Factors for Gaining a First Class Degree

Part 1: Analyse and identify all of the influencing factors on gaining a first class degree. During this analysis clearly display the controllable/uncontrollable factors surrounding this situation. (40marks)

The factors that influence the achievement of a 1st class degree can be split into two categories; those that can be controlled by the individual in question and those that cannot. Those that can be controlled relate almost entirely to the individual, where as those that do not relate to both the individual (for example the interest in learning that they acquired due to their parents involvement) and the individuals external environment.

In either case, in this study, these factors are subject to the following assumptions; that the individual achieved the required grades to attend the university that he/she is at, that a 1st class degree is based on individual performance rather than a weighting amongst peers, and that there are no extraordinary factors or mitigating circumstances that might affect attainment.

Controllable factors based on the student at the start point of the course, centre around the students ability/determination to learn. The largest controllable factor must be the amount of study that the student undertakes. A 1st class degree requires a student to perform above expectation and in general this would mean studying more effectively for longer. If the student is able to study for longer, then they should achieve a better grade, and given that the amount of time dedicating to study is essentially up to the student within a certain limit, this factor may be controllable. Distance to the library etc and other factors that affect the amount of study performed may also be down to the individual student.

The quality of study is also a controllable factor. The more effective a student is during this study time, the more likely they are to achieve a 1st class degree. This could be controlled by reducing the negative impact of external factors on studying. For example, getting more sleep so the student is alert, or having the correct surroundings for studying (i.e. reducing noise levels). Though the student social life may be detrimental to this, it is controllable by the student, and it is the student who may make a choice between spending time socialising over studying.

The correct education and choice of course is a controllable factor in attaining a 1st class degree. A student who has chosen to study a course that they find easier and that they are more capable at may achieve this grade. Whereas the choice to study a 'harder' degree where their core competencies do not lie, may be detrimental.
Essentially, the controllable factors come down to the student's determination to succeed. A more determined student may forgo the temptations of a social life, may study harder, spend less time on other activities, and focus more on their studies. The controllable factor is essentially one of will power and may be determined by the individual's willingness to succeed, and the perceived reward of attaining a 1st class degree.

Uncontrollable factors relate to the student, and their external environment (the University). The uncontrollable factors relating to the student are around genetics and natural preference. The genetics of the students are uncontrollable; they may naturally be less intelligent and incapable of a 1st class degree. They may not have the intelligence to perform, or the natural drive to attain a 1st class degree. They may also simply be happy with another class degree.

Regarding natural preference, it is known that people learn in different ways, and that different methods suit different people. It may be the case that a student's preferred learning method is in contrast to the method taught at the university or the choice of course. A lecturer teaching in a particularly oral manner is an uncontrollable factor for a student whose naturally preferred learning method is through visualisation.

The quality of Lecturers is an uncontrollable factor for the student. Though they may have chosen the university they attended, they may have little influence over the lecturers they have. A poor lecturer may result in a lower quality of learning for the student.

The standard of the University is important, but in particular, the standard of the university compared to the standard of the student. An average student may be much more capable of attaining a 1st class degree at a lower level university than at a top university. As such, the student has no control over the standards set by the university.

The quality and interpretation of marking and communication is another uncontrollable factor. A tutor with many papers to mark may miss key points made by students, misread, or aggregate marks. As such the quality and accuracy of marking is uncontrollable, but could equally affect the student in either direction unless there is a preference for the marker towards an average (of which a 1st class grade is of course not).

Finally, there is an uncontrollable element of luck: each student may only have time in the course to study certain elements, and the questions that come up in exams may suit the topics they are better at, or worse at. They may pick a dissertation topic that they later find out is particularly tricky.

Part 2: Apply means-end analysis to this situation and devise a plan of action. (40 marks)

Means-end analysis takes an individual objective goal, and a current situation, and then attempts to reduce the gap between the two.

The Means-End Analysis covers several key points: Identifying the end goal, defining the goals necessary to reach the end state, describing the current situation, analysing the resources required to achieve these states, and planning their attainment.

In this case the end goal is the achievement of a 1st class degree. Of course it is perfectly reasonable that the 1st class degree is not the end point for the individual, and that in fact the degree is an enabler for them to achieve a further end, for example attaining a good job, or respect amongst peers etc.

The goals necessary to reach a 1st class degree may be specific to the course. But in this case we will make assumptions; that the student is on a 3 year degree course, that the first year has no impact on the degree, but is a foundation year, that the second and third year are weighted 40% and 60% respectively, of which 30% in the final year is a dissertation, and that the non-dissertation marks totalling 70% are based on annual exams in the 2nd and 3rd years. The final assumption is that the student needs 70% to achieve a 1st class degree. The goals, and plan for this student are therefore:

  • To use the first year in such a way that enables achievement of required grades in the 2nd and 3rd years.

  • To achieve 70% in the 2nd Year exams

  • To achieve 70% in the 3rd year exams

  • To achieve 70% in the dissertation

Describing the current situation is much simpler; the assumption is that the current start position is of a student at the start point of a degree course. They have no prior knowledge of the course topic, and no mitigating circumstances.

The required resources to attain the stages described can be taken from the controllable factors in the first part of this analysis. The student must study for a sufficient amount of time, they must obtain a level of effectiveness in their studies (quality of study), they must have the correct education for the course, and must be determined enough to succeed that they would prioritise the attainment of a 1st class degree over other activities. These behaviours will ultimately affect all of the above stages.

The final part of the means-end analysis is to plan the attainment of these goals, which can be done by taking the behaviours and resources required to meet the individual stages, and marking specific requirements against them, and by specifying specific aims that will enable attainment of the specific goals:

Year 1:

  • Aim to achieve 70% in the first year exams, despite them mark not counting towards the overall degree grade. This will embed the behaviours required to achieve this grade, in preparation for the qualifying years.

  • Attempt to use the first year to identify the topics that are most suitable to the student. Identify those which the student can achieve the best marks in, and then try to carry these topics and module choices through to the final 2 years.

  • Aim to set specific working times, and standards for quality of study in the first year such that they become habit by the 2nd and 3rd years. An example could be studying in silence, or making a routine for trips to the university library that becomes habit.

  • Use this year to identify the student's preferred learning method.

Year 2:

  • Continue to maintain standards of quality in work, by setting a stringent study timetable, encompassing rewards as a motivation.

  • For the period before the annual exams dedicate more time to study/revision, and less to social life or other activities.

  • Ensure during the year that a suitable learning method has been found and is being utilised.

  • Aim to identify the lecturers and tutors that the student benefits most from, and utilising their expertise.

Year 3:

  • Again, continue to maintain standards of quality in work, by setting a stringent study timetable, encompassing rewards as a motivation, but also tailor to the specific project of the dissertation.

  • Effectively plan the dissertation such that the optimal use of time is made throughout the year, and that it does not affect final exam preparations.

  • Make full use of learning methods examined.

  • Attempt to over-prepare in all areas such that the element of luck in exam questions/marking failures is eliminated.

If a student were to follow this plan they would give themselves the best possible chance of overcoming the controllable factors, and achieving a 1st class degree. As demonstrated, the uncontrollable factors have a significant role to play in the outcome, but given the actual amount of work required to achieve the grade, any student that has met university entry requirements should be able to achieve it.

Part 3: Produce and present a PowerPoint presentation summarising the above analysis. (20 marks)

(See separate Document)


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