How to manage multiple assessments

You might have been studying for business tax in the Spring when coronavirus came and threw your plans out of sync. If you used the extra time to keep studying, you may have ploughed ahead with decision and control and budgeting. As a result, your assessments are beginning to pile up.

Accountancy is a challenging subject to master. Each paper can require a slightly different way of thinking and method for tackling questions. 

In this article, Gareth John BA FCA Chief Executive of First Intuition Cambridge offers advice on how you can study effectively for more than one paper.

How to study for more than one accountancy paper

If you’re studying for more than one accountancy paper, it’s important that you plan your time. 

You can help make your study sessions more effective by building routines and habits and break your learning down into three key stages. These are Learning, Revision, and Rehearsal.

  • For most papers, the learning phase will take roughly 4 to 6 weeks.
  • With some papers, the learning phase might require a refresher of ‘assumed knowledge’ from prior studies. For example, Financial Reporting papers normally assume that you have covered the material from more basic Bookkeeping and Financial Accounting papers. It can be worthwhile digging out old notes and texts and spending a week or two reminding yourself of what you have already seen before getting stuck into the new unit.
  • The revision phase will probably take 2 to 4 weeks before moving to the final.
  • It’s a good idea not to start the rehearsal phase until the last 2 or 3 weeks before the real exam as you don’t want to peak too early and use up all of the available mock exams.
  • However, in the meantime, you can do a great job over the coming weeks of covering the learning and rehearsal phases of more than one paper to prepare themselves to pass 2 or 3 exams once they restart.

How to balance studying more than one accountancy paper

It’s possible to ‘overlap’ the learning phase of a new paper with the revision phase of another paper if you plan and organise your study sessions in advance. A suggested approach would be:

  • Spend an entire study session on a single unit, rather than trying to mix them together.
  • Regularly alternate your study sessions between the two papers you need to overlap.
  • It’s good for knowledge consolidation to stick with the same unit for a few study sessions in a row before switching to the other one.
  • Put a bit more emphasis on learning the unit that is newer to you without neglecting revision of the one you already have knowledge of.

So each week, you might spend 4 or 5 study sessions focusing on the Learning Phase of the newer topic, plus 2 or 3 study session on the Revision Phase of the other unit. This should allow the newer one to ‘catch up’ the older one.

In a month or two, you could shift the balance so that each week you are doing 3 or 4 study sessions on the Revision Phase of each unit. You could even consider starting the Learning Phase for a third paper at that time.

How to remember what you’ve learned

Many students will understand the difference between the material being in your ‘short-term’ memory and your ‘long-term’ memory. The danger of only spending a few days ‘cramming’ for an exam is that, whilst you might be able to pass that exam, within a few weeks you will have forgotten most of what you learned. Short-term learning leads to short-term memory!

Having a longer period to learn the material gives the opportunity to develop reserves of longer-term memory. This will not only lead you to higher marks when you sit assessments but that means you will be able to draw upon the knowledge both in later studies and in your working career.

To build longer-term memory, it’s important to have a process of ‘knowledge consolidation’. This involves regularly revisiting and reviewing a topic that you have worked on.

An example revision process 

Let’s say you spend 90 minutes one evening working through a section of notes on the material and labour variances.

The potential process could be:

  • Review it one hour after the original study session (before heading to bed), just for 5 or 10 minutes. Try reading summary notes and maybe redoing a couple of short questions you have already had a go at.
  • Next, review it one day after the original study session, again for around 10 minutes. Practice a couple of new questions that are similar to the ones you have already done.
  • Then, review it one week after the original study session, maybe for a little longer, say 30 minutes. You might rewrite your summary notes (including proformas or equations and calculations) to see how much you can remember and then practice some more new questions.
  • Two weeks after the original study session, review it again, just for 15 minutes, completing one or two new questions.
  • Review it one month after the original study session. This is likely to now fall into the Revision Phase of your studies. By this stage, you should be attempting exam-standard revision questions.
  • Finally, review it six weeks after the original study session. This might now fall into my rehearsal phase where you are completing full mock assessments. This will include exam-standard questions on the variance calculations you need to be able to perform. Hopefully, by now, you are bossing them!

Further reading:

Gareth John is a qualified chartered accountant and tutor at First Intuition.

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