Power up your study and revision skills with advice from our experienced tutors.
Study methods and skills series
- Part 1 – Choose the best study method for success
- Part 2 – Study in chunks with AAT’s study timetable
- Part 3 – Revise smarter not harder with the AAT revision plans
In the final article of our study methods and skills series, we’re looking at studying outside of the classroom. Whether you’re a distance learner or simply doing homework, the main study skills are the same.
You should already have a study timetable in place from the previous article, which shows you:
- when you’re attending taught sessions (online or offline)
- when you’re self-studying
- and when you’re relaxing.
A well-planned schedule is one of the keys to successful study. It’ll enable you to space out the required number of study hours per unit, factoring in ‘down time’ for your brain to relax and unwind.
Your unit revision plan
Your study timetable from the previous article will help you maintain a schedule with your studies and social time, establishing a pattern to keep you on track.
Alongside this, you then need to fill out a unit revision plan and overall revision plan, breaking down each unit into bite-size revision chunks, and planning out how you’ll revise the unit effectively over time.
Hopefully your provider has given you guidance on this, but it may be something you have to create on your own. Ultimately it’s your responsibility to stick to it and keep yourself on track.
The unit revision plan has a slot for you to fill in the date your exam is booked for; don’t ignore this. It’s advantageous to book your exam at the planning stage – to motivate you to work towards a specific goal.
And if you’re reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown, then set a date for when lockdown might be over and when you’d hope to take your exam. It’s helpful to have a specific goal in mind, like an exam-date, to keep you motivated. And if lockdown restrictions are still in place when the date comes, you will simply shift it to later. But you’ll know you were ready for that date.
One of the main problems distance learners face is actually sitting their exams. Avoid this by booking your exam as part of establishing your revision timetable and plan, and commit to finishing your studies for that date.
With the revision plan in place, it’s time to get started with studying at home, using those home-based study skills we referred to in the first article on choosing your study method.
Strategies for getting started
The most important skill is the ability to actually get started.
This applies to your very first study session, and every session thereafter. It does get easier once you’ve established a routine, but self-regulation or self-discipline is key.
1. Short-term targets and rewards
People tend to say, “think about how great it’ll feel to complete your course,” but for many students, that’s simply too far away to be a meaningful goal. Instead, we recommend you set short-term targets with frequent rewards.
The greater the target, the larger the reward. So if there’s a particular topic you know will be a real struggle for you to study, then set aside a big reward for completing that topic, e.g. a shopping spree, or a full day off to enjoy yourself.
2. Chunking your work
Another way of dealing with the daunting task of starting to study is to think small.
If you can’t face three hours of study (and we recommend smaller time frames anyway), how about simply thinking about getting your books out or switching on the computer.
Then make yourself a cup of coffee.
Wander back to your study place and open the right page.
Maybe do one question or read one paragraph.
Before you know it, you’re deep into your studies without that feeling of dread at the amount you have to do.
What you’ve done here is chunked the task into very, very small pieces. A bit like looking at a large pile of ironing. You can’t face doing it all, but might just be able to do one t-shirt, then maybe another, and finally something more challenging, like a shirt.
Of course, some people like ironing, but then some people find it easy to start studying too.
Now let’s think about the materials available to you.
1. Pre-recorded videos
If you’re watching pre-recorded videos (which vary from fully-scripted, animated videos with subtitles, to listening to someone talking over a document with a highlighter), think about how you’ll interact with the video.
Depending on the length, you may want to watch it once and then a second time taking notes. Make sure you copy down any words or calculations you think are important in your learning points & theory notebook.
The great benefit of video is you can pause and rewind, watching the same bit again and again, going through an example very slowly.
Note the bits that you find difficult and see if you can research them further. You can revisit videos as part of your revision so make sure you know which topics are covered where.
2. Textbooks and written learning materials
Similarly, with textbooks and written learning materials which are explaining theory, write notes in your own words into your notebooks.
Scientific experiment has shown that if you write something down, even if you never read it again, you’re more likely to remember it.
3. Talking through what you’ve learned
Walking and talking really works.
If you can, take someone (or the dog) for a walk and discuss what you’ve been learning. Or go by yourself and talk in your head.
Great scientists like Charles Darwin and more recently Professor Higgs (of Higgs boson fame) went for long walks, and discussed or thought-through their theories, gaining inspiration on foot.
Scientific studies have shown this is really effective when trying to sort stuff through in your head. It’s particularly good if you’ve hit a wall, and just can’t understand what you’re looking at.
Leaving the subject for a short while and doing something else that doesn’t take much brain power (like walking) allows your brain to get on with figuring it out in the background. How often do you forget something, only to remember it later?
A great debate with fellow students also really helps.
4. Flash cards
They may seem a bit old-school now, but the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of flash cards is in no doubt. If used correctly, they can help you access details from your long-term memory.
Create flash cards as you progress through your studies, summarising key points in enough detail for the level of study. When exam time starts getting close, you’ll have a fantastic resource at your finger tips.
Get a critical friend to quiz you with your cards regularly. This will help embed early course materials alongside more recent material.
Practice, practice and practice – including for the dreaded written questions.
If you don’t practice, you won’t do well! Remember that it is ok to get questions wrong if you learn from the experience, when you find a similar question in the future you can pat yourself on the back if you spot where you went wrong last time and avoid the same error. Consider this point; falling over is just another way of regaining your balance.
Overall, when revising, look closest at your weaker areas. Focus your studies on these topics and you’ll set yourself up well for your assessments. Plus, difficult study earns big reward.
And whilst practice assessments are invaluable as a resource (and can be found on the AAT Learning Portal), don’t fall into the trap of just learning how to do the practice assessments. Make sure you go deeper with your studies and really understand each topic fully when you study it.
Read more on
- Study tips: The best way to work through an assessment
- The one thing to help you manage exam stress
- How to overcome exam society and succeed
Cath & Ralph Littler are contributing authors for AAT Comment. Cath Littler is an accountancy learning specialist who works with AAT and Mindful Education. Ralph Littler MEd lecturers for the University of Bedfordshire and is a teacher coach for the Chartered College of Teaching..