7 tips for synoptic success

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AAT synoptic assessments may seem daunting to many learners, especially those from countries where English is not their first language. Being successful in synoptic assessments requires lots of SMART preparation and revision. Here, Mei Yoke Pak, founder and director of System and Skills Training Concept in Selangor, Malaysia, shares her advice on preparing for your synoptic assessments.

Fear of the synoptic is one element that can tear learners’ confidence. Be over-prepared and over-learn – putting in more than the usual amount of effort when preparing for your synoptic will not only give you more confidence but it will also improve your retention. 

The synoptic usually covers a few units, which presents a voluminous revision task for learners. A few questions are subjective-based, requiring learners to think and write the answers rather than choosing answers (e.g. multiple-choice questions, match the answers and ‘true/false’ statements). This means that you need to have the ability to think critically, creatively and out of the box. 

Make your points stand out by linking answers logically and presenting them in an organised manner. Learn all the different formats of business correspondence, such as reports, emails, memorandums, etc. Learners frequently lose marks here by not adhering to this instruction. 

Lots of students find synoptic assessments difficult to deal with – so do not be embarrassed to ask for help and support. 

Let’s run through some tips to help you excel in your synoptic. 

Tip #1 Repetition works 

Know your own study style and understand how your brain works. Our brain remembers better through repetition – multiple exposures enhance our memory. Repetition learning and revising is an efficient way to elevate memory performance. 

Herman Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve reveals that memory weakens over time (see diagram one, page 28). If we learn something new but do not attempt to relearn that information, we remember less and less of it as time goes by. The biggest drop in retention occurs soon after learning. For example, have you ever wondered what you learned from a webinar that you attended just a couple of hours ago? Studies show we might only remember 20% of the contents. 

To increase your rate of learning and retention, revise and refresh the information regularly. Repeating and reviewing topics learned three times is hitting the target, but doing it five times will get the facts stuck into your head. 

Yes, five is the magical number. Try the following steps: 

  • 1st review: SKIM through your revision materials. 
  • 2nd review: SCAN this time around. Spot and take key notes or create a mind map. Practise commonly asked calculation questions. You may look at the model answers if you are not sure. 
  • 3rd review: REVIEW your notes. Practise calculation questions, but this time don’t look at the model answers. Mark your answers upon completion. 
  • 4th review: CHECK your competency with multiple mock assessments. Time yourself and complete it within the time limit. Take note of your errors. Try at least five different mock assessments. 
  • 5th review: CONFIRM your readiness by trying the Green Light Tests and AAT mock assessments. 

The gaps between your review sessions can be longer as time goes on. You might refresh your learning from a lecture the following day, then two days later, then after a week, then after 30 days. Diagram two (on page 28) shows shallower curves as the number of reviews increases. Reviewing topics multiple times will stretch your recall and strengthen the memories. 

Tip #2: Customise your notes 

Study the pattern of the synoptic. What are the usual tasks and types of questions asked? This narrows your scope of study and allows you to place more emphasis on popular question topics. 

Make key notes and customise your notes to make them more personal. Experiment with colour coding, notes on tiny cards, diagrams, mind maps or whatever helps you learn your topic. 

Use acronyms or even word associations to help you remember. 

Tip #3 Understand what you study 

“What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” Xunzi (340 – 245 BCE). 

This Confucian scholar emphasised the importance of understanding when it comes to learning. Hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as experience, and true learning is only evident when experience produces an action. 

Using all or most of our sensory skills significantly increases retention of any learning. 

  • Sight: Read all the relevant learning materials. 
  • Hearing: Listen to podcasts and webinars on similar areas. 
  • Speech: Discuss with tutors and peers. Argue and debate on topics. 
  • Doing: Practice makes perfect. There is no short-cut and you should not skip this part. Application is proof of your understanding. 

Remember to ask questions and seek clarification if you are not confident. Do not memorise model answers – as questions may be asked from another perspective, the model answer may not be the appropriate solution. Relate your answer to the facts or background case of the question. 

