How To Stay on Top of Your Work in First Year

a group of studying students
November 2023 by


At this point in the semester, many first-years will have finally started to feel a bit more settled into university life, particularly when it comes to meeting new people and getting to know the local area – but if you still feel like you’re finding your feet, that’s very normal too!

Usually, the last cog to slot in your first year of university is learning how to study as a university student and feeling confident in managing your academic work.

You might hear lots of people saying that first year doesn’t count, and many universities don’t choose to include your first-year grades in your final year result. However, staying on top of your work this year can help you prepare for the massive jump up in second year when your grades really do reflect your final result.

By following these tips and tricks on how to stay on top of your study workload – including how to take care of yourself and your well-being – you can not only excel at any upcoming January exams but also prepare yourself for the rest of your academic studies in your next few years at university.

Why is staying on top of your work important in first year?

It’s easy to disregard your first year of university as fun and games, especially when Freshers Week is just one long week of socialising and getting to know your coursemates. And while it’s important to properly settle into your university life and make new friends, it’s also important to take your studies seriously, too.

Staying on top of your work in first year will mean you won’t get a massive shock when the workload becomes a lot more serious in year two. It also helps you develop key essay writing skills and critical thinking that will undoubtedly come in handy for the rest of your university degree.

By understanding your lectures and seminars (and properly meeting your professors!) you can significantly ease this transition, and set yourself up for a great grade in your final year.

What grades do you need to pass first year at university?

Most UK universities ask that students pass a minimum of 90/120 credits in their first year, to progress onto their second year of studies. As a general rule of thumb, aiming for a grade of 50% or more will help you get on the right track for a good final degree classification.

Study tips and tricks

There are a few ways to make the transition from A-level to university studying a lot more manageable.

Find the study methods that work for you

We don’t need to tell you that studying for university exams will be different from anything you’ve ever done before. And what worked for you then, might not work for you now. Trialing different study methods in first year will ensure you know exactly how you learn come second and third year.

This might look like:

  • Writing up your notes onto flashcards
  • Explaining topics to your friends
  • Practising past papers

Plan with a capital P

University is a massive balancing act, and it doesn’t take a lot for a heavy workload is get on top of you. By planning your study time in advance, you can sort through your priorities and know exactly what work is due and when. A weekly or monthly calendar is a great way to visualise your upcoming lectures and seminars – and know exactly when you need to start cramming for an exam!

Be realistic

While sorting through your deadlines and writing a to-do list is important, it’s also just as essential to be realistic with your study goals. Breaking your assignments into small manageable chunks is an easy way to avoid getting overwhelmed – and keeping up a good work-life balance will prevent you from burning out.

Familiarise yourself with university exams

Knowing exactly how your upcoming exams are formatted will help you stay on track with your revision in first year – while also giving you an idea of things you might not need to spend as much time revising on! You can usually find past papers online by searching for your exam code and subject name; similarly, your tutors might be able to print some past papers for you to practice. By the final week before your exams, make sure to be doing these past papers under timed conditions.

Create task categories

Another great way to stay on top of revision in first year is by creating task categories. By organising your tasks by low-medium-high priority, you can spend your time focusing on work that will actually come in handy for your studies. See here: writing up your notes on a text you definitely won’t be using in your exam.

Try spaced repetition

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot more content to learn at university. To avoid having to re-teach yourself everything when exam season starts looming, spaced repetition will help keep everything you’ve learned at the forefront of your mind; regularly going back and reviewing your lectures during the semester will solidify what your professors have told you and help when you come to properly revise later on.

Prepare for lectures beforehand

A slightly backward study technique, but one that works. Making lecture notes before the lecture (by using workbooks or asking your professor for a heads up on what will be covered) will help you take in more when you learn it the second time around. There’s nothing worse than feeling flustered with new information and missing important points that you have to spend even more time working on afterwards.

Learn how to avoid plagiarizing

Properly referencing academic texts will likely be a new skill for most first-year students. However, learning how to reference sources is an essential part of avoiding plagiarism. Your professors will no doubt have already explained the importance of academic integrity; you don’t want to be caught plagiarizing and risk being expelled from your degree!

