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7 Tips for Studying for Professional Exams

01 May 2019

Eileen Moloney

Implementing an effective studying technique is key to success in exams. However, how do you manage when you’re not a full-time student, but instead are studying for your professional exams whilst holding down a demanding job at the same time?

Regardless of whatever discipline you're seeking a professional qualification in, (engineering, accountancy, pharmaceutical or legal to name but a few), it can immensely challenging to get your head stuck back into the books whilst working full-time. We outline just a few tips below on how to be best prepared for your exams.

1. Plan ahead

Deciding when to take the exams is the first step. This decision can be affected by several factors including the structure of your qualification and whether or not you’re staggering the modules needed. It can also be affected by your own family life and big events such as weddings, moving house or new arrivals to your family. Sleepless nights with a new born is not conducive to study nor will you be thanked by your partner if you disappear off to study just when they need support!.

2. Make it a habit to study

It can be really difficult to carve out time to study when working full-time. You have to be disciplined and create a schedule of the extra study you need to do. Once you’re immersed in this schedule, it will become a habit. Study before or after hours at the office or indeed on your commute where possible to avoid any distractions particularly if you have kids at home who will require attention once you walk through the front door. 

Remember that short frequent study sessions will cover far more material than relying on cramming a lot of information in at the last minute.

For some qualifications, exams are only once a year and offer no flexibility in the amount of modules you are required to do or sit at any one time so this means a huge amount of study. Other professional qualifications such as ACCA allow you to choose the number of subjects you want to study and offer up to 4 exam sittings a year. This means you are able to divide out your study times more efficiently and effectively.   

3. Group Study

Group learning allows you to discuss topics / case studies and learn from one another. It also gives you different angles on study techniques. Regular group study sessions also forces you to both participate and concentrate so procrastination is definitely NOT an option. Instead, studying as part of a group can act as a huge motivator.

People also generally learn faster in a group setting. Something that may be a sticking point for you could come quickly to another peer. Instead of spending valuable time trying to work through the problem yourself, you can just simply ask a question. You can also fill in gaps in your own knowledge by comparing notes.

Study groups are also particularly great for gaining a new perspective as everyone will have different viewpoints on the same idea. This will help develop your critical thinking skills at the same time.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

This would apply to studying for any type of exam. Look up old exam papers and try and complete them in the allotted time. Get used to the types of questions, the marks allocated to each section. Try and do at least three or four practice papers after each topic / module. Most of the professional bodies/associations would offer exam preparation sessions before the exams so do try and attend these. They could have some valuable hints on how to handle case studies or give some subtle hints as to what could appear on the exam papers.

5. Look after yourself

You can always study better and take in information more when you’re well rested and well-nourished. The temptation is there to pull all night study sessions or work into the small hours on completing projects but sleeping well is key to being revitalised. Make sure you’re eating well too. A nourished body leads to a nourished mind. Remember also to take time out for exercise or spending time with family.

6. Find / Buy a watch

With the advent of smart phones, people are foregoing wearing a watch but you can’t bring phones into the examination halls and often clocks in the halls are either non-existent or not working properly. So buy a watch well in advance of your exams and have everything ready to go.

7. Cruise to the finish line.

While it can be tempting to panic in the last few days pre-exams, use the time to keep revising the work you have covered so far and don’t try and take in information on new topics at this point. Some organisations allow their employees to take study leave for professional exams (either specified study leave or annual leave) particularly if your qualification is going to benefit them. So use this time to calmly and methodically cover the work you’ve already studied. At this stage, most of the hard work is done.

We wish you the very best of luck in your professional exams!