How to achieve remote exam success

Welcome to a transcript of this podcast

Paul Kirkwood: Welcome to this ACCA podcast. I'm Paul Kirkwood head of learner experience at ACCA. And today we're meeting with Naveen Raj, recent prize winner in the ACCA exams, who's now an affiliate, and he actually sat his exam at home using remote invigilation in September. Our focus today is how to succeed in the ACCA exams, but also to give you some tips and guidance to help prepare you if you're sitting in an exam at home using remote invigilation. Hi, Naveen. I'm looking forward to our session today.

Naveen Raj: Hi, me too. I'm really looking forward to this.

Paul: Superb Thank you. Now let's start. Can you tell me a little bit about your ACCA journey? And what exam did you win a prize for?

Naveen:  I started my ACCA journey when I was in high school. And it's been around three and a half to four years right now. And I won the prize for Advanced Financial Management.

Paul: I think getting through the exams in three and a half to four years is really good. Something you can be really proud of and even more so securing that the prize in AFM, a really, really challenging exam. It's wonderful to hear. Before we get into the exam tips in general, let's focus first on how you did one of your exams at home by remote invigilation. You’ve obviously done exams in exam centres as well. Can I ask you first about when you started the exam, when you press start on the computer based exam, was there any difference in the way the exam operated or did sitting at home feel effectively the same as sitting in an exam centre when you got going?

Naveen: It was exactly the same screen, exactly the same layout, as it is in an exam centre, just that you have another option to chat with your proctor. So there's nothing different about how the exam looks on your screen.

Paul: I mean that’s wonderful to know and to hear. I mean, I can see it 1000 times. But it's wonderful to hear from someone who's actually been there and done it. Because you know, I haven't actually been there and done it. And about where you took your exam remotely, could you give the students any advice about the setup itself? So by doing it at home, what advice would you give students to get ready for their exams?

Naveen: I would say try to find a place where you can concentrate for your three and a half hours of exam. And also where there's no external disturbances. And it is very important that you have a very stable internet connection in the room where you are taking your exam.

Paul: Absolutely. I think that's a really important point. Can I ask, were you on wifi? Or did you have a wired connection?

Naveen: I had wifi since my wired connection didn't work for some reason. But my wifi was pretty good, so I was fine.

Paul: Okay. And when you got into the room where you wanted to take your exam in, did you test your wifi to make sure you had that strong and stable connection?

Naveen: Yes, I tested multiple times because I was writing two exams on consecutive days. So I had to make sure it worked.

Paul: Oh, I think you would have done the same as me, I wouldn't have just checked once, I would have checked several times and on different days and maybe the exact time I was going take my exams to make sure there wasn't anything odd at that point. Just to make myself feel better.

Naveen: Yes, yes. I did that multiple times.

Paul: Did you practise using the same computer that you took your exam on?

Naveen: I think so. I'm not very sure about it. But yeah, I did take my practice exams on the computer, on which I took my main exam. So, yeah, that I'm very sure about and it really helps. It's an advantage, basically, because you get to use your own system, your own keyboard, and you're familiar with it

Paul: Did you use your laptop?

Naveen: Yes, I did.

Paul: And not with a separate screen, just a laptop itself?

Naveen: Yes, just a normal laptop.

Paul: It's interesting, the real insight as to what people are using. And it again is just nice to hear from a confidence perspective that I’m using my own laptop, I’m comfortable with it, I know it, I know the keyboard, where all the keys are, because I know sometimes keyboards, especially where they’re separate, can just be configured a little bit different to a laptop, sometimes, so that's really good to hear. Did you use the ACCA Practice Platform at all, in your preparation?

Naveen: I used the practice platform to take practice exams like past papers. Yeah, I did. Because the Advanced Financial Management exam does a lot of calculations and you need to use the Excel function a lot. So I had to get practice on it with the format. Because it has been a long time since I took a computer-based exam. The last time I think it was more than a year ago, so I needed a little bit of practice.

Paul: Oh, so before September, your exams had been paper based? And then you moved on to computer based for your final exams? Is that right?

Naveen: Yeah, I think I took my Skills level exams, computer based in an exam centre, while for my professional exams I didn't have an option. So it was only paper based here. Going back to computer based, it was a bit odd.

Paul: I can imagine. And again, did you think, looking back as you can now you're an affiliate, okay, what happened? And how was it? You mentioned Excel and being able to use Excel to help you with the calculations? Do you think you would want to stick with computer based if you had other exams to do still?

Naveen: Oh, definitely, it's a huge advantage over a paper based exam any day. I was actually very sad that I had to take a paper based exams for the first two of my professional exams, because computer based was very comfortable to me. And yes, it also saves a lot of time, no calculations or writing.

