How to get a First Class Honours Degree
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At the end of your A Levels (or equivalent), or when you choose to undertake a degree at any point in your life, you will probably have a reasonable idea of what you are good at, what you enjoy, what interests you, and potentially a rough idea of the kind of career or maybe research you would like to pursue following your degree. Degree choice is important to academic success - however it is not the be all and end all. Degree courses these days are structured to encompass a wide range of interests within and around one core subject - so think about your options carefully. Moreover, most Universities, especially within the 1st year offer the chance to swap modules, mix completely unrelated modules and even swap entire degree courses to suit your needs to make the learning experience a bit more enjoyable. Whatever you read at University, make sure you understand exactly what you're learning, why and what your goals are. Importantly, do not be forced, for whatever reason, into studying something you know you won't enjoy - always choose something that is at least slightly related to your natural interests and do it for the right reasons - enjoyment and self satisfaction.
At University - overall method to get a First Class Honours Degree
Gaining a 1st Class Degree is demanding, but it should not require consistently huge amounts of hard work to the point where you are getting bogged down and feeling under immense stress. The key is a full demonstratable understanding of most of the ideas, philosophies and research techniques covered throughout your degree course, as well as small but highly significant bits of extra information aquired from reading the odd but directly relevant research paper which you can critically analyse and relate to your gained text-book/ lecture knowledge - and of course - enthusiasm and intellect.
Organise your thoughts into levels of increasing complexity
Your degree course will be organised on your behalf into years (3 to 6) and modules (4 - 20) per year. Ask yourself; why are they organised in this way? They likely represent layers of understanding going from overall understanding of key topics down to the details. Don't make the mistake of seeing each module as a standalone subject - they will all be linked to some level; ask yourself how are they linked? Make sure you understand the core principles shown in the very first year of your course before relating increased detail to the key philosophies and key understandings throughout.
The end of the thought process should always end in a critique and/or appraisal
You have got to the stage where you have read everything, understood as much as possible and remembered everything you have been taught. Are you content with this? Do you stop there? If you want a 1st you need to do something extra. Firstly, look back at everything you have been taught or everything you have read or everything you have believed to be true and especially the overall picture. Does the whole thing make sense to you? Does anything stand out as a bit strange, unlikely, contradictory or unproven, or are there gaping holes in our understanding of something? Can you challenge what you have been taught? If so, then do just that; have your say, intelligently. Read the papers where this taught knowledge has come from. Do the methods, results and conclusions make sense to you? Are there mistakes in technique or knowledge or person? There more than likely will be - if so then voice your concerns and say why, what the improvement could be, and how these changes may (or may not) impact on our overall understanding. Equally use the same logic when reflecting on when someone has done something that you believe is worthy of merit and say why, especially in comparison with another piece of related research.
Don't rely on memory alone
Memory is good enough to get a 2.1 - i.e. this may involve learning lots and lots of facts - but learning facts does not show understanding and lateral thinking ability. A 1st requires full overall understanding and the ability to see the bigger picture by thinking laterally, whilst at the same time critically analysing world knowledge in your field to date.