Want a First Class Degree? Then Follow These Top Tips From Someone Who Got One
In my first year (or two years... or three) of university, I struggled to get the grades I wanted and found it almost impossible to motivate myself to strive for better. The amount of work just seemed too huge, and even when I worked hard enough to stay on top of things, my sleep, social life, or general health would ultimately suffer. It seemed like I would always have to sacrifice something, and to be honest, I chose to give up any chance I thought I would have at getting a first class degree.
However, in my final year I managed to turn things around completely, surprising my parents, friends, and especially myself. How did I do it? The first step was deciding that I actually did want the best degree possible. Once I recognised that, it was a case of putting in more effort than I ever thought was possible, without taking any shortcuts or skimping on hours in the library. It was difficult, and exhausting, but I found that more effort I put in, the more rewarding doing the work actually was- getting that first after how hard I tried was just the icing on the cake. Here are the tried and tested methods for how I paved my way to success.
1. Get familiar with your university library
At the beginning of term, have a wander around the section of the library devoted to your subject. Obviously, you should check out the books you’ll be assigned to read for classes, but you should also be reading around the topic, so pull out any relevant titles that attract your interest and that you think might be useful.
Besides the books themselves, the library is where you’ll do all of your best studying (you’re kidding yourself if you think you can write an essay from bed). Find a regular study spot that suits you and figure out what the busiest hours are, where you can take a lunch break, and where all the toilets are. The library is going to be your second home from now on, so make yourself comfortable!
2. Get ahead on your reading
It’s all too tempting to spend your summer soaking up the freedom of no deadlines or tutors breathing down your neck about the next assignment. But you can’t imagine how much you’ll thank yourself when everyone is struggling through their first week’s reading while you’re already flying through next month’s. Even if you don’t have the time beforehand to make a huge dent in the pile of books sitting on your desk, just reading introductions, summaries, or reviews of the texts will make you feel a lot more prepared and make starting them when term comes a lot less daunting.
3. Sort out your sleeping pattern
You probably only think you’re a night person because you can stay up as late as you want looking aimlessly at your phone. But (and this is a hard truth), the earlier you wake up, the more likely you are to have a productive day. To get in the habit of early rising, adjust your alarm so that you’re waking up a little earlier every day. Do this until you’re up bright and early, feeling refreshed and ready to face the day without feeling like you’ve been brought back from the dead.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep at night- which can be harder to do the more the stress of uni piles up- make sure you have a comfortable and calming bedtime routine. Invest in some nice-smelling body moisturiser, comfortable pyjamas, and decaffeinated teas. Turn all your screens off half an hour before bedtime (and try not to use them in bed at all), read a good book, and listen to some calming music or a rain sounds app. Try to get around 8 hours, as sleep itself is incredibly important for learning and memory.
4. Keep healthy eating habits
After a long day in the library, it’s understandable to come home and have no energy to cook yourself a healthy, balanced meal when Dominos is just a phone call away. Additionally, studying necessarily entails sitting down for long periods of time - and snacking at least provides an excuse to take a break from your work.
Beat the rut of meal deals and takeaways by cooking large, healthy meals in batches- homemade curries and pasta sauces will keep you going for a long time and fill you up considerably. Make your own lunch to take with you into uni and swap chocolate and crisps for healthier snacks like almonds or a banana. You can also cut down on your cooking time by arranging meals together with friends, and take it in turns to make something nutritious and delicious.
5. Go to the gym
Exercising is a great way to burn off the stress of exam season, and it can even be a social activity if you make time to go with your friends- they can also motivate you to go when you feel like you would rather do anything else as long as you can do it from your bed. Find a gym buddy who knows their way around and ask them to show you how. Even when you feel like you don’t have the time to work out because of looming deadlines, you’ll feel a lot better and more energised overall if you try to fit in some kind of exercise, and you’ll feel accomplished even on days you’ve otherwise spent procrastinating.
6. Think positive
On the path to a great degree, there’s bound to be a lot of setbacks. You might fall behind, sleep through an exam, or sit in agape silence throughout an entire class because you have no idea what’s going on. The difference between someone who gets a first class degree and someone who doesn’t reach such dizzying heights is that someone who does really well doesn’t get discouraged by doing badly- they see it as a chance to improve, a challenge for them to show off what they can really do.
