Embracing thatdreaded topic

May 2024

Nasheen Wuisman explains how you can gain understanding of the subjects that, initially, cause you real headaches.

You read it once, it doesn’t make sense… you read it again, still no sense. You have now read it multiple times and other than getting frustrated you have not moved on! Sound familiar? It should. I felt like this about Statements of Cash Flow when I was studying. I couldn’t see how or why or even what the point was. This wasn’t the only topic that caused my exasperation when I was studying – but I will spare you the list.

Every subject you face has areas that are logical and straightforward. However, every subject also has topics that can stop you in your tracks; you can’t get past them and you just don’t know how to move forward. It can feel like if you don’t understand this one topic you are not going to be successful in the exam. Let’s look at the bigger picture first. Every subject is balanced – even the subject you dislike the most (there might be more than one) is balanced. There are straight forward topics and there are hard ones, it is the nature of the syllabus. So don’t panic, everyone is with you.

What we need to do is to be able to move on, see past it, get the essential information from it to progress. So what do we do? Rather than let the problem fester, try some of these techniques to work through it.

Identify your bugbears in advance

Doing this means you have time to be in control and plan to tackle it head on. Realising you have a problem topic two weeks before the case study exam limits your options and will cause unnecessary stress. So plan your exam preparation time well in advance, allow time for hurdles and contingency and then try your best to stick to the plan.

Go with the flow

Work through the topic, accept it is hard and spend a little longer on it on the second read. Try to keep an open mind, as there will be elements that do make sense, usually the foundation. Once you feel a little confident then tackle the trickier elements.

Come back to it

he worst thing you can do is get caught up with a tough topic and then allow it to stop you from progressing. Whether you are preparing for a case study exam, objective test or working through the Finance Leadership Programme competencies, remember that you can always leave a topic for now and come back to it later. Firstly, this allows you to move forward and complete more of the level you are studying for, which will give you a psychological boost; furthering your general subject knowledge may even shed more light on the topic you were stuck on. Secondly, it means one tough topic doesn’t become an overwhelming barrier in your head. This emotion can make you question whether the CGMA qualification is even for you, whether giving up is the answer… but you’d be wrong! Everyone who has studied CIMA has experienced these emotions. So leave it, move on, come back to it later – this topic is not going to stop you.

Find a tangible example

Worked examples to support theoretical explanations help your brain to visualise the concept and can enhance your learning, even with complex or abstract concepts. For this reason, try to seek out worked examples of the topic you are struggling with. You never know when you will find the one which makes the concept ‘click’ in your head.

Vary your learning source

When you get stuck, and realise that a topic is vexing, the temptation can be to go over the same page in a textbook or FLP module again and again until you get it.

After a while this becomes counter- productive. Instead, take a break, then try to find another source that explains the same concept. Is there a video on YouTube that can help? Maybe a podcast? Just hearing the same thing explained in a different way or by somebody new might help you make the connections you have been missing. Check out the key topic support on the CGMA Study Hub, which focuses on tricky topics. You might just find exactly what you need.

The power of revisited learning

In order to be topic comfortable or even confident, remember to come back to it. Revisiting what you have learned over time boosts your brain’s capacity to store and retrieve the information. Giving time for learning to settle allows the perfect environment for storing information, as well as recalling it.

Ask any CGMA designation holder and they will tell how they did not need to be confident in every topic in every subject syllabus. They will tell you how even when they came across hard topics in the exam, the ones they feared all along, they still passed. They will tell you to be as comfortable as you can be with as many topics as possible, and they will tell you that now they are qualified they are relieved that they’ll never have to be examined on that dreaded topic again!

  • Nasheen Wuisman, Senior Manager of Global Academic Progression at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants