corrected. With that correction, you will be affording yourself the opportunity of improving your knowledge of that topic. Such improvement can be called upon in your assessments that are graded.

Take Your Mock Assessment Seriously

I wish I had known of this in my first year. To see how important this tip is, I invite you to partake in an exercise: take the mock questions released in the past five years for your course and compare them to the final questions in the same period. You will find that the mock and real questions bear similarities to each other. If you can take your mock assessments seriously, you give yourself the chance of testing yourself on questions that might come out in the graded assessments without the pressure that comes with those graded assessments. When through with marking your mock assessments, most tutors will offer you feedback; this feedback can be used as a model for improvement.

Ask Questions

If you are one of those students that feels shy about asking questions or that student that cares a whole lot about what your classmates might think of you; you shouldn’t concern yourself with such thoughts, because the reward of a first-class in your grade should matter a ton more than your transitory feelings and the fleeting thoughts of your classmate. Ask your tutors questions in class and out of class. Most tutors offer office hours where students are free to pop into their office to ask them any questions. Take advantage of such opportunities. You can extend this tip to your fellow students: ask the ones that take their education seriously, some might help, some might not. But you’ll never know until you have tried.

Do the Required Work for Non-Exam Assessments 

Apart from exams, universities use other methods of assessment to test their students’ knowledge of the course subject, such as coursework, presentations and projects. In some modules, you might not even get an exam, but other non-exam assessments. To excel in these assessments, you might need to take a different approach as there could be different things involved.

For example, if you have been assigned to take part in a group project/presentation, your group members’ input can affect your grade – sad but the truth. In such situations you have to apply the techniques necessary for success in groupwork – luckily we have you covered in our blog post: Achieving Success in Groupwork.

If the assessment is coursework, you will have to focus on your research and written communication skills, as you’d be marked more strictly than in an exam because you had more time to prepare.

Take Advantage of Your University’s Services

Every top university in the UK will offer various services to help the students have the best university experience, which includes succeeding in their modules. These services may include writing/tutoring centres, counselling, disability services, career centres, health services, academic advice, financial aid, academic appeals/human rights office, international students’ services, student learning assistants, and graduate teaching assistants. If all these services are freely given (which they are), would it not be wise for you to freely use them? For example, if you are a student from a non-English speaking country, you can use the writing/tutoring centres to your advantage. Even if you are from an English-speaking country, there’s no harm in taking your assessments to one of the university’s service centres to examine your work.


Ever heard of that phrase ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’? This proverb simply means that constant work without rest or relaxation is harmful to one’s personal life and wellbeing. A lack of balance between studying and relaxation would be detrimental to your goal of achieving a first-class. You simply have to relax or do things that make you feel relaxed. Such activities will help you in your overall pursuit of a first-class. Regular exercise is not only good for helping you relax, but it will also help increase your self-confidence (your belief that you can achieve a first-class as a result of the incredible efforts you have put in), improve your mood, improve your quality of sleep, and help lower symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.

Have you ever heard of the term exam freeze? This is the phenomenon of your brain freezing during an exam when you ask it to recall some information that you had filed previously.

One of the reasons for a typical exam freeze is having nerves/anxiety – a reason for having nerves/anxiety might be that you have simply not participated in relaxing activities. Thus, it’s important that you have your downtime and take on activities not related to studying; activities that will help your brain recover. These activities could be extra-curricular (we have written a post on Extra-curricular activities, take a look at the post for some incredible activities) or they could be centred just on you, like gaming, either way, so far as it helps ease tension and stress, go on with it.

Final Thoughts 

Getting a first-class grade is hard work. In the beginning, it would require a lot of sacrifices because it might be something you are not used to. Is a first-class worth the sacrifice? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Imagine that when applying for a job role, you wouldn’t be concerned about the academic section, because your first-class grade screams that you are exceptional.

When going after your first-class grade, as time goes on, you will most likely be able to tweak your habits to give you optimal results in both the study and social aspects of your life. Now, all you have to do is work hard to implement these tips and the ones that have been tested to be true, and see your results.


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)


Congrapps is the №1 Platform for Verified Successful Career Resources! We collected the actual Cover Letters & Interview Experiences of those who made it to the most competitive graduate and entry-level jobs in Banking, Finance, Consulting and Law in London.
We help graduates achieve their dreams by levelling the playing field and giving access to the same information to everyone!