Getting prepared for exam success

Welcome to a transcript of this podcast

Paul Kirkwood: Welcome to this ACCA podcast. I'm Paul Kirkwood, ACCA head of learner experience. And today we're meeting with Maiki Lynch, ACCA qualification education liaison manager. Our focus today is getting prepared for exam success and how you can use the fantastic resources provided by the ACCA examining team in your final revision time. Hi, Maiki.

Maiki Lynch: Hi!

Paul: Let's get started straight away. First of all, can you tell me just a little bit about your role at ACCA.

Maiki: My name is Maiki Lynch, and I work in ACCA’s professional qualification team. Our team are responsible for setting the syllabus and writing the exams. And we also write the policy for practical experience requirements and also CPD. But in my role, specifically, I'm responsible for the Learning Support output from this particular team. And there's lots of people within ACCA who also work on producing learning support, particularly for students, tutors and learning providers. So items of work that you might see of which I have a hand in will be syllabus and study guides and technical articles that you might see from the examining team, examiner’s reports, and various other webinars, this podcasts and videos as well. And so that's just a little overview of my role here at ACCA.

Paul: That's great. Thanks, Mikey. And, you know, I know that you work very closely with the Professional Education team to try and make sure that all of our support resources are linked and fit together well. So let's now turn our attention to the focus of today's webinar getting prepared for your ACCA exam. Now I know that the ACCA examining team provide a lot of exam support for students. And this is built on the insight they gain, in a number of different ways, such as marking student scripts, or exam feedback surveys. But can you tell me what you think are the three most useful learning support resources that successful students use?

Maiki: So as many listeners are probably aware, we do send out surveys throughout your journey with ACCA. When you’re a student but also when you're a member, too. But thinking about learning support for exams. We send out surveys after those exam sessions, and we ask successful students, so those are achieving good pass marks, which resources do you use? How did you prepare for the exam? And there are three key resources that usually come up every time and they shouldn't really be a surprise as to which ones they are.

So firstly, past exams. That is not a surprise at all. Because question practice is so key. And I'm sure we'll talk about that in a bit more detail in a moment. The examiner's reports, which give you a view from the examiner as to where students do well and perhaps where they're not doing so well. And also they give some tips as to how we might have expected you to have answered a particular question. And also the read the mind of the marker articles. Now they're up on the website, they're out there for every single exam. And the clue is in the name of that one ‘read the mind of the marker’. We have some example scripts and the articles detail what mark that particular answer would have got. I find that sometimes when we look at exam answers, they can be quite lengthy. And I think when you're learning, it can be quite easy when you look at the size of them to think ‘Oh gosh, I'm not sure I could even write that much in in the time I had available’. But the read the mind of marker articles, they're a little bit more succinct, and they’re probably what you might expect a student to produce as an answer. So they are really good articles to have a look at to give you an idea of the length of answer and also the detail you need to go in to achieve those marks.

Paul: I would have picked past exams, I would have picked the examiner's reports. But I perhaps wouldn't have picked that specific ‘read the mind of the marker’ articles. Now I've read those for a few subjects. And they are absolutely superb. And they do allow a student to really get inside the mind of that marker to almost see what it's like. And if you can get inside that perspective, then you can see how to improve your own answers. So yes, I fully agree with that. Let's take a couple of things in more detail. So in some earlier podcasts, some of our speakers have suggested to use the specimen exam as part of the learning phase. And then the past exams mainly in the revision phase. What do you think of that approach?

Maiki: I think that's a really sensible approach, Paul. I think the specimen exams, they are designed to give you an idea of what that live exam format is going to look like. But they also give you an idea of the likely range, and also style of questions that you might see. And so I'm thinking about, say Applied Skills exams, where you've got a range of objective test questions - those short answer questions at the beginning of Applied Skills exams. And the specimen gives you an example of all the different types of options that you might see in the exam. And that's good to get your head round once you are starting your tuition for a particular exam. It's also a good idea to have a look at those specimen exams to give you an idea of the difficulty level. So where tutors and learning providers will understand what say, a level 5 exam or level 6 exam is, I think when you're studying, it can be quite difficult to understand the depth that you need to go into in a particular subject. So just dipping into the specimen exam, when you're starting your studies gives you an idea of what's the length of the question that I'm dealing with? How much detail do they go into? So you've just got a bit of an idea as to what you're aiming for. And the past exams? I think it's great to look at them in the revision phase when you're actually attempting the question practice. So trying to save them for your revision specifically.

Paul: Yes, I'm in complete agreement there. Again, thinking back to when I was a tutor, I always like to show the students what they were going to have to deal with on the exam day early on in the course. So they almost get prepared for the revision phase. And it's not going to faze them when they see the exam standard questions. How important do you think is the ACCA practice platform to exam success?

