Revision technique

Nick Ryan, tutor, provides some essential revision guidelines for students studying for their exams

shutterstock_290942330-1

What is revision?

Revision means going over previous learning in preparation for the exam. Revision is any task that helps you to:

  • check your knowledge and understanding and identify any gaps that you need to return to
  • make links between different topics in the syllabus
  • apply your knowledge and understanding in a way that will earn marks in the exam.

When should it start?

Generally, it is not efficient to be revising before you have finished your study of a suitable text (ie one that is up to date and covers the entire syllabus). If you try to start revising too soon the links between topics may not be apparent. Such links are particularly important when it comes to tackling case studies in the Strategic Professional level exam but even Corporate and Business Law (LW) questions may require a breadth of knowledge across different areas of the syllabus.

When you are first preparing for a paper you should expect to spend a minimum of 120–150 hours studying the text. However, this will very much depend on factors such as how sound your assumed knowledge is and what, if any, practical experience you have that is relevant to the paper.

Revision timetable

When you think you are ready to start revising prepare a revision timetable – plan the days, evenings and hours that you can set aside for revision. This should be at least five or six weeks before your exams are due to start.

  • Be realistic about the tasks that you set yourself in the time you have available.
  • If you are sitting more than one paper allocate your time between them. Do not give more time to the ‘more interesting’ or numbers paper(s) than ‘written’ papers. If you are registered to sit more exams than you have time to revise for now is the time to revisit whether you will sit all exams. Do you really want to sit three but be prepared only for two and risk passing only one?
  • Aim to cover all syllabus areas within each paper – do not overlook topics that you find particularly easy or difficult. Try not to focus on computational aspects over theory, analysis and other ‘wordy’ aspects. Now is far too soon to be thinking about question spotting which examiners discourage, for many sound reasons.

Revision techniques

If you like to take notes while you are studying, condensing these is a revision technique. However, few (if any) marks are available in an ACCA exam paper for regurgitation of knowledge. Rote-learning is extremely dangerous and re-reading notes alone is ineffective. However, reading through the main points or summaries in dead time – perhaps on the commute to and from work – can certainly help refresh your memory.

Your own notes, or those which are provided for, can be made more memorable by devising a colour-coded highlighting system. For example, you might highlight theorists in one colour, important formulae or thresholds that are not provided in the exam in another, steps in a process in another, mnemonics in another, etc. Even though different colours may not help your memory the mere fact that you are being active in reading your notes will help.

To check your recall you might try drawing out what you remember about a topic as a mind map or spider diagram. Start these from memory – when you cannot think of anything else go back to your notes and add in anything you omitted. Again, this is keeping your revision active. If you are learning mnemonics to help provide you with ‘ideas lists’ for the exam then periodically write out what they mean – there is no point remembering BRIBE for the role of a CEO or CRIME for the five elements of the COSO Framework if you cannot remember what each letter stands for.

The single most effective way of revising topics is through revision question practice. Read at least one examiner’s report for the paper before you start to familiarise yourself with the common mistakes to be looking out for. Start with those that are on discrete topics before attempting case-study questions. You should treat every question as an exam question:

  • Put yourself ‘on the clock’ to attempt it in the time indicated by the marks. For Professional level paper case studies you might add a portion of the reading and planning time that you should also be practising how to use in the exam.
  • Practise exam technique – this does need practising! Although there are specific points of exam technique that are relevant to specific papers there is one generic point which applies to all papers: ‘read the question’. This does not mean start at the top with any scenario, but read each requirement and underline or highlight the key words (instruction and content).
  • Remember that presentation matters. If you think more at this stage about how you should be laying out your answers it should be second nature by the time you sit a mock exam.
  • When the time is up draw a line under what you have done and/or change the colour of your pen and continue to answer it as fully as possible.
  • Review your answer against the published answer and, if relevant, any marking scheme. If there are aspects of the question that you could not answer and/or parts of the answer that you do not understand go back to the text and clarify your understanding before attempting another question on the same topic.
  • If it is a past exam question read the commentary on that question in the examiner’s report – did you make the same mistakes?
  • Make a list of things that you get wrong or had forgotten. Cross them off as you do later questions without making the same mistakes or omissions.


As you practise more questions you should find that you are managing to do more in the time available and not have to look up the text when reviewing the answer.

Do not ‘audit’ answers. A quick look at a question and then reading the answer (‘oh yes, I know that’) is likely to give you a false sense of security. There is really no substitute for making genuine attempts at questions.

Do not just plan answers. Unless you follow this through to a completed answer (that you can compare with a model answer) you run the risk that in the real exam you ‘over-plan’ (ie you have far too many ideas that you are unable to restrict to what is appropriate for the marks available). You need to practise writing out ideas into answer points that the marker will give credit for. Little, if indeed any, credit can be given to ‘note form’ answers.

Sit a mock exam

The importance of sitting a good mock exam, in the time allowed in the real exam and without reference to materials, cannot be over-emphasised. You must plan and prepare to sit one so that you can go into the real exam with more confidence, knowing that you have had the opportunity to learn from the experience of sitting a mock and any mistakes that you made.

Final words

The key to exam success is practice, practice, practice!

"You must plan and prepare to sit a mock examination so that you can go into the real exam with more confidence, knowing that you have had the opportunity to learn from the experience of sitting a mock and any mistakes that you made"