Studying: preparation is key

Your exam performance will be based on the culmination of months of dedicated study, your revision programme and your exam technique, writes ACCA UK’s head of education Dorothy Wood

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.

Breaking your training/studying into separate stages helps you focus on the activities that will lead to your goal. It’s important to remain motivated during your study period and, therefore, you should set yourself weekly targets, just as an athlete does with training sessions. The different stages for you as a student include:

  • learning and understanding the full syllabus
  • attempting to apply the syllabus in a number of different contexts, answering questions based on the syllabus
  • revising your approach to improve areas of weakness and build on areas of strength
  • practising exam standard questions.

Each exam will cover the syllabus and so it’s important to study the full range of topics. Some areas of the content will be easier for you to understand than others, so give yourself time to master all of the methods in the course material. You will have to rehearse some of the more challenging skills a number of times before you feel confident with the technique.

The benefit of continued commitment is that you gradually become expert and more relaxed about the topic in an exam question.

Improving your ability will rely on you using a variety of study techniques. These may include discussion with tutors, students or colleagues, using the student resource area of the ACCA website, writing revision notes, reading examiners’ reports as well as practising exam style questions.

Your level of skill will gradually improve and you will become more competent at applying your knowledge in different situations.

Like any schedule there will 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. Completing past exam questions helps you monitor your progress and compare your performance against the standard required. Reflecting on the answers you write, against the answers to questions in study texts will also help you gauge your progress. Additionally, if you attend tuition sessions, your tutor will be giving you feedback.

Your exam performance will be based on the culmination of months of dedicated study, your revision programme and your exam technique. All three elements are required to build your expertise and give you the confidence to be successful when sitting your exam.

Exam approach

If you have attempted a recent exam and not yet met the standard to pass, you should review your approach. Consider your performance carefully and try to pinpoint what worked well and what could be improved. For example:

  • Did you manage your time well or were you still answering questions at the end of the exam? You may find it helpful to practice timing your answers and to set yourself a schedule for the exam.
  • Did you understand the questions or did you 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 you can concentrate on the question detail on the second reading ensuring your answer is focused and concise. You have the added reassurance of concentrating on the question that is being asked.
  • Did you understand the syllabus themes and were confident about how to apply concepts? If you were unclear about some of the theories you were asked about, now is the time to study these again. It will help to reinforce your knowledge if you go back to your workbook or original notes to revise your understanding.
  • Do you know how to improve your answers you submitted? If you are not sure what you missed out of your answer, read the examiner’s report and reflect on your response. Could you have phrased your answers differently, did you repeat the question information, rather than applying the information provided? The examiner’s report will summarise any common mistakes.
  • What did you do well? Take a balanced view, what parts of the syllabus do you understand and find easy to answer questions on? In the exam, attempt these questions first. This will boost your confidence and keep your schedule on track.

By recognising your strengths and weaknesses you will be able to tailor your approach and be successful at your next exam.

"Breaking your training/studying into separate stages helps you focus on the activities that will lead to your goal"