What if you had a set of concrete, tangible professional exam study tips that if applied consistently, almost guarantee a first time pass? This is what we asked ourselves when we were thinking of ways to help prospective and current Professional students at Fervent.
Developed over 7 years, and previously only shared with our clients, we’re going to go out on a limb here and share these proven to work techniques with you.
Get Past Feeling Overwhelmed by Focusing on the Fundamentals.
Professionals tend to have an enormous syllabi. It’s not easy. We get that. But the fact is, while the syllabus is massive, most of it boils down to a few core fundamentals. For instance, most if not all of Finance is based on a single concept – the Present Value of Future Expectations. If you know and fully understand this one key concept, then the learning journey for finance becomes a significantly easier one.
Likewise, if you’re studying Management Accounting (aka Management Information, Decision Making for Managers, Managerial Accounting), one of the focal themes is the distinction between relevant and irrelevant costs. Knowing and fully understanding these high-leverage concepts will take you a long way, fast.
If you’re new to any subject, a great way of identifying the core concepts is by card sorting. Go through the summaries one chapter at a time, looking out for common formulae, themes, frameworks, and the like. Then match concepts with the commonalities. Doing this allows you to look out for similarities and helps understanding important topics better, and faster.
Understand how examiners mark your scripts.
Examiners have impeccably detailed ‘mark schemes’ at their disposal. These ‘mark schemes’ provide unambiguous, thorough and comprehensive guidelines on:
- What the ‘right’ answer looks like.
- How each point should be graded.
- General mistakes students tend to make, or have made in the past.
- What the general standard is over the years.
Before any formal marking is done, examiners sit at a table and mark a few ‘test’ scripts. The purpose of this is to gain consistency, so that “Having A Bad Day Jo” doesn’t end up penalising scripts more than say, “Standard Day Jess”. Or equally, that “Overly Enthusiastic Sam” doesn’t grade scripts significantly more generously than “Standard Day Jess”. You get the idea.
A good number of Professional Institutions make their mark schemes accessible and available to students. If you’re an ICAEW student for instance, you should be able to see your mark schemes here.
Manage Master Your Time. Use The Fervent 80% Rule.
We get our 1:1 tuition students to complete mock exams in 80% of the actual allocated time for the exam. Why? So that when it comes to the Big Day and you’re sitting for a 3 hour examination, you have 36 minutes of “extra time” to deal with any surprises / unexpected challenges / significantly more challenging questions.
While some of our students have struggled to complete some of the exams in 80% of the time, all have managed to do it in at most 90% of the allocated time. In other words, our students complete a 3 hour (mock) exam in no more than 162 minutes, giving them an “additional” 18 minutes in the real exam to deal with surprises.
This is a tried and tested, proven to work rule that’s helped virtually every single one of our students manage their time well.
Aim High. Not “Just Passing”.
Granted, there’s no such thing as a “Distinction ACA” or “Merit ACA” – and that’s intentional, of course. When you’re ACA qualified, you’re just that. Another ACA qualified individual is as good as you in the context of professional qualifications and the resulting abilities. The same goes for ACCA, CIMA, CFA®, etc.
But aiming to “just pass” is setting yourself up for failure.
Because to reach the sky, you must aim for the stars. So aim for an 80%; even 90% – it’s possible, especially in modules like Accounting or Management Information (and their equivalents in other professional qualifications). This will inevitably increase the probability of a first time pass because aiming that high requires a lot of work to make it achievable. Which brings us to the next point…
Set the right goals.
With the right guidance and mentoring – standard, with our 1:1 tuition – goals transform into something much more ambitious. And realistic.
Maybe you’ve heard of ‘SMART’ goals, maybe you haven’t. Study tips without SMART goals is like pizza without cheese. It just won’t do.
Make today the day you set SMART Goals that are:
- Specific: I want to get 80% in my Financial Management exam this quarter.
- Measurable: I’m going to read the learning materials, practice all questions twice, find more practice questions and work on them.
- Achievable: This is possible because about 60% of the course is pure quants, and 40% is theory. I just need to ace the quants part, and get half of the possible mark for the theory.
- Relevant: This will also help ensure the advanced Finance course is relatively easier to ace. Because I’ll have a solid foundation.
- Time-bound: To help me get the 80%, here’s what I will have achieved by (i) the day before the exam, (ii) a week before the exam, (iii) a month before the exam.
Then do something to achieve your goal(s), immediately. Take action right now, then come back here and read about one of our (seemingly) counterintuitive study tips…
It’s not all about studying. Seriously.
Although the pass/fail is based on the 2-3 hours you spend writing / typing in the exam hall, spending all your time reading books and studying isn’t quite going to cut it. You’ll be in a much better and stronger mental frame if you’ve given yourself some time off.
This is especially important when you find yourself completely stuck on a given question or concept. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? It gets frustrating trying to solve something that we just can’t figure out for one reason or another. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to solve it once you’ve taken some time off to refresh your mind, and then come back to look at the same problem with a new frame of mind.
That being said, in today’s Age of Distractions, it’s easy to take too much time off. Always remember to never underestimate the importance and power of practicing questions.
Practice, practice, practice.
You’ve heard it before, sure. But are you practicing enough? We recommend doing the entire question bank, twice – if not three times. In case you’re thinking, “but if I do it so many times, I’ll just know the answers by memory, not understanding”, we know of this issue. And we have a solution for it, too! Keep reading.
Professional exams are as much about exam technique as they are a test of your knowledge and skills. Practicing questions repeatedly helps you get used to the style and format of questions generally asked. And since some questions inevitably end up being repeated, you’ll be able to save some time in the exam by just answering the one you know ‘from memory’ quickly – and save time for the more challenging questions.