Maiki: Very. I cannot highlight how important it is to your individual exam success because it does have on there not only specimen exams, but also some practice exams for you to have a play around with. And ACCA is committed to keeping that specific content up to date for any syllabus changes, legislation changes. So even if you're sitting tax, audit, financial reporting exam, those exams will be kept up to date. So it allows you to practice using an up to date exam, but also using the functionality that you will see in the real exam. So very important.

Paul: Super. You're absolutely right. And one of the benefits of the platform is it facilitates students being able to debrief and mark their own answers. Now, whether you're using the practice platform or not, whether you're doing something on paper still, how important is it to debrief and mock answers that you complete as practice questions?

Maiki: I think it's so important. So as part of your question practice, I think attempting the question, first of all, without looking at those answers, or taking a peek at them, first of all, is really important. And then taking it to the next step and timing how long you're going to take to answer that question is important, as well as debriefing and marking your answer thereafter. So reviewing the mark scheme, and also reviewing the answer and seeing ‘Well, I made that point there. But actually, if I take them out a little bit further, I might have gotten another mark’. And the mark scheme in the answers does give you an indication as to the types of things that you could say, and what the likely marks would be for that. And you'll find that the more you do that you’ll see an improvement in your marks. So I think it's so important question practice.

Paul: Absolutely. If a student has gone through the pain of doing a practice question, you're sitting there for half an hour, then they owe it to themselves just to get the most out of what they've just completed. And by spending that time as you've suggested, to understand how the marking would work and then linking it into the understanding you get from the read the mind of the marker article. You know, linking all of your study together will really help get you ready for exam success. Now we've got to move on and think about another area and I know that we were both ex-ACCA tutors. And I also know that we both got a huge amount of insight when we reviewed examiner reports. And I'm presuming you did the same and but what would your advice be for students in how to use examiner's reports effectively?

Maiki: I think the examiner’s reports become such a fundamental part of reviewing your own answer. So once you've reviewed your answer alongside the published answers from ACCA, you can use those examiner's reports to supplement that a little bit because the examiners reports will give you perhaps a heads up as to why students did well in a particular question. They'll be discussing those past exams that you're also practising using, and perhaps where students struggled, and you might find that you're struggling in that particular area. They may also signpost other questions for you to have a go at to attempt, or areas that you might wish to look into in a bit more detail. They supplement the published answers that by giving you those tips, and they are really important to be using, but I think they've become more important, particularly in that revision phase. So in those few weeks in the run up to the exam, I think that's when they start to be of more use to you in preparing for your exam.

Paul: Are there any recurring themes that come up regularly that students should be aware of as they prepare for exams?

Maiki: Yes, we do see, and I'm sure as an ex-tutor as well, you've probably seen it too, that often it's the same things that come up. In most examiner's reports, there are certain themes that do come up. So just to give some ideas as to common themes that we see across a lot of the exams, and students answering the question they wish was being asked, and answering the question that they practiced so hard for. And I guess the solution to that is making sure you've read the requirement, just make sure you understand what the question is asking you even if it is a topic that you love, and you wish it was a different question, you must try to answer the questions been asked.

There's always talk on spreadsheets as well, and particularly on those computer based exams. And we are always calling out for students to give an idea as to how they come up with a figure that they've come up with. So just so you know, markers can interrogate the cell within the spreadsheet. And so they may wish to look behind how you come up with that particular number. As you'll find an answer, particularly if, unfortunately, you've got your answer slightly wrong. And you may be able to get some marks if we can see your thought pattern. So explaining your formula, providing a little narrative, if we can interrogate that cell and see what you've tried to do, marks may be able to be awarded.

Just another couple of points. Firstly, around developing your answer, particularly around interpretation or maybe a narrative style question, trying to develop your answer and saying, saying why, if you made a point, try and say why that point is correct, or why you're making it. And even very crudely, sometimes if you're writing a statement, add the word ‘because’ on to the end of that sentence, and try to finish that sentence, ‘…because…’ and finish that off. You will explain why you've come up with the point that you've come up with.

And also just a little bit on time management. I think the practice platform can help specifically with time management, because you're going to be practising using the exam functionality. But we do find sometimes there can be some time management issues. But I think that is usually down to question practice, and being comfortable with managing your time, knowing how many minutes per mark, give yourself a certain amount of time for planning and a certain amount of time for answering your question. So there's some very common, not necessarily exam specific, things that we see, but certainly common themes that we see across all the exams.

