So you’ve signed up to complete the ICAEW CFAB qualification – and now the hard work really begins. How can you keep yourself motivated and make sure you reach that finish line? Help is at hand with our top tips.
1. Find the time…
One of the biggest challenges of embarking on a professional qualification is building in time to study alongside working, socialising and any other demands you may have on your time. Routine and discipline are key; many students find that creating – and sticking to – a study schedule can help. Try to plan in an hour or two each day rather than leaving it all to late nights or a weekend of last-minute cramming. Studying with a tuition provider can provide much-needed focus, so make sure you complete any homework set for you. If you’re studying independently, book your exam date in to give yourself a deadline to work towards. “I know I need time pressure to make myself work, so I look at my diary to see when I’m going to be able to put enough time in, and then just pick a date for the exam,” says independent ICAEW CFAB student Megan Fitzpatrick. “Without booking it I just wouldn’t do it!” (You can find more tips on time management here, and the ICAEW CFAB planner here – use it to plan ahead and keep organised throughout the year by scheduling in your exams and recording the days you plan to study.)
2. …and the motivation
Ask any student what their biggest challenge is, and chances are they will cite the m word: motivation. Janet Hill, an ICAEW Chartered Accountant and transformational coach, believes the trap that many people fall into is waiting for motivation to magically arrive, rather than just making a start. “They think, ‘I can only do this when I’m motivated’ but it works the other way around. You just do something,” she explains. “I often describe it as being a feeler or a doer: you can wait for the feeling, or you can just get on and do it.” (Read more of Janet’s advice on motivation here.) While it’s important to keep your goal in mind, it can help to break down a big undertaking into smaller, more manageable milestones: if you’re studying for the ICAEW CFAB, for example, focus on one module at a time before moving on to the next. Rewarding yourself for your achievements, however small they may seem, can help keep you motivated too, so mark each step along the way with a small treat.
3. Establish a support network
Having fellow students to share the highs and lows with is invaluable, whether it’s studying together in a group, or just having someone at the other end of a WhatsApp to ask a quick question. A buddy or mentor who’s been through the experience before can really help too, offering advice and tips on the process, as well as a reminder of why you’re doing it in the first place. “I have a mentor at work who’s been just fantastic,” says Megan. “I’ve been teaching myself, so it’s been so useful to have someone who can explain things to me. So find a mentor – or even two or three – that you can rely on and ask questions.”
4. Make use of the resources on offer
Don’t forget there is plenty of practical support available from ICAEW, from a wealth of online content and information to events and webinars, networking opportunities and careers advice. “I am the only one in my class studying for the ICAEW CFAB,” says Nguyen Quynh Nhu, a student at the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, Vietnam. “It’s been quite hard for me to learn by myself, but I shared this with one of the ICAEW staff and she put me in touch with other teachers and people who had passed the exams. So that’s been really useful.”
5. Be prepared
When it comes to the exams themselves, choose the method that works best for you: some people prefer taking them at an exam centre, while others feel more comfortable sitting them at home via remote invigilation. Whichever you choose, make sure you’re prepared: that you’ve given yourself plenty of time to travel to the exam centre (and that you know exactly where it is), or that you’ve done all the necessary technical checks at home – and, most importantly, that you’ve practised using the sample exams. Above all, be nice to yourself: don’t cram the night before, build in time to do something that helps you relax and de-stress, and try to get a good night’s sleep (watch more exam tips from our experts here).
Once the exam is out of the way, move on and focus on the next. It’s easy to feel disheartened if things haven’t gone as well as you hoped, but try to be honest with yourself about why, and see it as a learning experience. “If it didn’t work for you last time that way, try a different way,” advises Ginny Bradwell, Education and HR Director at training provider First Intuition. “Go back to the scene of the crime, think about what you’re going to do differently next time, and mentally prepare yourself so that you are not replaying the failure. You’ve got another opportunity; it’s a different situation.”
Don’t forget you can also access marks feedback via your training file, which will show the percentage of questions that you scored correctly within each syllabus area, and give an indication of the area(s) where further revision or tuition might be needed before your next attempt.
6. Keep your eyes on the prize
It’s important to keep in mind the reasons why you want to study for a professional qualification in the first place, whether that’s to improve your career prospects, or simply because you enjoy learning. Know how far you want to go, but be prepared to change your mind, too – you may find that a particular interest or job opportunity takes you in a different direction. “I originally planned to study for the ACA, but once I’d completed the ICAEW CFAB, I decided I wanted to specialise in insurance,” explains Oliver Spicer, a technical expert in the Intensive Supervision Team at the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission. “For me, the ICAEW CFAB was an excellent point at which to decide which direction I wanted to go in.”
Professional qualifications such as the ICAEW CFAB are highly valued in organisations across the globe, and can open up a world of opportunities. While it is undoubtedly hard work, it’s important to try and enjoy the process, so make it work for you – and don’t underestimate the sense of achievement you’ll have at the end. “It’s that idea that you’ve worked really hard for something that’s worth having,” says Ginny. “And if it’s worth having, there has to be something you’ve had to do to attain it. You want to be justly proud of what you’ve achieved.”
We have a range of exam resources, how-to guides and more to support you on your journey – find them here.