Remember how much you want to do well, and take a second to visualise how good it’ll feel when you get the results you want. It’s well within your reach as long as you don’t give in to negative thinking.
7. Take breaks
You probably don’t need to hear this if you’re spending all your time procrastinating, but if you don’t want to completely burn out you need to take some breaks from your work- actual breaks that involve being away from screens, not just scrolling through Facebook on the library toilet. Go for a walk while listening to a favourite album, have some friends over for dinner, or just go to a bar for a drink or two (but be careful not to overdo it!).
8. Get to know your lecturers
It’s true that your tutors can sometimes seem harried and overworked, and it’s hard not to hold a grudge against someone who gave you an abysmal mark for something you slaved over, but your most important asset at university will be (surprise!) the people who are there to teach you. Go to their office, email them with any questions, and stay behind after class if there’s something you’re not sure about.
A cunning little tip for doing well at uni is to find out what your tutor’s real interest or area of expertise is (are they a communist? Do they hate eighteenth century poetry?) and try to cater to this a little in your essay. Don’t push it too far or make it too obvious, but you’d be surprised how much their bias can show up in your mark. Sneaky, but it works.
9. Stay organised
Buying a physical planner, even one to just keep on your desk, is handy for having all of your deadlines and plans in one place, and the satisfaction of crossing something off a to-do list is a lot higher when you can properly scribble it out.
Keep your uni notes, readings, and lecture slides properly labelled, whether online or in print. Give a document a date as well as a title that’ll instantly remind you of what it’s about. You could even stick a post-it note to the front of some notes to remind yourself of the major points.
10. Set bite-sized goals
The key to succeeding at something that seems huge and impossible is to break it down into manageable chunks. Every Sunday night, write down the things you’re aiming to get done for the week ahead. Divide them into three categories: the things you absolutely need to get done (a word limit you need to hit or an assignment that needs to be handed in), things that are also required of you but are somewhat less important (like the reading for a class), and things that are not vital but that you should do anyway to really go the extra mile (like background reading or further research).
Once you know what to do, the important thing is to start the harder, more important tasks first. Otherwise, you might put them off until it’s too late to even try to do a good job, and waste all your time on the smaller more insignificant tasks. You can also make tasks that seem impossible (say, writing a 2,000 word essay) easy by breaking them down step by step: make a list of the readings you need to do and cross them off one by one, and reward yourself every time you get a very manageable 100 words down.
Many students in the UK currently consume illegally acquired pharmaceutical smart drugs** to help their focus and mental performance, including bootleg pharmaceuticals (such as Modafinil sold online illegally as a study drug) and experimental pharmaceuticals (such as Noopept).
While these may help many people get the marks they want, there are negative side effects to these drugs such as anxiety and increased heart rate, as well as a risk that comes when drugs are bought from unknown sources or over the internet. Additionally, no clinical studies have been done on the long term effects of Modafinil as a study drug - you might not want to take the chance they could be bad.
On the other hand, there is a new trend of students getting good results from 'natural nootropics' and finding their mental performance, concentration and motivation are improved without the side effects or hassle of the illegal pharmaceutical drugs.
BrainZyme is a UK made natural nootropic, made from matcha, guarana, choline, and seven vitamins and minerals. It has no bad side effects and provides a gentle, natural-feeling boost that is fully legal, safe, and nutritious. Our customer reviews contain comments such as "My brain felt active, clear and alert" and report feeling "invigorated and focused after 30 mins". When you need to get to work but are lacking focus, BrainZyme can help you buckle down, stop procrastinating, and give you the motivation* you need to ace your degree.
A new university year is a fresh start. Whether you're a nervous fresher or your dissertation is just around the corner, following these tips will undoubtedly help you get the best result you can- it worked for me.
There’s also a few more general ways to enhance cognition available, make sure to take a look!
Please note, this is a blog post is for educational and informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice. You should always speak to your Doctor first if you have any medical concerns.
Sleep, learning, and memory
Healthy diet may improve memory, says study
5 reasons students should make time for exercise
Students used to take drugs to get high. Now they take them to get higher gradeshttps://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/15/students-smart-drugs-higher-grades-adderall-modafinil
* = Anecdotally, the improved concentration from BrainZyme enables increased motivation.