With 2016 now well under way many of you will be turning your thoughts to the qualifications and exams you wish to complete over the next 12 month period. You may just be moving into a financial planning role or already be diploma qualified and looking to progress towards level 6 and Chartered Status. Wherever you are on your particular journey you will share a common issue with many other students across the UK, finding the time to study effectively.
I, like many other students work within the financial planning industry on the front line as a planner and co director of an independent financial planning firm. I have a spouse and family that place a high demand on my spare time. I have first hand experience of trying to spin the plates of studying, running a business and building in time for the family.
I am fortunate to have studied many exams over the last decade and I firmly believe that it is vital to have a plan of action when it comes to your studies. Having been there and done it, I know how precious personal time is, so I would like to share my top tips for exam preparation with you and hopefully they will help you think about your study plans moving forward.
Studying has to become a habit if you wish to do it efficiently and successfully.
Develop a routine
This, for me, is the number one exam study tip, developing a study routine. Studying has to become a habit if you wish to do it efficiently and successfully. By planning your study sessions and physically blocking the time out of your diary you stand a far greater chance of sitting down and doing some work. We all know what it can be like, client meetings pop up, family commitments distract us and before we know it suddenly it is 11pm and the hour we promised ourselves has slipped away. To be successful in your studies you have to make the time available and commit to it. Print out your weekly diary in advance and write in the times and dates you can commit to some study. For me this is usually 5 am to 6 am when the house is quiet and around 8 pm to 9 pm most evenings. Two one hour sessions a day when I know I stand the best chance of getting some quality study time in away from work and family life.
Study in small sessions
Study sessions of 20 -30 minutes are far greater at aiding your revision than long drawn out sessions at the end of the day. The human mind tends to start wandering after around 30 minutes, so for this reason break your study sessions into 20 -30 minute sections. I tend to revise for around 25 minutes and then go and make a cup of coffee or take a short break and then return to the second half of my study session. This enables me to remain fresh and on point, which means I actually get more work done during the time allocated.
Use visual aides to help you break up the text
Reading your textbook and highlighting various sections of it tends not to be the most efficient way to revise. Personally, I find page after page of text mind numbingly boring. What’s more, I would need to read it through a couple of times to ensure I had highlighted all the appropriate information within it.
Whilst going through the text, making your notes try writing out one or two key learning points on a flashcard. Flashcards are a great way to breakdown the study material and can be a useful way to aid memory retention. Mind maps are another great visual aid; one I often use with my students to help dissect complex units, breaking sections down into easy to understand elements. Using these additional tools will mean you do not have to carry round the large study manual and can go through some revision in quiet times, such as travelling on the train or waiting for meetings to start.
If there are a number of you within the organisation studying for the same exam create a study group. Share your ideas and resources and help keep each other motivated and on track. Studying can be a lonely exercise and when we are not feeling great, or get tired we can think of better things to do than sit and study. Having others around you to give you a boost is a great way to ensure you stick to your study plan. If you have the ability to study in a group another great way of learning is to each pick a topic, go away and research it and then present it back to the others within the group. Try it, see how you get on.
Another key revision point for me is avoiding distractions. We live in a highly connected world with social media notifications, emails and text messages arriving throughout the day. These little distractions can soon mount up and eat into the time you set aside for your studies. My advice is to turn off the phone, leave the work laptop in its bag (or the office) and find a comfortable surrounding to commence your studies. At 5 am I face very little in the way of distractions as the house is quiet, family are in bed and my phone/laptop are off. There are times when I cannot study at home, so I go to the local library and find a quiet corner away from it all and focus on what needs to be done. Make sure the time you set is used in the most efficient way and you will find it helps your studies progress smoothly.
Have a goal
What do you want to accomplish by the end of the revision session? It could be; understanding some of the equations used within your investment exams, or the criteria for the various Inheritance tax reliefs to be valid. Whatever it is, set yourself a goal and think what do I want to understand by the end of this session that I did not understand before I started? End of topic questions and mock exams can be a good way to test your knowledge following a revision session, use them to ensure you have grasped the learning objectives of the unit.
Practise, practise, practise.
There is no substitute for mileage when it comes to exams, you need to practise and put the time in if you want the best chance of success. We all know the saying, failing to plan is planning to fail and it holds true here. If you do not put the effort in you stand more chance of having to commit yet more time and money towards a resit. I for one would rather not have to pay for a resit and pick myself up following a fail to go through the same materials again. Do it once but do it properly – give yourself the best possible chance of success the first time around.
So there you have it, my top tips for exam success in 2016. If you can include one or two of these points in your study routine you will give yourself a better chance of passing your exams first time around regardless of the awarding body they are with. Having sat over 25 exams in recent years I understand what is involved and the effort it takes to achieve exam success and wish you all the very best on your qualification journey.