Paul: I agree and that's right. People tend to type quicker than they generally right. With a bit of practice, if you're not that used to typing, you really can get significantly quicker. And so did I think there is a speed advantage, but you need to practice. So let me just reiterate that, you've got to be conscious walking into the exam and be the first time you've seen the software and expect it to be okay, this is going to be wonderful, because I've been told computers are better therefore it will be. I'm sure you would agree that that the practice and knowledge of that environment is important.

Naveen: That's absolutely right. You do need a lot of practice. Because, if you're not used to a computer, there’s no point taking a computer based exam.

Paul: And just a couple more things about that remote invigilation. And you might not be able to remember this but, thinking about the registration process. Was there anything or any advice you could think to give your fellow students to make sure they get ready properly? Did you remember how you registered and that process?

Naveen: I think my registration process was the same as for a normal exam. You just have to choose your time slots for when you want to do the exam which is also another advantage, you get to choose when you want to take your exam because the centre based exams have fixed times and since you're allowed to choose any time you want throughout the day, you can choose a time that’s very comfortable for you.

Paul: Super. And did you do any system tests? I think in the run up to the exam, you need to do system tests to make sure you've got the right computer system operating. Do you remember doing those?

Naveen: Yes, yes, I did those tests multiple times too.

Paul: But we're not to say that you have to do things multiple times but you sound like just like me. I'll do it once, then I'll just do it again, just to make sure. Fantastic. We’ve talked about the benefits of being able to do the exams remotely, which is wonderful, it sounds like if you had a choice, you'd continue to do them. Did you speak to your proctor at all? Did you have any issues during the exam itself? Or did it just go smoothly?

Naveen: I didn't speak to my proctor. But then again, my exam was very smooth. There were a couple of hiccups but it resolved on its own. So there was not much of an issue. But I didn't have to communicate with my Proctor about it.

Paul: Okay, obviously, when we're using technology, there's always the risk of something going a little bit wrong, but it's good to know you've got the Proctor there to speak to if there is a problem. But know that that's fantastic. So I really want to think more generally now about your exam preparation. And it doesn't have to be for AFM even though you won that prize there. But, you what do you think is the secret behind successfully passing these ACCA exams? What's your secret, Naveen?

Naveen: I don’t think there's any secret. All I did was basically practice a lot of questions and past papers, and revise as much as I could with the time that I had. So I think the one good thing I did was to organise my time because I am used to taking up multiple papers in a setting so I had to organise the last month before my exams to allocate time for each of my exams, and also equal time for question practice. So I think I did that well.

Paul: So that's really interesting, because one of the things that I focus on when I speak to students is trying to make sure you plan your time well, you organise your studies, even if you're doing one exam, but even more so if you're doing two. And even more so if you then had to juggle work and other responsibilities as well. There's a lot of pressures on people in general terms, and whatever your own situation, organising that time is just very important.

Naveen: Yeah, sure. That's very true.

Paul: So you mentioned that you, you studied for two exams. Let's take September as the example. When did you start studying for those two exams? So when did you start your learning process?

Naveen: I think because I was taking two exams, I started the at the end of June, for September. So I had two solid months to prepare for both my exams. And I wouldn't say that you should get one month for your exam preparation, but I just happened to start late. But then I was able to accommodate it, because of the pandemic. So I was free to concentrate on this, I had nothing else to do.

Paul: That’s interesting as well. So obviously, you're at university, you’re a student, so you didn't have a full-time job. But it's interesting that everyone will be impacted by the pandemic in different ways. For some people, life will be more chaotic. I've got two children in the house at the moment doing home-schooling, so that's why I hide in this little shed to do some work. And so for me to perhaps do exams now would be very difficult. But others the pandemic may have reduced the amount of commitments they've got. So they may have more time. But I found it really interesting that you know, you were able to organise your time so you in those two months, you could concentrate fully on getting two exams through to September. I really like the point you made about whether you're just taking one exam or two or 22 you know, the idea of trying to cram everything for one of these very, very big papers into a month. I think I agree I think that just wouldn't work but I think maybe a two month cycle, you know, if you did your exam, have a little break everyone needs a little break and then really getting into studying and learning phase ready for a September exam. Everyone will plan differently, but I do see that as maybe a good minimum a good couple of months to get ready for a paper and if you've got the time to commit to.

Naveen: Yeah. Yes, I completely agree with that. Everyone's different. Everyone prepares differently. And it depends on your situation or circumstances.

Paul: So that that's great. Really, really good advice. Did you do any mock exams to get ready for your exams?

Naveen: Yes, I took a lot of mock exams. I usually take a lot of mock exams before my main exam, every paper. So I continue to do that for my final exams.

Paul: And did you get them marked? Or did you mark them yourself?