Paul: That's really useful. Thanks Maiki. I mean, you mentioned read the requirements, I would add, read the requirements and read the requirement again. And I only say that, because when you're doing an exam question, it might be an hour question, maybe longer in some of the Strategic Professional questions. And you may well read the requirements at the start of the exam. But then you're coming back to it, you know, 20, 30, 40 minutes later. So make sure that you keep going back to the requirement to make sure that you're answering the question, as you said, that was set, and not the one that you thought was set, or you wish was set. And I really liked your idea of adding ‘because’ or thinking about that ‘because’ to try to add ‘why’ to your narrative answers. You know, definitely the what and why. And we also advise in some of the learning sport we've developed for Strategic Professional papers, not going that little bit further again. So you've got a what, why is it important? And then so what does that mean? So as you develop through the ACCA Qualification, the analysis that you do maybe will increase in terms of the answers that you provide, so, so really, really useful. Thank you. Looking ahead. Now I know that you've got plans to make the examiner’s reports even more useful to our students. Could you give me an insight into the plans for the examiner's report of the future?

Maiki: Yes. So, more recently, we have changed the frequency of those examiner’s reports to match when a past exam will be published. And this is so that the examiners can talk very explicitly about those questions that have been published. So it is a small change in terms of that frequency. But what it will do is allow those reports to be more explicit about the questions that they're discussing, we will be able to include more questions for discussion in there. And the summary report will move to being more of a learning support tool aimed specifically at students. So giving you an idea of how to answer the question, and not just being a summary of how students performed in the last exam session and so they’re becoming a little more bulky, I would say, but also more useful to that.

Paul: That sounds really good and will be so beneficial for the students. What about insight after the March and September sessions, will you still be planning to release some useful guidance for students in those timings?

Maiki: So for March, yes, we will, we will be providing some guidance aimed specifically at those sitting in March and September exam sessions. So watch out for that. That will be coming up in March.

Paul: We will watch this space. Now. I know we're running out of time now. But we've got the December exam week, almost here. Do you have any final revision advice or guidance to help our students get exam ready?

Maiki: Absolutely. At the risk of slightly repeating myself but also repeating the resources that are used by successful students. Make sure you take a look at that read the mind of the marker article - there's one for every exam, will give you an idea of the types of questions you might see in the exam and has some sample answers in there so you can get a feel for what will gain you a mark and what would not gain you a mark.

Next, I would say is probably start attempting past exam questions. So if you're listening to this podcast as it does come out, you're just a few weeks away from the exam session. And so you should be moving on to looking at past exam questions, reviewing your answers as you move through. And thirdly, reading the examiner's reports to give you some tips on how to complete that question that you've just attempted. But also to give you some tips of the pitfalls to avoid. And to give you an idea of how students performed when that exam is actually sat.

Once you've got the knowledge, try to ensure that you're prepared for the exam day itself. So going back to basics, making sure you're well rested for the exam, you're hydrated, you're well fed for the day, ensure that you know that you're prepared for that exam. But when I say prepared, I don't just mean having the knowledge. But if you're sitting the exam at home, perhaps you're sitting a remote exam, just make sure that your setup is absolutely as advised it should be. If you're going to an exam centre, know how you're traveling there, how long it might take. And just make sure you've got those fine details down. And lastly, I'd probably say close your eyes and visualise that exam experience. Try and see yourself opening that exam. And knowing that you can complete it because you've done all the hard work, you just need to go through the day and through the motions. And fast forward. Again, close your eyes. Fast forward to that results date and visualise seeing in that notification that you have passed the exam. Aim high, I'd say never strive for 50. Even in your least favourite exam subjects, we all have one, you should be aiming for 60 and far higher for subjects that you're more skilled at or that you enjoy.

Paul: Thank you for those. I really like the idea aim high, keep going, you know the exam is you know, once you start that exam, there's only you know, three hours maximum four if it's SBL and you're finished, give it your best shot, everyone's in the same position. Everyone starts with not scoring any marks, you've got the time in front of you, give it your best efforts. And you know, with a little bit of luck, I'm sure that our students will do very, very well. We are out of time. But we always have just one last question to get to know a little bit more about you, Maiki. So my question is, if you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

Maiki: At the moment it would be coding. Learning is always continuous. And that's something that I'm looking at learning this year – coding. At the moment, I'm having a play around with scratch, C and Python and it's something new for me and I'm far far, far away from being an expert so it would be lovely to instantly become one.

Paul: Well, that's a new one for us. No one said they wanted to become an expert at coding the answer. That's fantastic. Really good to speak to you Maiki. Thank you for your time. And thank you for your insight.

Maiki: Thank you and good luck with your exams everyone.