Updated: Apr 3
"The secret to getting ahead….is getting started” (Mark, Twain), and it’s the ‘getting started’ that is usually the struggle. If you want to master the art of ‘getting started’, this article may just help you uncover some practical study/revision tips that you can implement instantly!
As an approved Partner in Learning with the ICAEW, many students have entrusted me to guide them on their road to ACA exam success. A frequently asked question I get from my students is, ‘where do I start?’, so I’ve compiled my top 5 tips to help you make a start…
1) Dissect the content
As a student, my go-to strategy to ‘getting-started’ was arranging my notes in a way that I understood them better. I wouldn’t advise spending ages re-writing notes, as that’s not really productive! However, it helps to re-read your class notes and find ways your brain can make sense of something easier. Let’s face it we all learn differently, but if there is one thing that cognitive research has proven, it’s that our brains process information better when things are bitesize. Therefore, spend a moment arranging your thoughts into a brainstorm/spider-map or shorter summaries that will help you recall information when you want to apply it to questions.
Say for instance you’re learning about the accounting treatment for impairments. IAS 36 stipulates that an impairment is posted when the carrying amount exceeds the recoverable amount, with the recoverable amount being the higher of the value in use, or fair value less costs to sell. Now that’s a mouthful! Consider using a summary like the one suggested below. In an exam, it would be much quicker for your brain to recall this summary, than to remember a paragraph of text.
2) The sound of …. your voice
This one might sound a bit bizarre but bear with me here! When I was studying for my FAR exam, (then known as Financial Reporting, FR) it occurred to me that a common exam question would require me to ‘Explain’ financial reporting treatment, to do this I needed to know ‘Initial’ and ‘Subsequent’ treatment for multiple transactions.
I learnt to memorise the accounting treatment by recording myself reading it for various standards (obviously paraphrased in my own words), which I’d then play back to myself during my journeys to and from work. This is also a very productive use of what can be considered idle time!
3) Active learning
As a student, I found that actively applying concepts that I learnt in class helped me to retain the information better. I recall one instance where my other half and I went shopping, and we passed a furniture shop where we noticed a big sign saying ‘interest free credit…buy your sofa now, pay in 3 years’. I’ll tell you now that my other half is no accountant, so when I smiled and turned to him citing IFRS 15 (then IAS 18) revenue recognition rules about how nothing is ‘interest-free’ in the reporting word, I was amazed at my ability to recall the accounting treatment without my notes in front of me. Applying what my tutor had taught me in class to a real-life example really brought things into perspective and I would often find myself looking out for these situations in everyday life.
4) List it out
The nature of a professional qualification demands that you learn a substantial amount of technical information (that’s a whole lot of cognitive overload). With work/other commitments it may seem like retaining any of it is an impossible task. Fear not, as your brain is a powerful tool, with a little help, you’ll be able to retain more than you think.
I would advise taking out 5-10 minutes each evening to list out 5 things you have learnt that day. You don’t have to write it down; you can just say it in your head or say it out loud without any notes/books in front of you. You can even consider making it a game, by rewarding yourself every time you can recall more than 5 things. The mantra I chant to my students is ‘repetition is retention’. Make this your daily habit and you’ll soon realise how much your brain is capable of holding.
5) Group study
As the saying goes ‘a problem shared, is a problem halved’, many students find solace in ‘getting started’ together. Knowing that there are others joining you on this journey makes it feel less isolating. I would suggest setting up a WhatsApp group with your fellow classmates or agreeing a time every week where you can study together. Your classmates may prove invaluable in helping you understand a concept/question that you may be struggling with and vice versa. If you are going to opt for group study, you must be disciplined in committing the time you have together for studying (and not an opportunity to socialise)!
So, there you have it, my top 5 tips to get you going. I hope you’ve found something useful in this article and feel inspired to try some of these techniques. I know that studying for any exam is not an easy task, but the quicker you get started the more likely you’ll feel confident as the exam date approaches.
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