What do you do in the final 24 hours before an exam? We asked students, tuition providers and ICAEW’s own exam team for their dos and don’ts of last-minute preparation.
DON’T try to learn something new
In the run-up to the exam, concentrate on reinforcing your existing knowledge, rather than learning anything new. “If you haven’t learned it by then, don’t put it into your brain, because it will just niggle away at you,” says Shaun Robertson, ICAEW Director, Education and Qualifications. “You should have done all that a long time before. You should just be doing the stuff you actually know in the run-up to the real thing.”
DO take the day off
If possible, book a day or two off work to give yourself some breathing space and time to prepare. “I take the day of the exam and the day before off at least,” says Dominic Buttery, a financial and insurance risk trainee at IFG Limited on the Isle of Man. “I sometimes use up a whole week of study leave, annual leave or time off in lieu, just to have comfort that the final week will be focussed.”
While it’s tempting to pack in as much last-minute revision as possible, cramming is more likely to be a hindrance than a help, tiring you out and adding to your stress levels. “If you are shattered by the time you walk into the exam room, you’re not going to put on your best performance,” says Ginny Bradwell, Education and HR Director at tuition provider First Intuition. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint – and 24 hours before a marathon, you don’t run a marathon, you start tapering off your effort.”
DO go over familiar ground
By this stage in your revision, it’s a good idea to put the textbook away and just use your condensed notes or flashcards. Rather than focusing on the areas you’re not so strong on, give yourself a confidence boost by reminding yourself of all the things you do know. “For my last-hours exam prep, I usually go through the key takeaways from marked questions during the revision phase and concise hand-written exam notes,” says Taha Nadeem, an audit associate at Crowe UAE in Dubai.
DO some question practice…
Practising your favourite past questions will get you into exam mode and help build your confidence. “By this point in my revision, I am 100% focused on exam questions,” says Julia Pope, an audit senior at Mazars in London. “I use the question bank to identify questions covering my weaker areas, complete the answer in exam conditions (timed, usually using bullet points) then add anything I have missed in a different colour (again, using bullet points to save time). I find this is quicker than writing out my answer in full, and allows me to develop my answers to gain more marks.”
…Or DON’T do any at all
There is also an argument for not doing any question practice in the final 24 hours, and focusing instead on your physical and mental preparation. “The day before an exam I never do any question practice, as I don’t want to overwhelm myself,” says Carl Trinder, an audit supervisor at RSM in Lancashire. “I make sure I have a healthy, nutritious meal, and attempt to go to a spin class at the gym. I feel like this really helps me to build up my mental strength before the big day.”
DO something to help you relax
It’s important to look after your wellbeing in the final 24 hours, so as well as eating healthily and getting some exercise, try to do something that helps you relax. “24 hours before the exam I feel like I did everything in my power up to that day in terms of studying, and the only thing left is to be calm enough to be able to write all my knowledge down in the exam,” says Maria Kythreotou, a consultant at Deloitte in Nicosia, Cyprus. “In order to cope with my nerves, I usually watch Friends to relax and clear my mind.”
DO the practical preparation
Remove any practical hurdles or stressors – for the Professional and Advanced Levels, don’t make this the first time you’ve used the practice exam software, for example, and plan your route to the exam centre or do the necessary technical specification checks if you’re sitting via remote invigilation. “Make sure you’re using the practice platforms on which you’re doing your exams – don’t just wait until the day you arrive to do that,” says Adam Birt, ICAEW Head of Qualifications Strategy and Development. “And if you are taking them in an exam centre, don’t let that be the first time you’ve tried to get to it.”
DO get an early night
A good night’s sleep is perhaps the most important element of last-minute preparation, helping to ease the nerves and ensure you’re thinking clearly (find more sleep advice in our article here). “Too often we fool ourselves into thinking study time trumps time spent sleeping,” says Hamzah Ahmed, a senior associate at PwC in Leeds. “If only we knew just how counterproductive this is, during study season and the night before any exam. Sleep affects our ability to recall key information, our focus and ability to cope under pressure – factors that are fundamental to exam performance.”
Support is available from caba, the charity that supports the wellbeing of the chartered accountant community. It provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students and their families across the globe, with a range of online resources, practical advice and support, all of which is free, impartial and strictly confidential.