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How to get a first at Cambridge

Written by a recent graduate from Cambridge who achieved a triple first in law.

So, you want to get a first? Unfortunately, the best advice I can give if you want to get a first, is obvious: work hard and read lots. That said, hopefully I can provide a few tips to save some time and work more productively.

Lectures

Go to lectures. This may be obvious advice, but I found that attending lectures was the most helpful and time efficient thing I did. Lectures will summarise the basics of the course far more clearly, and concisely than any textbook, so having a good set of lecture notes that you actually understand (not someone else’s notes) saves you a lot of time when it comes to doing textbook reading.

Note making

Use the lecture handout as a guide for reading and note making. Making a single set of notes, rather than having separate sets of lecture and supervision notes on the same topic, makes revision far easier. When preparing for a supervision, I would download the lecture handout first, then use this as a framework for my supervision notes, which I would then add to when the lecture took place. This helps focus your supervision reading on the relevant bits – you don’t end up trawling through 20 pages of a textbook in great detail, only to discover it’s not on the syllabus.

Vacations

Again obvious advice, but use the Christmas vacation to do some productive work – it will be a huge help at Easter. I would recommend making a note on each supervision sheet of any further reading you didn’t get round to that week, so you can catch up and organise notes over the holidays. By the end of the break, you should have a set of notes that are ready to revise from.

Revision

Make a revision schedule for the Easter vacation and stick to it. I allocated one day to each supervision, and would mainly use flash cards to learn cases etc. I also used a massive whiteboard, which was really useful for testing my knowledge on a topic, by drawing up a big mind map of everything I knew, then checking against my notes. Once you’ve revised a topic, I found it really useful to do a past exam question, timed, even if I couldn’t answer it fully. As for dropping topics, lots of people do, and still get very good firsts. Personally, as I’m a big fan of problem questions, I didn’t drop anything, but instead would learn the basics of what the law is on everything, so I could answer any problem question, and then focused on learning a couple of topics which interested me in detail, including all the articles and further reading, so I could answer an essay on them.

Further reading

Read lots of articles and bits of further reading – prioritise pieces which are listed on both supervision and lecture handout. If you’re taking CSPS, don’t bother too much with the basic reading, as the ‘textbooks’ are basically common sense – instead go straight for the further reading, using the lecture handout for the basics.