By taking the time to properly get your head around academic referencing, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you’ll never unintentionally plagiarise, and it’ll also help speed up the process when it comes to writing future essays.

Study with your friends

It’s important to remember you’re not alone in adjusting to this new style of studying. Reaching out to coursemates and creating small study groups can help you get your head around any tricky topics, as well as motivate you to get through a slightly heavier workload. After all, who else is going to give you their notes for that lecture you missed last week?

Talk to your tutor

One of the biggest mistakes many university students make is not making the most of their tutor. Your tutor’s job is literally to be there for you, so opening up to them with your concerns over the workload (or anything else) will mean they can point you in the right direction to any additional support.

In the same vein, attending your professor’s office hours is an easy way to go over any topics you don’t fully understand, as well as get their important opinion on any potential coursework essay titles you’re considering – remember, they’re the ones who are going to mark it…

General well-being advice

Study tips and tricks will only go so far. A big part of staying on top of your workload at university is also prioritising your health and well-being.

Eat well

Eating a healthy diet will increase your focus levels, not to mention give you more energy to get out of bed and to the library to study! Making a meal planner with some easy student recipes will help you get into a routine of healthy eating – and also help you save money so your student budget goes further.

Learn how to say no

Agreeing to every social plan and taking on a mountain of extra work outside of university can affect your ability to manage your actual university studies. Learning how to say no and instead prioritising the workload from your professors from time to time, will ensure you don’t overexert yourself and aren’t too exhausted for the social plans you’re really looking forward to.

Join a society or club

While saying yes to every social plan isn’t a great idea, spending time with people doing something you enjoy can be a great way to boost your mood. You’ll likely leave the meet-up refreshed and ready to focus once more.

Keep up regular exercise

Regularly exercising is a great way to keep on top of your physical health and improve your concentration. By taking a study break and attending a gym class (or just going on a brisk walk!) you can reset your brain to help you focus on your learning again after. If you struggle with motivating yourself to exercise, why not invite your housemates to do an at-home workout with you in your university house?

Support your wellbeing

As well as keeping on top of your physical health, checking in with your mental health is also key for staying on top of your university work. If studying feels particularly stressful, taking a step back to de-stress will be more beneficial than forcing yourself to continue learning. You could do something you enjoy like meeting up with friends or coursemates, or practice meditation if you want to quickly boost your self-soothing skills and concentration levels. There are lots of free apps that make meditating easy, like Calm and Headspace.

Keep yourself hydrated

Staying hydrated by drinking at least six cups of water a day can help improve your memory and concentration, so you can continue giving your maximum in your studies. Water is also an easy hangover cure so you can prevent any big nights out from affecting your workload the following day.

Get enough sleep

It can seem nearly impossible to focus on work when you’re tired. Not to mention a lack of sleep can often lead to low mood and depression. Prioritising getting into a good sleep routine by reading a book or listening to a podcast (instead of scrolling on your phone) can help you switch off and get a good night’s kip.

Take a deep breath… and remember, it takes time!

As we said, learning how to study as a university student is usually the last cog to fall into place. Taking a deep breath from time to time and accepting that every small change is making a big difference, can help you stay on the right track and motivated to continue giving your all.

Help from your university

As well as the above study tricks and tips for good general well-being, you can also access help and support from your university. All universities offer student counselling, support for mental health and sexual health, and services for students with disabilities. There are also careers centres, accommodation, and financial support. Remember, you’re not alone. Reaching out is the most important first step in getting help.

Also, don’t forget that Ivory Research will always assist with writing academic papers of any complexity, which will be very timely during first year. We employ only the best writers and tutors from the UK. Every time you order from us, you receive work written according to all requirements.

Staying on top of your work in your first year of university can not only help you prepare for the big jump between university and sixth form, but will also pay dividends for the rest of your time studying your chosen degree. These tips are a great place to start.



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