Seven study secrets from AAT students

What better way to supercharge your studies than to learn from those who have been there, done it, and now proudly wear the T-shirt?

AAT qualifications offer a great deal of flexibility with part-time and full-time and distance learning options. As well as the option to book assessments when you are ready and available.

We asked seven students to share the priceless lessons from their study experiences.

Plan for the long haul

  • Pearl Belcher AATQB

Studying for your AAT assessments is a marathon, not a sprint.

Before you start, create a long-term calendar that takes life events, holidays, family commitments and similar into consideration.

Use this to help you judge how much time you’ll be able to dedicate to studying week-by-week. You can also add different study and assessment milestones to the calendar to help you plan how long your studies will take overall. For example, you might want to clear two weeks in the lead up to an assessment.

“Make sure you can dedicate a whole 12-18 months to study. I found that writing out a study plan for each week, so that I could also fit in gym time and spending time relaxing with my husband was really important. I wrote out all the mock assessments and tests that Accountancy Learning provided, and I would set myself a goal date for each one.”

How to deal with disruption

  • Simon Collin AATQB

Simon Collin chose distance learning for his Foundation Certificate in Bookkeeping. It could help him change career, and would fit in with his wife’s work schedule, looking after his kids and parents, including his father who was very ill with dementia at the time.

“It was, and is, hard at times, as you are home alone and have your head deep in books, studying can become very tiresome. But if you have an aim, and remember that, it does drive you.

“I passed my advanced stage of bookkeeping and was awarded the designatory letter AATQB, and continued with the rest of course, during which time – last September – my father sadly passed away. Kaplan, with whom I am studying, were very helpful and have lengthened my course time because of my father and because I’m now trying to help my surviving parent.”

Study every day, no matter how much

  • Elena Brown – student

Getting into the habit of studying every day – even if it’s for a short time – can help build consistency. If you dip in and out of study, you can waste time relearning things you’ve looked at before and forgotten.

Setting a target to do some work on your AAT study once a day can help you retain and build your knowledge. It will help deepen your understanding of the concepts you’re learning and how you work best – are you a morning or an evening student? for example – and at what pace.

“It’s easy to let a day slip but try to do it every day, even if it’s just for an hour. If you know you’ve got other commitments or people to see, first you need to deserve it. First comes your study, everything else comes after.

“If you have to start the same book a few times it can make you feel like giving up, but if you do, you’ll feel awful. The amount you pay, the time, the effort – it will just increase if you don’t complete it. The Georgians have a saying: the root of education is very bitter but it will sweeten. It’s worth every minute, every penny to study and have your qualification.”

Don’t let fear take over

  • Pete Freeman MAAT/AATQB

When it comes to written questions for the Advanced Diploma, for example, you will being tested on how clearly and concisely you can show your knowledge and what you’ve learned.

Unlike school assessments, if you don’t pass, you don’t have to wait to take a resit. While that doesn’t mean you’ll want to do endless repeats, it should be used to take away some of those pre-exam nerves.

“No one wants to fail an (assessment) – and they rarely do – but you can just retake it. There’s no penalty so try not to ‘big up’ failure in your head,

“I did this qualification through difficult circumstances which shows if you want to do it you can. It’s about believing in yourself and having that qualification to aim for at the end. If you get something wrong, treat it as an opportunity to learn. That way getting something wrong doesn’t have to be a negative.”

Seek out alternative materials to broaden your understanding

  • Natasha Fielden AATQB

You’ll be given study materials and practice papers by your training provider. There’s a good thread on this in the AAT’s discussion forum – remember, previous students may have materials to sell or offload.

The more mock assessment questions you have, the more you can practice your answers and assessment technique. Additional study materials will also offer new examples and different explanations and perspectives for the concepts you’re learning. Find workbooks that match your way of learning and processing information.

“I’m still not sure what was the best way of learning for me. Sometimes I made notes, then condensed them into revision cards, and always did examples but I bought a couple of extra practice books for Financial Statements and Tax which helped. Sometimes a different book explained it more clearly.”

Use your tutor

  • Samantha Blount MAAT/AATQB

Think about what helps motivate you – and what role your tutor can play. They are part of your support network, along with family, friends, fellow students and, if applicable, your employer.

If you need more support or maybe more or less chasing up, ask for it. If something isn’t working, contact your tutor or course provider and make a change. Don’t suffer in silence or ignore the impact a mismatch could have on your studies and assessment success.

“I had a couple of issues with my distance learning in the final year. I didn’t gel with the tutor I was allocated. They were there to provide online/email support. But I’m someone that needs to be held accountable, I need a little nudge as I struggle with my confidence. I was honest with the training provider about it and they then allocated me to someone else, who was amazing.

“But be kind when asking to be moved as your tutor may not realise that they aren’t doing the best for you! Your tutors are humans too and may feel they have let you down but this doesn’t need to be the case if you’re honest and upfront.”

Believe in yourself – and be patient

  • Philip Shergold MAAT

Some days studying will come naturally and you’ll quickly grasp every new idea that’s thrown at you. On other days, you may feel demotivated or that you’ll never understand specific concepts or workings.

Philip Shergold’s advice after studying all levels of AAT is, don’t be deterred. Difficulties are normal. Step away from your study or temporarily move onto something else. Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes on the problem.

Be patient with yourself and come back to the things you’ve found most difficult, spending more time with the relevant materials and, if necessary, asking your tutor for support.

“Whenever I would get stuck on something I would just come back to it the next day and either re-read my textbook or watch the corresponding video lecture that my Distance Learning Provider had given me access to.

“Most of the time it would sink in, but on the rare occasion I would contact my tutor and they help explain things in a different perspective. I have been blessed with an excellent tutor who seems to know exactly how to word things to make the difficult concepts click.”

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

Laura Oliver is a Freelance Journalist and Former Head of Social and Community at the Guardian.

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