Writing a University essay: Top five tips to get a first mark

University essay

University level essays can be rather daunting, especially your first few, so here are some tips to help you get the best marks...

University essays are generally of a much higher calibre than you would have been expected to produce at A-level, featuring a full bibliography of sources which will include academic papers and published journals.


You will be required to show critical thinking in your analysis of the subject topic and be expected to research novel ideas or arguments in the latter half of your degree.

Getting a first in a university essay is highly sought-after and is something that some lecturers will not give out lightly, so don't be disappointed with a mark that's still above the 60% barrier.

Here are our top five tips to push your marks into the next boundary...

Don't leave it to the last minute

It's obvious but it needs to be said: don't leave your essay to the last minute. Degree essays need a lot of work and research, it's not something you can usually bash out from scratch in an hour or two the night before your deadline.

If you want to get a first you're best off starting as soon as you can to allow as much time as possible to research the topic and to ensure you're not left rushing as the deadline looms.

Pay attention to your references

A good essay is one which is built on good references. Make sure you start organising your sources from the first step, keeping track of websites, books, journals and publications you're using.

Make sure you use a wide range of relevant and applicable resources and be critical when referencing them in your work.

Spend time organizing and building your references section in your essay, don't leave it as an afterthought. Ensure your citations are done in the style required by your university or lecturer to avoid losing any easy marks.

Get stuck in

Read deep into the subject topic you've been given, you won't be able to get a first by just skimming over a few articles.

Always try to do more and go further than you've been asked to do, getting a first at university level is usually about going beyond the given mark schemes and questions.

Be critical

Be critical throughout your writing, being sure to justify and back up any quotes or comments you make.

A first class essay often requires original input too, you can't get top marks by simply regurgitating information you've researched.

But be warned: Make sure you know how best to incorporate your own remarks and critiques, such as whether to refer to yourself in the first singular or first plural person. If you're unsure, consult your degree handbook or simply ask your lecturer.

University essay

Stay focused

Whatever you do, keep it relevant and on topic. The biggest mistake with any essay is rambling on and getting lost in information that is not applicable to the original topic or question.

Use the given word count as a guide, if you're finding it hard to stick to it, you probably need to focus more on exactly what the question is asking of you.

At the same time, you don't want to just scrape the surface. If you're struggling to reach the word count, you'll probably want to delve a little deeper into the topic and research some more.

It's a fine balancing act and one which you'll only learn with practice.