Preparation. That’s the simplest way we can put it. The best route to success is laying the groundwork first. You wouldn’t start building a house by putting on the roof - you start by putting down solid foundations and building up.
The key to success in a professional exam is in your preparation. The time available for studying will always be limited, so it’s important that you use your time wisely when preparing for exams.
Professional exams all aim to test a mixture of knowledge and application skills – the balance between these varies as you go through the levels. However, even at the lower levels, you’ll still be expected to show that you can apply what you’ve learnt.
Solid foundations - practising with past exam questions
Many have a tendency to bury their heads in a textbook, and work methodically through every part of the syllabus. While this will build your knowledge base, it does little to develop application skills, and it’s not time well spent.
A better approach is to focus more on the exam by completing practice questions. This makes sure that you develop the full range of skills, including soft skills, such as time management and presentation. These can be equally important in determining your final mark.
Start each question by reading through the scenario. Identify what area of the syllabus it relates to and what knowledge you already have. If you feel you don’t know enough, go back to your textbook to refresh your memory.
Building up - applying and presenting your knowledge
Next, you should apply your knowledge to the given scenario. Question why each piece of information has been provided and consider how you will use it in your answer.
Look carefully at the requirements, and in particular at the verbs being used. These will provide clues to the balance between knowledge and application, making sure you pitch your answer at the right level.
Finally, before rushing in to write your answer, take some time to consider how best to present your work. Think about the steps in any calculation, whether there is a need for separate workings, or whether your written areas would benefit from subheadings.
Step back and review
Once you’ve completed your answer, you can review the suggested solution and build on your learning.
- Make sure you understand everything in the suggested solution. You can then use the answers as a way of expanding your knowledge.
- Identify the key points in the question that should have prompted you to include specific points.
- Take note of how the answer is laid out in order to maximise the marks.
Don’t restrict yourself to just the answer. A detailed review of the marking scheme will reveal patterns of where the easy marks are, and how many marks are likely to be available for each point you make.
You may be surprised that something you explained for a few paragraphs has few marks available than something you only wrote a sentence on. You can then review and work out where your time would be spent more productively in an exam.
At the start of your studying, this process will take far longer than you would expect to spend on a question in the exam. However, as you move closer to your exam day, gradually reduce the amount of time you allow yourself until you are able to complete each question within the allotted period.
This ‘exam-focused’ preparation maximises the impact of your time spent studying for professional papers and will give you the best chance of achieving success in any exam.