Imagine getting a first class without burning the midnight oil. That’s exactly what’s possible when you use our proven to work study tips, designed for distinction to get you the grades you want.
This isn’t theory. This stuff works. We know, because we’ve been there and done that. And tested our approach thousands of times iterating & improving over 7 years.
You know what’s surprising? Students tend to feel overwhelmed at just the thought of earning a First Class / Distinction at University, let alone getting into the practicalities, study tips, etc. In fact, most just aim for a 2:1 / Merit, accepting the status quo. After all, that’s all you need to get a job, right?
You’d have gotten away with that 10 years ago. But today, with competition at historic high, a First Class is the new necessity. But that’s no reason to worry. Because actually, achieving it – while challenging – is a easier than most students assume.
Here are the ultimate study tips that you need to know if you want to achieve a First Class / Distinction at University – without burning the midnight oil. Let’s begin with the end – getting into your examiner’s mind when they’re marking your exams and assignments.
How to think like your examiner / marker.
Most Ivy League / Russell Group University examiners and academics are looking for 2 things in exam scripts:
- Does the student understand the topic or concept at hand?
- Has the student put in the work and “studied hard” enough?
That’s pretty much it.
The issue you have, is to demonstrate this to the examiner.
You could’ve studied the entire book for all anyone cares. But if you’re unable to demonstrate that in the actual exam, your examiner will have to assume the worst – that you slacked and didn’t do any reading or studying.
And because academics need to maintain consistency across years; that is, a degree from XYZ University earned in 2018 should have roughly the same value as one earned in 2078 (yes, the year 2078). When you do things that go against the “required standard”, the examiner will inevitably end up penalising your script and giving you a lower grade.
So instead, you want to align your goals (getting a First / Distinction while decreasing the time spent in the library) with academic’s big goal (passing down knowledge and educating students to think critically).
To do that, you need to avoid doing things that don’t gel well:
- Don’t memorise things blindly and regurgitate them in the exam.
- Don’t ramble on about the same thing over and over again.
At the same time, don’t write bullet point answers only. You want to find the sweet spot.
Instead of doing the things that don’t gel well, focus on doing what’s more in line with what academics are trying to do:
- Do question the text-book, the lecture notes, and all the other learning materials. Don’t accept it as is.
- Do tell a story instead of just answering it in a text-book manner; that’s what most others will be doing.
- Do add value. Share what you think. Write out your opinion of the question asked.
Do these, and you’ll make your examiners life easier when it comes to marking / grading your scripts. On that note, let’s talk about how they actually do it.
How examiners mark your scripts.
There’s 2 approaches used, typically. The first is a very thorough “mark scheme” which details every possible answer and recommended mark awards for each point.
The second is a tad bit more arbitrary. It entails 3-5 academics sitting around a table, discussing the question paper and range of possible answers, marking a few papers to get the “right feel”, cross-checking each other’s marking standards, and then just implementing the same “right feel” to all other papers.
Generally speaking, the first approach can be used for pure quants subjects: derivatives pricing, mathematics, dynamic asset pricing and corporate finance.
But it’s also used for Professional Qualifications. For instance, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) provide impeccably detailed marking guides. In fact, they go a step further and fully disclose their marking guide to students, too!
Modules that aren’t pure quants however, require the second (tad bit more arbitrary) approach. This holds even for subjects like Finance and Accounting. In the former for instance, a question on the Efficient Market Hypothesis can have a variety of “right answers”, making it rather difficult to create a template mark scheme.
Now that you know how to think like your examiner, and how they go about marking your scripts, lets talk about the study tips that you can apply, starting immediately, to get you your First Class / Distinction.
Set the right goals.
Want a First Class / Distinction? You need to get more specific. What percentage are you aiming for? In UK Universities, 70% and anything over it is a First. So you want to aim for at least 80%.
Why? Because you want to aim for the stars to get to the sky. Aiming for just 70% will likely get you a 2:1. And if that’s all you want, well… then you wouldn’t be reading this now, would you?.
You’re capable of much more than just a 2:1. How do we know that, you ask? Because we’ve taught you. Maybe not you, personally – but students, just like you. Every time we ask our prospective students what they’re aiming for, most of them tell us they want a 2:1.
