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Four Tips for Getting a First-Class Degree (Covid Edition)

Rose Rossi has recently graduated with a First-Class degree from a British university

It can be done...even during Covid!

It won’t be said here for the first time that the year 2020 was a chaotic, unbelievably difficult year. With many universities moving online due to Covid, it may have felt (and continue to feel) like that coveted First-Class degree is slipping out of reach for many hard-working students. I am here to tell you that it is absolutely possible to achieve a First-Class degree, even in these uncertain times. I graduated in December of 2020 and was one of the many who experienced lockdown in full force. I am also one of many who was an expat student in the U.K. when Covid hit, so I understand the complexities of isolation very well. So if you are wrapping up or even just beginning your academic journey in the U.K. with Covid, here are my four tips to obtaining a First-Class degree, even with Miss ‘Rona throwing her unwelcomed tantrums.


One: Prioritize Your Mental Health

It may sound otherwise obvious, but the truth is: without your faculties, you’re no use to yourself. The world can seem unbearably fractious right now, and there are so many issues that Covid only highlighted and exacerbated. Not to mention, the last four years have been an absolute nightmare for both the U.S. and the U.K., so tensions among people, even friends and family, are high. I spent much of my time in 2020 in a deep depression, “doom scrolling” and lamenting the never-ending horrors of a certain orange New York politician. I definitely struggled to focus on the required reading, much more so any books or articles for research, and procrastinated like I’ve never procrastinated before (I wrote my 8,000 word dissertation in two days: I do not recommend this). Even though I graduated with a First-Class, I can hardly help but wonder if I had taken the proper care to guard my mental health, if I couldn’t have performed even better (a 68 on a dissertation is no 70, for example [for my American readers, think 88 instead of 90]). If you’re looking to focus, I cannot recommend a reliable coffee maker enough – it will get you through the longest nights and the worst theses. And if you’re coming from abroad, be sure to bring plenty of adapters for the different electrical grid (for all purposes, caffeinated or otherwise). It may feel counterproductive at the time, especially when you feel like you have mountains of work to do, but the rewards of a calmer and clearer mind are invaluable to obtaining a First-Class degree.

Two: Where Appropriate, Reference Outside Scholarly Texts

It can be extremely tempting, especially if you are working on an ‘accelerated’ program with no traditional summer break, to only read and/or quote the required reading texts of the syllabi. If it is at all possible and at all relevant, I strongly encourage you to reference outside scholarly texts that you have read beyond the required reading. The first time I received a First on an exam rather than an essay was when I was able to draw comparisons between The Female Quixote and Christine de Pizan’s The City of Ladies. One text is from the Restoration era, and the other is from Medieval France. This served me very well. If you prefer to listen to audiobooks, this is a great way to continue to reach out and explore other texts if you feel like physical reading might just make your head explode.

Three: One Can Never Be “Too Formal”

This was the advice of my personal tutor, after helping me better understand the U.K. grading scale and the requisite of passive rather than active voice in England. In the States, passive voice had been hammered out of my system, so this was something I needed to actively work on. And, as my professor told me, being “formal” (i.e. passive) was impossible to overdo. Instead of saying, “the weather is sunny today”, I learned to write: “it can be said that the sun is likely to shine today.” It was difficult at first (so, so, sooooo difficult) but after a while, and with extensive practice, I finally got the hang of it

Four: Be Passionate In Your Writing

I’m going to be honest with you: my time in the U.K. was extremely trying at times. One of those times was when a professor(!) told me to “tone down my Latin blood” because my writing was “too passionate”. Well, I don’t mind telling you: I did neither of those things, and it worked out for the best. Allowing my mind and personal insights to come through in my writing helped to make it stronger (so strong that that same professor gave me a 76 on that same paper when I finally submitted it). I whole-heartedly encourage you to look at your argument from many sides and fight for the one you most strongly believe. Your passion is exactly what will carry you up and over that coveted 70 threshold.


Rose Rossi (author) from Orlando, Fl on January 25, 2021:

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Thank you!

Zunaira Zahoor from Jhang on January 24, 2021:


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