If you’re looking to build a professional career, the results you achieve in professional examinations really matter. And when it comes to exams, there’s no substitute for effective revision and sound exam technique. Fortunately these are eminently trainable skills.
My own company, Searchlight, specialises in providing training to firms in the insurance industry, a highly regulated sector where professional qualifications are highly prized. The workshops and training materials we offer on exam skills are always popular.
Professional exams are tough – and most people need all the help they can get.
There’s a tendency among many of those who begin studying for professional exams – especially if they are graduates – to underestimate the time and effort they will need to put into their studies.
The main professional exam setting body for the insurance industry is the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII). For each of the qualifications it sets, the CII suggests a minimum number of hours’ study. Those who treat these lightly and assume they can get away with less tend to come to grief.
For example we recently began working with a major client, helping graduate recruits study for their CII diplomas and were positively alarmed at how underprepared some of them were. Professional exams are tough – and most people need all the help they can get.
Sometimes that help involves going back to basics. A lot of the skills are, or at least sound a lot like, common sense. But common sense is often the first casualty of exam stress.
The first step to avoiding exam paralysis and panic is to make sure every second you spend revising really counts. We teach a wide variety of tips and tricks for achieving this, but the basics include: planning your time, prioritising your learning objectives, understanding your own learning style, and allowing for that in the way you revise.
Mind maps work well for many people. Flash cards seem to be the key for others. Some prefer to record material onto digital audio and listen while they are exercising or relaxing. The key is to be organised and pragmatic. Work out quickly what is going to work for you, and stick to a schedule that sets out where, when, and how you’ll be revising so that you can be sure of absorbing all the knowledge you’ll need before you go into the exam.
When the fateful day arrives: the age-old adage about reading the question carefully still applies! Beyond that, you need to be sure you’ve equipped yourself with a thorough understanding of what examiners are asking for, in what format, and what style. There are ways of making it easier for examiners to give you the benefit of any doubt.
We always devote plenty of time to teaching students how to manage their time in examinations. Lovingly polished answers to two sections of an exam, followed by a disastrously rushed final third is not the way forward. But it happens all the time.
We talk candidates through the various skills required to make ‘intelligent guesses’ where their knowledge fails them, how to maximise comprehension and reasoning skills under exam conditions, and how to tackle specific question formats, from essays to multiple choice.
Many professional bodies nowadays require students to complete some combination of examination and a course work assignment. Appropriate training on how to undertake mixed assessment work can make a huge difference – and is increasingly something we work on with our clients. A day or half day with a skilled trainer going over the content of assignment modules can massively improve a candidates chances of passing first time.
Another valuable skill we focus on developing in those who turn to us for exam preparation training and advice is how to cope with pressure. Pressure can get to the best of us. But the better prepared you are, the less vulnerable you’ll be to its debilitating effects.