With the right guidance and mentoring – standard, with our 1:1 tuition – their goals transform into something much more ambitious. And realistic.
Maybe you’ve heard of ‘SMART’ goals, maybe you haven’t. Study tips without SMART goals is like pizza without cheese. It just won’t do.
Make today the day you set SMART Goals that are:
- Specific: I want to get 80% in my Financial Management course this semester.
- Measurable: I’m going to read the lecture notes, practice seminar / tutorial questions, find more practice questions and work on them.
- Achievable: This is possible because about 60% of the course is pure quants, and 40% is theory. I just need to ace the quants part, and get half of the possible mark for the theory.
- Relevant: This will also help ensure the advanced Finance course is relatively easier to ace. Because I’ll have a solid foundation.
- Time-bound: To help me get the 80%, here’s what I will have achieved by (i) the day before the exam, (ii) a week before the exam, (iii) a month before the exam.
Then do something to achieve your goal(s), immediately. Take action right now, then come back here and read about one of our (seemingly) counterintuitive study tips…
Like What You See? Then You’ll ❤ What We’re Working On.
Life can be manically busy. Let us keep you informed with more study tips for success, student-centric courses and learning materials Designed for Distinction.
Break it down. Focus.
Let’s get some perspective. Apart from studying, you’ve also got a whole host of other things going on, including but not limited to planning your career, applying for jobs, finding the right companies for said jobs, having some sort of social life, doing your everyday chores and running errands, we could go on.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff “to do”.
So here’s what we think you’re better off doing.
Focus on one thing.
Then let the effects of compounding work its own magic.
You see, if you do just one thing every day, consistently, an improvement in yourself is inevitable. Ever heard of the rice and the chessboard story? In a nutshell, the story showed how doubling the number of rice grains (starting from just 1 grain) paid out by a King to a servant, for each square in a 64-square chess board equates to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615. That’s 18.46 quintillion.
The same applies to your success, too.
It’s not all about the academics. Seriously.
Although the grade classification is based on your tests, exams, and assignment results, spending all your time reading books isn’t quite going to cut it. You’ll be in a much better and stronger mental frame if you’ve given yourself some time off. And what better way to take time off than to participate in student clubs / societies?
Not only will you meet and spend time with like minded people, you’ll also get to broaden and deepen your skill set. You’ll move away from a theoretical la-la-land to a practical one, with consequences.
Attend ALL your lectures and tutorials / seminars.
Some lectures are boring af. We get it. Others seem ridiculously complicated. We get that, too.
But trust me on this – going to lectures does make a difference. The fact is that while you’re sitting there and just hearing the lecturer talk about stuff you don’t understand in that moment, it’ll make your study tasks significantly easier later. That’s because you’ll remember that sentence or two that the lecturer said, while you’re reading the learning materials at 1am. Even if you’re panicking about the upcoming exam!
What’s more? There’s always that one student who asks a LOT of questions. Oftentimes you’ll have the same question but might not want to be that guy (or girl). Just to point out though – we LOVE that guy (or girl). Seriously. We were that guy!
Back to the point though – you’ll get to hear the answers to those questions, too.
Gaining something from the lecture aside, you’ve actually paid a lot of money to go to Uni. Each 2 hour lecture costs you about £50 (and about 2-3x that if you’re in the USA). We didn’t pluck that figure out of thin air. Think about it.
On average, you’ll take 6 courses (modules) per term, each of which will have 3 hours of “contact time” (2 hours lecture + 1 hour seminar), typically for 2 of the 3 terms per year.
£9,000 / (6 modules x 3 hours per module x 20 weeks) = £25 per hour. Or, £50 per 2 hour lecture.
And finally, from a statistical standpoint, going to lectures and seminars / tutorials increases the probability of earning a higher grade. Ask your lecturer! But before that, let’s talk about a few other study tips that you can apply throughout your time at College to get the grades you want.
5 Study Tips to Increase the Probability of Earning a First Class / Distinction
Tip #1: Go to your lecturer’s “office hours” (the time they set aside to meet students, every week). Most academics complain about how hardly any students attend their office hours. Most students complain that they don’t get enough contact time. In this case, both stakeholders are right!
