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Tips for success

Helpsheets and support

Published: 21 Sep 2021 Update History

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In this guide we introduce some tips for success to help you master the Professional Level exams.

Tips for success

Manage your mindset

It is natural to feel anxious about exams but with good strategies, you can actually enjoy them! If you do feel anxious, then direct that nervous energy into positive channels. Remember that some stress has a beneficial effect. It can help you to stay alert, focused on the exam and be energised.

Do not give your mind the time to drift into anxious thoughts. If it does, then gently guide it back to a concrete task, such as planning your time, jotting down useful facts and figures to use in later questions, proof-reading your work, thinking about ways to gain extra marks and remembering these exam tips!

If you believe in yourself and your abilities to pass this will help significantly.  If a negative mindset sets in…. ‘I am going to fail’ or ‘I cannot do it’ this is the start of a downwards spiral.  Remember, many students have passed these exams before you, if they can do it, you can do it!

Make a revision timetable – plan ahead, DO NOT CRAM!

Work out when you can realistically give time to revision and plan what you hope to cover in each session. Use the ICAEW planner, online apps, spreadsheets etc – whatever you prefer. Do not spend too long doing this – your time is better spent revising!

Set realistic goals

In each session on your revision timetable, make a realistic goal of what you should be able to achieve. Make daily goals part of your timetable. "By the end of today I will have (at least) revised...". The size of the task you give yourself should depend on the time you have available that day but make it achievable so that you get a sense of satisfaction and feel you are progressing.

Practise, practise, practise

It is important to get early exposure to past exam questions. Firstly, because you will refine the all-important exam techniques required to pass and secondly there are only so many things an examiner can ask. If you do plenty of practise you will be rewarded with familiarity in the exam. You should also aim to do the practise using the exam software. This will get you use to formatting your answers as well as annotating the question. ICAEW provides questions from the question bank within the practice software.

Practise what you don’t know, not what you do know

When revising it is all very tempting to do a question you know you can do. Then to look at the answer and see you got it right! However, this is not an efficient use of you time. We all know that when it comes to the exam it will be inevitably full of the stuff we do not know rather than the stuff we do. It will contain that subject you pray will not come up…. So, let us make sure we are prepared for that.  Practise what you do not know, what your least confident with and hit it head on!

Keep your practice interesting

It is not always effective or feasible to be doing questions in full all the time. So vary your approach. Use tables or spider diagrams to plan answers. Use questions to research topics. However, it is important to do a significant proportion of exam question practise in full and to time in rehearsal for the real exam.

Try to study in short bursts, say 30 minutes on and 10 minutes off. Reward yourself with a song, YouTube video or even a biscuit.

Stay clear of distractions

Study distractions can either be internal or external. Internal study distractions include physiological needs and emotional thoughts. External study distractions include technology and people.

  • Deal with hunger first.
  • Put the phone on do not disturb.
  • Find the perfect spot
  • Take frequent breaks.

Make your revision active

Do not just read through your notes or copy them out over and over again. The best revision makes you understand rather than simply remember the material. Active revision techniques include: 

  • Summarising information 
  • Create mind maps/concept maps/spider diagrams/pictures to show how information relates to each other and where the links are
  • Researching real-life examples to back up your theory 
  • Practising past questions

Acronyms and mnemonics

A mnemonic is a method of organising and memorising information. Some use a simple phrase or fact as a trigger for a longer list of information. For example, PIRATE for helping remember the characteristics of an intangible asset (Probable future economic benefits will flow, Intention to complete/sell/use, Resources available to complete/get to market, Ability to complete/take to market, Technically feasible, Expenditure is measurable).

Have a study buddy

Learning with someone else can be a real encouragement. Comparing answers or marking each other’s work will help you learn. Also, explaining concepts and approaches to others is a great way to understand a concept yourself. Many teachers have said they never fully understood a topic until they taught it…. they then had the eureka moment of understanding it!

Learn from your mistakes

A vital part of learning is getting it wrong. After each mistake we evaluate what went wrong, why it was wrong and how we might do it differently next time. Every mistake you make leading up to the exam is then one less mistake you will make in the exam. So, celebrate mistakes and learn from them!

Make sure you carefully mark your own answers. Take as long reviewing and marking as you do writing the question. Make changes in red. Write comments of what went wrong and why it was wrong as this will help facilitate learning from your mistakes.

Exercise, relax and eat well

You may find it difficult balancing your lifestyle during your exam period but this is very important to master during exam time. Any form of exercise in between revision session is important. This can boost your energy levels and regain your focus. It may also de-stress you from your intense study schedule. Even a brisk walk or a 10 minute jog can work wonders for you both physically and mentally and keep you on top of your game throughout your revision.