16 Nov 2010
Preparing for an exam can be compared to an athlete preparing for a major competition. The performance of an athlete is the culmination of months of dedicated training and so it is for a student who is determined to be successful in an exam.
In training your students for success you will already be breaking their learning into discreet stages, so helping them to focus on the activities that will lead to their goals. Maintaining their level of motivation throughout the course is key so train your students to set themselves weekly targets, just as an athlete does with training sessions.
Ensure your students have a detailed mapping of the course content and assessment periods at the outset so they have a clear idea of the challenges ahead and what they need to accomplish to be on top form for the exam.
Your students will need to achieve all of these stages to be truly 'exam fit':
- learning and understanding the full syllabus
- attempting to apply the syllabus in a number of different contexts, answering questions based on the syllabus
- revising their approach to improve on areas of weakness and build on areas of strength
- practising exam-standard questions.
Each exam will cover topics from across the full syllabus so it's important to prepare students for the full range of topics and not to attempt to second-guess the examiner by focusing only on selected subjects. Students need to rehearse some of the more challenging skills a number of times before they feel confident with the technique so factor this into your plans. With practice, students will gradually become more expert and relaxed about the topic in an exam question.
Students have access to a wide range of support to help them 'up their game' in ACCA exams. Importantly, they have you, the tutor; your availability to offer advice and guidance during or outside of formal classes is pivotal in ensuring students stay on track with their learning. To increase their chances of success, students also need to access the wealth of support materials available in the student resource area of the ACCA website. Help them to help themselves by directing them to the past exam papers and the examiners' reports so they can better understand the challenge ahead. Stress the value of writing revision notes and practising exam style questions in improving students' skills and competence in applying their knowledge in different situations.
Like any schedule students' learning will be divided between be periods of intensive activity and periods of consolidation. Your timetable should be planned with care, and include sessions that focus on learning as well as others that include practice questions. Setting past exam questions will help you monitor students' progress and enable you to compare their performance against the standard required. Give clear feedback when marking work so students are left in no doubt as to the correct answer and what specific topics require further study and application on their part.
Encourage students to review their approach to previous exam sittings, considering carefully how they performed and pinpointing what worked well and what could be improved. For example:
- Did they manage their time well or were they still answering questions at the end of the exam? Did they allocate their time proportionately to the available marks for each question of did they spend too long on a low-mark question and too short a time where high marks were available? Encourage students to attempt past questions in their own time, practise timing their answers and set themselves a schedule for the exam.
- Did they understand the questions or did they only quickly skim read the questions? Successful students often read the whole question paper once and then re-read each question as they start to compose the answer in their answer booklet. This is a good strategy as the student can concentrate on the question detail on the second reading ensuring their answer is focused and concise.
- Did they understand the syllabus themes and were they confident about how to apply concepts? Where students were unclear about some of the theories they were asked about, direct them to study these again and to reinforce their knowledge by going back to their workbook or original notes to revise their understanding.
- Do they know how to improve the answers they submitted? If they are not sure what they missed out of their answer, encourage them to read the examiner's report and reflect on their response. Advise them specifically to consider if they could have phrased their answers differently and whether they repeated the question information, rather than applying the information provided? The examiner's report will summarise any common mistakes.
- Finally, guide students to exploit their strengths by identifying those parts of the syllabus they understand and find easy to answer questions on and then, in the exam, attempting these questions first. This will boost their confidence and keep their schedule on track.
By helping students to recognise their strengths and weaknesses you will be helping them to tailor their approach and be more successful at their next exam session.
Dorothy Wood, head of education, ACCA UK