Ok, so you changed needle sizes. That accounts for tighter gauge. I think what you're seeing is a fairly usual variation in tension and it does get better with practice. A lot of it will probably even out with blocking or washing depending on your yarn and the fiber it's made from.
Cheating is an option. . . . Cheaters never win and winners never cheat, but smart knitters who want to retain an iota of sanity do, cheerfully. ~~Kory Stamper