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How to get a first class degree during the pandemic (from someone who’s done it)

Nicole Wootton-Cane
Last Updated: 8 October 2021 • 4 min read

The last few months of any degree are always a challenge. 

Whether you’re undertaking final exams or completing a placement, one last big push is usually required to get you to graduation. 

Final year students in the last couple of years have experienced this challenge even more intensely than usual. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that they are left with only online resources to complete the most important year of their degree. 

2021’s graduates will be the second cohort to complete their courses this way - and we all know that when you come up against a challenge, it’s good to take advice from those who have come before you.

I graduated during the first wave of the pandemic in July 2020, achieving a first class UK degree overall, as well as a first in my dissertation.

Many students ask, does having a first class degree make a difference when it comes to finding a job? You are likely to be able to get any job with a 2:1 or above, but a first class mark can put you ahead of other candidates. It is also very useful if you wish to pursue a postgraduate degree.

Here’s how to get a first class degree during the pandemic, from someone who’s done it. 

  1. Get creative with finding resources
  2. Don’t hesitate to reach out to lecturers if you’re struggling
  3. Let yourself have bad days
  4. Pick your battles

1. Get creative with finding resources

Some university libraries and facilities are open at the moment, but when I was finishing my degree in spring 2020, they were all closed. 

I ran to the library and took out as many books as I could physically carry before it shut officially, but I still found myself in need of several resources. 

My advice to you is to get creative with the way you look for resources. 

The first place you should always look is your university’s online library - many books and journal articles are available in e-book format and can be accessed through your university account from any computer. 

If your university’s online library does not have the resource you want, it could be worth asking any friends you have at different universities. Every university has different resources, and just because your library doesn’t have it doesn’t mean that theirs won’t. 

I’d also recommend trying to find useful websites outside of the usual suspects. When I was writing my dissertation on the American poet Walt Whitman, the free resource The Walt Whitman Archive was utterly invaluable. 

See what you can find. If you’re passionate about what you’re writing about, chances are someone else is too, and they might have already put together resources that can help you!

2. Don’t hesitate to reach out to lecturers if you’re struggling

Lecturers are there to help you, and just because most teaching is now online doesn’t mean that that has changed. 

Chances are, if you reach out and let them know you’re struggling, they’ll happily hop on a zoom call or respond to an email.

During the first lockdown I had several incredibly useful meetings with lecturers and my dissertation supervisor, who helped me stay on track and reminded me why I loved my degree. 

Many lecturers will be missing interacting with their students as much as students miss face-to-face teaching, so it’s never a bad idea to stay in touch. 

3. Let yourself have bad days

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the words just aren’t coming. On days like that, instead of chaining yourself to your desk, take some time off so you can come back refreshed.

Trying to finish a degree during a pandemic is a stressful experience, and being hard on yourself won’t make it any easier. 

Go for a walk, take a day to spend with your family, maybe get started on a creative project! Then, when you’ve been able to relax for a bit, come back to your essay and it will be so much easier - I promise. 

4. Pick your battles

Finishing your degree during a pandemic is challenging, and sometimes you simply can’t put 100% into every task you’ve been set. 

In this case, you need to be able to make some practical decisions about which tasks you prioritise. 

For example, when I was finishing my degree, we were given a ‘no detriment’ policy, which meant that our grade would not be able to dip below what we had already achieved. If we got a grade lower than that in a module, it would be rounded up to your ‘baseline’ grade. 

I had three essays due, two of which I knew I could improve on my baseline grade for, and one which I knew would be almost impossible to do so. I still did all three essays, but put a lot more time and effort into the ones that could actually improve my grade.

If you know that one essay is much more important than another, make sure to prioritise the one that will impact your grade more. That way, you’ll still get the grade you deserve, without pushing yourself past your limits. 

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Nicole Wootton-Cane
Written By
Nicole Wootton-Cane

Nicole lives in Manchester and is a Content Writer and Editor at Edvoy and journalist.

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