Meeting them during their “office hours” will give you the opportunity to go over any concepts you’re struggling with. And because so few students actually go, chances are you’ll get some 1:1 support.
Tip #2: Record the lectures. Local laws might well require you to gain permission to do so, and it’s well worth getting their permission so you can record the lectures, and review them later on. In a lecture with 200+ students, it’s quite very difficult to ‘take in’ everything that’s said. In fact, one of the reasons most of our students earn a First Class is because they opt for 1:1 tuition. For our group classes, we restrict it to no more than 4 students – precisely because more students = less knowledge retention.
Tip #3: Read outside the norm. Don’t restrict yourself to lecture notes, and for heaven’s sake – don’t restrict yourself to the text-book! Read journal articles, relevant unbiased news articles, credible blogs, and other resources outside the classroom.
Tip #4: Practice as many questions as you can. Literally, the more the merrier. We have a whole host of practice questions with impeccably detailed solutions available for our students. Practice probably won’t make perfect, but it’ll get you near perfect.
Tip #5: Get hold of past exam papers. Then solve them. Most Universities tend to have a section with past papers. Find that section and get as many papers as you can! Even if the solutions aren’t available – you can always find someone who’ll be able to guide you to the right solution.
That pretty much covers the exams side of our study tips. Now on to the other major element of your assessment – assignments.
Treat assignments like a game of Chess.
This is perhaps one of our most important study tips, ever. If you’re a chess player, you know the importance of ‘backing’ each piece with as many defenders as possible, before you attack. For the non-chess players, all that means is that you cover yourself before you make a move – like insurance.
The same applies to your assignments, be they essays, reports, presentations – you name it.
Whenever you make a statement – any statement whatsoever – make sure you back it up with a credible reference. Here’s the order of priority in terms of reference credibility for most Ivy League Universities:
- Highly Trusted / Rated Academic Journals (typically, 3-4* journals).
- Credible publishers / news portals (e.g. Reuters, Financial Times).
- Reasonably rated academic journals (2* journals).
- Everything else.
The more 3-4* journal articles you read and refer to, the more ‘credible’ your assignment is deemed to be. And perhaps for good reason, too. Getting published in a 3-4* journal is probably one of the most challenging tasks on the planet. Intellectually speaking of course.
Remember, it’s a marathon. Not a sprint.
University’s a long game. The reward at the end (great memories, lifelong friends, and of course – your certificate!) is something you’ll have for the rest of your life. Treating the experience like a sprint won’t get you very far, though.
You’ll see that student who’s always studying. Every time you go to the library, she / he is there. When you decide to call it a day, she / he is STILL there. Granted, that might well work for some students.
But at what cost?
You can earn that First Class without losing your social life. In fact, a good social life will make it easier for you to get your First.
Still here? Great. We’re going to conclude with some general / concrete study tips that are evergreen. We usually save these only for our 1:1 students, but since you’re so engaged, it’s only fair we share them with you too!
Life is like a binomial tree. Choose your path optimally.
Remember the binomial tree? Don’t worry if you’ve never seen this – you’ll see it, in good time. Especially if you take a Finance course and learn about Options Pricing.
A Binomial Tree, aka “Decision Tree” looks like this…
This is your University life. Right there. Remember this tree.
The point at the top is the dream – great memories, lifelong friends, and your certificate with Distinction. There are many ways to get there. Some ways are easier, and quicker, than others. The optimal pathway is the one with the orange dots. And this brings me to my next point: It’s in your interest to…
Leverage the Power of 80/20
The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule says that 80% of the results of anything, come from 20% of the ‘stuff’. More formally, 80% of output is because of 20% of input. In your case, getting an 80% score will come from mastering 20% of the core fundamentals that drive the entire subject.
It’s by leveraging the power of 80/20 effectively that you’ll be able to earn that First Class / Distinction, without burning the midnight oil or being that guy (or girl) who’s always studying.
To give you an example, about 90% of Finance is based on one single concept – if you understand that concept, you know the mechanics and foundational principles of approximately 90% of Finance. Mastering all the other concepts become significantly easier, just because you’ve mastered one!
So there you have it – all our study tips on how to get a First Class degree at University.
Next steps? Knowledge is useless if you don’t apply it. Leverage the power of our study tips by putting them to practice. Use our bullet journal template.