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How to get a first in every assignment


Faculty: Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
School: School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Course: English Literature
Category: Language, literature and media

15 March 2019

English Literature student Kaileb shares the secrets of her success in assessments in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Throughout my three years at ARU studying English Literature, I’ve learned a thing or two. In my first year I got mostly 2:1s and a couple of 2:2s, but in my third and final year I got a first in every single assignment. I’m here to share EXACTLY what to do to get a first every time!

Read the books

This may seem really simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually read the books in an English Literature degree and rely on plot summaries and websites like SparkNotes.

This is great for some people, and probably with a bit of thought you can get a half-decent mark. But you’ll never get a first, and you’ll struggle to get a 2:1.

If you read the books, that’s where the originality comes from, that key word your lecturers keep telling you is how you get a first. You will read that book, poem, play, in a unique way that no one else will.

You will spot your own individual points of interest, which perhaps have never been spotted before.

If you take nothing else away from this, please read the books. You are doing yourself an injustice if you don’t.

Trust your gut

If you’re reading and find something interesting or puzzling, go with it. If you’re not sure what exactly it is that’s drawing you to it, spend some time analysing it, or take it to your tutor – they’ll be more than happy to talk it over with you.

It could be a specific word, a phrase, a scene, a character – something will stick out to you, and as a critic, you need to learn to trust that.

Difficult is good

If you’re finding a particular passage or theme difficult, that’s a really good sign. There’s a good reason you’re puzzling over it – that’s because it’s interesting and you have a lot to say about it.

Think about why it’s difficult and explore the ambiguities. Difficult readings make for the best analysis.

Make a good argument

Make sure that your argument is solid and that you’re saying something interesting. A lecturer told me to improve my arguments and take them that step further, that I should ask of my argument, ‘So what?’ Push it, push it, and push it some more.

What is the point of your argument? What purpose does it serve? Start asking yourself these questions and you’re on to a winner.

Use your tutors

Again, this might seem like an obvious point, but you won’t believe how many people don’t go to see their tutors about an assignment coming up.

Even if you don’t have anything written yet, talk about your ideas with them. They’re there to help you – make the most of their support.

See them with ideas, your plans and your drafts. They will be so happy you’ve gone to see them. Honestly, ask your tutors. They will say they wish you came to see them more.

Try your best!

Getting a first might seem like the most important thing. But in reality, as long as you try your best, you should be proud of whatever mark you get in the end.

Make sure these years at ARU are years you look back on with fondness, not regret at how much you worried about getting that specific mark.

Your enthusiasm and interest in the subject will shine through your work – don’t force it! Enjoy your time at uni and try not to stress too much.

Best of luck for those assignments!

Kaileb studies English Literature at ARU in Cambridge. Find out more about this and other degree courses at one of our Open Days.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.