Naveen: No, I self evaluated them. Yeah, so I didn't have a person who could correct it for me. So I have to self evaluate myself.

Paul: Okay. And could you give us just a little bit of insight into how you do that. So you know, not for the whole exam, but you, you've got a question in front of you, you've dedicated the time to write your answer out or type your answer out? And how would you then go about self evaluating?

Naveen: I would look at the suggested answer. And compare. The suggested answer is not the only answer. So you need to think about the meaning, you need to just think If your answer is even slightly relevant the question requirement and you just try to find figure out what points you could have written what you have missed, and whether your points make sense or not. So I didn't give myself a mark, per se. But then I just tried to find a way where I missed out, and where I could have, you know, justified better.

Paul: That's really interesting. Yeah, that I think that's a really good process. I wish I could have taken you into some of my classes and put you in front of some of my students. And just because I do think so important, if you've done a question, to really look at that suggested answer, which is just a suggested answer. It's not the only right answer. They're far too long for what you can actually do. I would never write like that. No one will write like that. And so it's really the themes, isn't it? Have you got the area that's mentioned in the in the suggested answer? Have you covered it reading through? Have you made a sensible point yet? Maybe could you have expanded on it. And that would give you not just the first mark that maybe quite often when you get into the higher level papers, there's going to be maybe two, maybe three marks per well-developed point. So trying to look at your answer and how you can make it better will improve you. It's great to hear. And if there's one thing, just one thing, a student listening to this podcast takes away that then I wish it would be when you spend time doing an answer. debrief carefully, because I think it's wonderful. Yeah,

Naveen: Absolutely. Because only when you know where you're wrong, you learn. So I believe that like, my mentor, he always says to me, mock exams are for you to identify what you don't know, not what you know. So it really helps you to focus on your revision better, so you can concentrate on where you're weak, rather than just being confident about where you're strong.

Paul: Yeah, it's always nice to know, you're strong in some places, isn't it? But to succeed, we need to play on those strengths. But you can't put your head in the sand where you're weak, you need to identify those weak areas and do something about it. That's great. That's great to hear. So let's have one final question here. If you could go back in time, and we go back to when you were in high school, and you're just about to start your ACCA journey. And could you think of what bits of advice would you tell your younger self, your even younger self?

Naveen: I literally had no idea about what ACCA was when I was taking my first few exams. So yeah, I was in school and I was just, you know, attending classes, and trying. Yeah, it actually took me a long, long time. I only wrote three exams in my first two years. So I think the advice I would give myself was probably, like, don't prepare for an exam, prepare so that you gain knowledge. So that it's applicable to you throughout your life. That would be one for sure. Another one would be ‘try not to procrastinate’.

Paul: I like that. So it's an interesting what you said about trying to build knowledge, not just about, building that one exam and actually your first exams, the, in the ACCA Qualification, you know, they're the building blocks, you know, the financial accounting and management accounting, they're not just building blocks for the later exams, which is which they are, because you keep on using your double entry knowledge in FM, SBR, you know, so building that knowledge that solid foundation will help you. But you know, management accounting, I mean, I still do management accounting. Now, even though I'm not a management accountant, just a strong ability to understand costs, profits, basic mathematical techniques, breakeven points, you know, those core things don't just help you in, in the, in the past, in one paper, they help you through the qualification, but they help you in life in business, and also planning the plan, I use them and I'm planning my home finances, as well, you just you just use these skills you develop, that's wonderful. And don't procrastinate. I know, it's challenging. I'm sure you never ever feel 100% prepared, you could always do a bit more. But you're right, don't procrastinate just get on, do it, book an exam have a goal. And you'll be surprised with a little bit of hard work, good bit of planning how successful you can be

Naveen: That would be my third piece of advice. Book an exam. I started to do this only for my last four papers, I wish I'd done that for the first few as well. I would say book an exam as early as possible so that you know your exams on this day and you start preparing for it from day one,

Paul: And then you get a bit of pressure, don't you and then you've got something to aim for. And so use that little bit of pressure to make you to make you get going and to stop you procrastinating.

Naveen: And you also get the advantage of the early entry. The exam fee, so you get to pay a lesser fee.

Paul: And of course, you know, ACCA now is building more and more support to try and help students on their journey through to the exam. So you'd get that as well. Our time literally is up I've got my final question. I always ask one final question to get to know a little bit more about you. I know that you're an expert in AFM. So I'm going to ask you if you could instantly become an expert in something in anything. What would it be?

Naveen: I think I would go with psychology. I would love to be able to read someone's mind instantly.

Paul: That's very interesting. We’ve never had that answer before. But what a skill to have. And I'm sure would be a skill that that would help you in your future career. Naveen, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for your time. And the very best of luck in your ACCA career and your future career as well. Thank you.