Revising for a marathon

While training for the London Marathon, Jeremy Leigh FCCA noticed the similarities to exam revision and his ACCA Qualification journey. He reveals all…

 Before I start, it’s important to let you know that I am neither a regular exerciser (until recently, I had never been inside a gym) nor a great studier. I struggled through every one of my ACCA exams. Training for the London Marathon has reminded me of the self-discipline I had when working towards achieving my ACCA Qualification.

So let me share a few thoughts that may help you with your ACCA journey.

1. Add exercise to your revision timetable

I don’t know the science behind it, and I won’t pretend to, but no one can argue that exercise can maintain and improve your wellbeing. 

I had numerous days at work where I was having a stressful day and getting out for a run helped clear my head massively. Or it gave me an hour to not think about work, which helped me to focus when I got back to my desk.

So when you’re revising make sure you take breaks, get some fresh air and do a bit of exercise. I also spotted some research from the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria saying that moderate exercise like running can help students improve memory retention.

2. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you

My biggest motivator is having a future event that I feel is beyond me, so it almost scares me into training. You can use this approach for your ACCA exams but don’t scare yourself too much. Set yourself an ambitious yet realistic goal at a certain date so that you have a deadline to work to. It will push you to step out of your comfort zone and to do your best of your abilities when progressing through your qualification journey.

3. Believe you can and you’re halfway there

Many experienced runners I quizzed prior to embarking on my marathon training told me that running is 90% in your head and 10% physical. What this means is that your confidence and resilience has a big impact on your performance. A similar thing can be said of ACCA exams but a bit more balanced – I firmly believe its 50% knowledge and 50% good exam technique.

When I am out on my training runs (by the way, I haven’t missed one yet), I am still an auditor at heart and if the plan says run 10.837 miles today, then I run 10.837 miles, not a mile more or a mile less. I am a creature of habit and, in my head, I think if the plan says follow this and you will finish the marathon, I do exactly what it says and I will finish the marathon – simple as that.

This can be applied to your study plans. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for exams, create a revision timetable and stick to it.

4. Practice makes progress

I use a rehearsal tactic in my marathon training, something similar to what I did in my exam revision. The rehearsal tactic is about putting myself in a similar situation to what I’d experience for the future event (exam or marathon), so I feel I’m more in control. For example, I know that every now and again my knee hurts. It happens at different times and I know that after about 10 minutes it goes.

If on the day my knee starts to hurt, I won’t panic, I wont even really think about it because I know, from practice, it will go. Had I not put myself in the position before I may start to panic, I may run differently to compensate for it. I would undoubtedly use extra energy I can’t spare to do this and I would not run as good a race.

Exam questions are out of your control, but everything else around it is very much in your control and very much important. Therefore, to apply the rehearsal tactic to your revision, do as many practice exams under exam conditions as possible. If you get brain freeze during practice you’ll know to move on to another question and the answer will come to you. You won’t panic, sweat and ruin your chances.

5. If not now, when?

The marathon started at 10am. Guess what time I went out running at the weekend? Do the same with your exam practice. Don’t find out that you can’t focus well at the exam time for the first time on the exam day. Also, get to the exam centre early. I’d rather be two hours early rather than a minute late. Save yourself the stress and worry of not making it on time. And know you’ve given yourself the best chance to succeed on the day.

6. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are

Finally, I would encourage you to question how you study. Is it the right method for you?

Mark Twain said: ‘If we learnt how to walk and talk the way we are taught how to read and write, everybody would limp and stutter.’ 

What he means is that when we are young we try to walk and fall over, so we try a different way, when that doesn’t work we try yet another way until we find the best technique for us. However, with studying we are taught standard ways at school. It might be reading, highlighting and doing a question and we just go with that technique, whether its best for us or not. Yet we are all different.

So have you considered if you respond better to the following revision methods:

  • Visuals – mind maps or colour notes can make it easier for you to remember information this way through pictures.
  • Sounds – transforming your revision notes into songs or rhymes.
  • Working in study groups – it could be in person or online and you can develop games and quizzes.

The environment is also important. Do you prefer studying in silence? Or do you like a bit of background music on? I heard that as Baroque music is ‘50 to 80 beats per minute; it creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state’. 

Find out when you’re at your most productive – are you an early bird or night owl? I quickly found at that the 5.30am pre work run did not bring out the best in me, so I now go in my lunch break or after work. Do what you can to get the best out of yourself.

I have found the similarities between my ACCA studies and my marathon training has been astounding. My main piece of advice would be to practise as much as you can under the nearest test conditions you can. So that exam day is not a surprise and you can focus on just answering those questions.

"Set yourself an ambitious yet realistic goal at a certain date so that you have a deadline to work to. It will push you to step out of your comfort zone and to do your best of your abilities when progressing through your qualification journey"