If you haven’t had to pass an exam for some years, returning to study can be a real trial, especially when you are also juggling commitments to work and family.
This guide includes a few tips on how to make the best use of the study time available and arrive for the exam with confidence and without stress.
Use of time
Time is scarce, that's why it is so valuable, so organise it!
- Make a timetable but don't be unrealistic or you will fail at the first hurdle and failure is depressing!
- We learn more at the beginning and endings of sessions so arrange many short sessions rather than fewer long ones.
- Build in some time for yourself and the family, you cannot study every spare moment.
- Review the material and decide which sections are brand new and will need most work and which elements are already familiar.
- Plan how each session will be used so you know what you want to achieve in advance.
Reading is not studying
You can read for hours and not retain a thing, it is only when you process the information in some way. The added advantage is that your output from study sessions becomes your revision notes so you don't have to go over the original text more than once.
How you process things is up to you and will depend on your chosen learning style. If you aren't sure, experiment with some of the following suggestions:
- Prepare each new subject by spending a minute writing down some questions about the subject. For example, "Who would benefit?" or "What are the tax implications?" This makes your mind more receptive and creates gaps to be filled with information.
- Mind mapping: This is great for logical thinkers who like to see the connections between facts. It's also a good thing to reproduce when you are testing your own understanding. If you aren't familiar with mind mapping do a quick google search or have a look at this example regarding purchasing property at auction (opens in a new window).
- Bullet point notes: at the very least you should summarise the study text with bullet point notes. Try to create groups of no more than 4 or 5 items because the brain has problems recalling larger collections (think of the way we remember telephone numbers).
- Mnemonics might seem a bit childish but they really work. To this day I can only spell "necessary" by quoting to myself never eat celery, eat salmon sandwiches and remain young. You can try to copy other people's mnemonics but it works best if make your own. The work involved in thinking one up is the learning process.
- Audio recording is my own personal favourite. I tend to remember things I have heard better than things I read. It is fairly simple these days to create MP3s to be replayed on your iPod or your phone.
Show you know
Every study session should include some time where you confirm your understanding of what you have learned so far. You could replicate bullet points or mind maps, write out your mnemonics and so on. Repetition aids memory and this will also let you know how effective your approach has been. As you get closer to the exam the proportion of time spent on reinforcing information rather than learning new material should change.
If you have any study tips or comments about anything here, please let me know.