Tip #4 Attempt all mock assessments within set time limits 

A valued tip by a former student who has passed the Professional (Level 4) synoptic: attempt all the mock assessments available on AAT’s website. Familiarise yourself with the layout and type of tasks you will be asked. Further improve your exam technique by completing mock assessments within the set time limit. Check your answers with the respective model answers. Work on your weaknesses. Model answers give students an idea of how to structure answers and cite relevant points to the requirements of the task. 

One common mistake made by students is that they tend to write a lot in the areas that they are very good at, forgetting the other parts of the task. You will not score full marks by over-concentrating on specific parts of the question. Be mindful of the allocated marks and visualise the number of points you need to provide to get maximum marks. Do not neglect going through the learning materials found in the AAT Lifelong Learning Portal. They will give you an indication of the types of questions and areas of assessments. 

Tip #5 Understand key command words 

Students need to understand what the question asks and answer accordingly. It helps to understand the command words in specific assessment tasks. 

Remember to stick to the intention of the question and provide a straightforward answer – do not beat around the bush. Students tend to equate quality with lengthy answers. On the contrary, the more you write the more errors you may make. This is especially so for students whose first language is not English. Use short sentences and simple words to convey your answer. 

Some of the key command words in AAT synoptic assessments are: 

  • Analyse: Dissect and examine the subject in detail. Identify the components and explain the relationship between them. 
  • Calculate: Work out from the given facts, figures or information. 
  • Comment: Give your opinion. 
  • Compare: Identify and comment on similarities and differences. 
  • Contrast: Identify and comment on differences. 
  • Define: Give a brief explanation or precise meaning. 
  • Describe: Give characteristics of main features of the topic. 
  • Discuss: Write about the topic or topics in detail. 
  • Evaluate: Give your verdict by weighing the pros and cons. Give reasons for your conclusion. 
  • Explain: Give reasons and show relationships between topics. Support with evidence. 
  • Identify: Name or state. 
  • Justify: Support a case with clear evidence. 
  • Outline: Set out the main points. 

Tip #6 If your English proficiency is limited 

Make sure you read the tasks carefully. Read it again if you need to. Highlight key points on your computer screen. Jot down a quick list of key points you need to cover. 

You may construct your answers using statements from the questions. It is okay to echo them in your answer to drive home your point. For example, a test question may ask: ‘Why would the recommendation that you had made be the most effective?’  

You may begin your response with: ‘This recommendation is the most effective because…’ 

By re-typing the question, may spark your thinking along the right lines. Markers also prefer students to write complete sentences when they answer subjective questions in synoptic assessments. Echoing the question sets you on the right footing. 

Answering synoptic assessment questions requires practice before it becomes easier. If you find yourself struggling with the questions, ask your tutor or learning provider for sample questions to practise. Then set a timer and practise! 

Tip #7 Mind your typing speed 

Some students do not type fast enough during the computer-based assessments. Time is limited during your synoptic assessment and the pressure worsens the situation. Students are expected to be apt with using a computer, especially being able to type fairly fast and accurately. 

Try typing out the model answers – this may improve not only your typing speed but may enhance your understanding and retention. 

How many hours should you study for?  

Studying for hours and hours will tire you and ruin your concentration, which may eventually make you more stressed. Take small breaks during your studies – a break every 45 or 60 minutes is good. Going for a short walk, having a cup of coffee, or even closing your eyes for 10 minutes can help to calm nerves. 

Discipline and keeping up with a regular revision schedule are important. Keep a timetable and set apart at least one-and-a-half to two hours a day to revise or practise calculation tasks. As the assessment date draws nearer, you may need to set aside a few days to focus on your studies fully. 

Physiological factors such as sleep and stress can impact your preparation. So, make sure that you eat well and exercise regularly. Our brains sort and organise information during sleep, so do not deprive yourself of it! 

Further reading:

The content team are the owners of AAT Comment.

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