Top tutor Erin Morton shares her top tip for staying sane while studying.
Could there really be just one solution for managing your studies? No way! Passing an exam is like preparing a special dinner. There are lots of components and you need the right blend of ingredients to get it right.
First up is time. The kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to allow for lots of it. Second to that, we need to use it well. However, most of us do not have this luxury and therefore we need some other tricks to help us.
Time is important, even if it is limited. The first thing to do is plan how much time you have. How many weeks till the exam? How many hours do you have free each day or each week? Take off time for work, family and even a bit of leisure.
If you are studying a wordy subject, such as AA, this may be one of the few calculations you will be making over the coming weeks – but it matters.
This is basic project management. But what other tricks or tools can we use? How can we absorb vast amounts of information? Here I will go through some key techniques I have applied to my work to help students to success.
Acronyms and mnemonics
If there is a lot of related content to absorb, create a high-level framework with a connect acronym. This gives you a start. The detail will follow.
If a question asks you to ‘Describe substantive audit procedures you would carry out on the receivables balance’, where do you start? How do you remember good audit procedures to use in the exam? 3Cs might help jog your memory.
Circularisation – selecting a sample of customers with receivables balances at the year end and sending circularisation letters asking them to confirm their year-end balance.
Cash received after the year end. For a sample of customer balances, inspect the post year end bank statements to agree they have paid. Investigate any that have not with the client.
Cut-off – for goods despatch notes (GDNs) just before and after the year end, note the despatch date, trace to the invoice, to ensure it was recorded in the correct financial year.
If you are armed with some good acronyms and mnemonics, get some good ideas down, your confidence will grow, and more ideas will follow.
Mnemonics: This is one step on from an acronym. You might remember ‘circulating cash cuts off audit trail’. It’s a meaningless sentence, but it may help you remember those 3 Cs. Create your own acronyms and mnemonics – the process of making them up helps you remember (and keeps you engaged).
Mind maps: I do not know what I would do without a mind map. Any time I plan I have a piece of paper with me that turns into bubbles and lines. Break down your content, or use the chapters given to you in your study material. If you have not been given mind maps by your tutor, create your own. Use colour. Stick it on your wall (or the fridge) and refer to it regularly so you remember the big areas. These are great for helping you to revise and highlight areas you might not feel confident with.
Repetition: Our brains have a lot to do and so they cannot always keep information in. By regularly going back over small amounts of information from your studies, your brain will be forced to retain it. Not all of us are effective crammers. Do this over time and look at your content using different formats (visual diagrams, brief notes, online videos to name a few).
If you do not have an on-demand course where you can repeat your tuition videos as many times as you like, record yourself on your phone with some of the content. Listen to it regularly.
Mini study sessions
Break down your studies into small sessions. If we promise to study all day at the weekend, the chances are, we won’t. If we do, we will not retain enough knowledge. Break it up into a few mini sessions throughout the week and test yourself at the end of each session. Even if it is with a few OTQs/MTQs. Then reward yourself with some deserved free time to enjoy life. We are aware, more than ever, how important it is to be kind to ourselves. This is even more important when under pressure to pass exams.
So, my top tip for staying sane? Be a kind and caring manager… of yourself. Whatever time you have, use it effectively. Spread out your learning. Slow and steady always wins the race.
• Erin Morton is an ACCA AA tutor with FME Learn Online.