Get the most out of your study leave

Use the time wisely to boost your chances of passing the exams.

If your employer grants you study leave, count yourself lucky. Many trainee accountants have to juggle work and revision in the few days running up to the exams. You, on the other hand, can now concentrate on nothing but the final preparations.

But make no mistake, you are not given this time off to chill out before the exams. It’s not called ‘study’ leave for nothing, so don’t treat it like a holiday. ‘This is not the time to make a trip overseas,’ says Peter Ellis, student counsellor at accountancy firm Shipleys.

Equally important is that you tie up any loose ends and leave your work life in order before you actually leave the building.

Before you clock off

‘Let your colleagues and others you work with outside the organisation know you will be away from the office,’ says Elaine Garcia, senior programme leader, accounting and finance courses at the London School of Business and Finance. Also, set up an out-of-office email response showing the dates when you will be away and who to contact in case of urgent queries. Do the same with your office phone.

‘You should also make sure that you don’t have any pending deadlines during your leave and that you are not required to be present at any meetings or events,’ Garcia says.

Getting as much urgent work off your desk as possible will mean that you will not burden your colleagues with your workload (and that, hopefully, they will return the favour one day).

Depending on the length of your study leave, you may also need to prepare detailed handover notes, just as you would before your annual leave. ‘You need to make sure that someone else can pick up anything that needs to be done in your absence,’ says Garcia.

After all, you don’t want to be dealing with work queries or worry about what’s happening at the office when you are away.

Garcia says: ‘If you’ve prepared yourself and others as fully as possible for your study leave, you should experience minimal interruptions and will be able to concentrate on revising for your exams.’

When on leave

Once you are on study leave, treat each day like a regular working day.

‘This means setting your alarm for the usual time and working the standard hours,’ says Garcia.

Hopefully, you’ve been working to a revision timetable for the past five or six weeks already, but it’s also a good idea to have a final revision timetable covering the duration of your study leave.

‘Start off by diagnosing which topics you should be concentrating on,’ says Cat Hill, ACCA tutor at AVADO. ‘Which do you find the most difficult? Where do you tend to make mistakes? Attempting mock exams is a good way to establish this.’

When you know what you still need to work on, split each day of your study leave into as many revision sessions as you need to cover all ‘problem’ areas.

During the sessions, fill in your knowledge gaps and recap what you do know. ‘But don’t just re-read the textbooks as this won’t help,’ Hill says.

There’s no point in rewriting your notes, either. ‘It’s not a good use of your time at this stage as there’s too much to cover,’ says Alex White, trainee accountant at Shipleys.

Question practice is better, says White. Indeed, practising questions in your ‘problem’ areas is the best use of your time in those final few days before the exams. It will also help you hone your exam technique.

White says: ‘Complete as many of the practice test questions as you can to get a feel for the style and the wording you’ll come across in the exam itself. Do the questions under timed conditions too, and be strict with yourself. Then review your answers so that you understand where you are still going wrong.’

Keep reminding yourself not to get bogged down in any one question.

Hill points out: ‘You can pick up marks most easily at the start of each question, so don’t try to finish one question perfectly to the detriment of others.’

Don’t stress

It’s quite likely that you’ll have more than one wobbly moment in the final countdown to the exams. You may even feel like you will never be ready to sit them and doubt if you can pass.

‘Use your support network – talk to your friends, colleagues and tutors about anything that’s worrying you,’ Peter Ellis says.

And don’t panic if some topic areas still seem as clear as mud. ‘Persevere and the penny will drop eventually,’ says White. ‘Don’t worry about what others are doing, either. People learn in different ways and you’ve got this far by understanding what works for you.’

Of course you have to put in the hours but don’t overdo it, warns Ellis. ‘You don’t want to end up so stressed or tired that you can’t do your best in the exams.’

Putting in the work is important, but so is taking care of yourself. Hill says: ‘Don’t revise through the night or you will exhaust yourself. You need to get enough sleep and eat properly to be both physically and mentally ready.’ During the day, take regular breaks to give your brain a rest, too.

To recharge, your brain needs to focus on something other than revising from time to time, points out White. Just make sure that the five minutes you allow yourself to spend watching cute cat videos on YouTube (which makes us more positive and more inspired, according to some studies) doesn’t turn into five hours of procrastination.

"Practising questions in your ‘problem’ areas is the best use of your time in those final few days before the exams. It will also help you hone your exam technique"