Study technique

I don’t know the origin of the phrase ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’, and even the wonderful Wikipedia is vague on this topic. But for the purpose of this article, I am going to attempt to share some tips on studying for exams whilst trying to avoid any grandmother / egg issues.

After completing my diploma back in the year (mumbles incoherently), I did my first advanced level exam, G10 (the taxation and trusts exam, as it was at the time). Then I made a mistake. I had two children. They were not the mistake of course, but their arrival led to me getting off the exam train. And boy is it hard to get back on. So, for anyone who is thinking about getting back into exam mode, here are some things I have learned in the course of my recent studies and I hope you find some of it useful.

The first thing I do for each exam is book it. Working to a deadline does wonders for the motivation. This is particularly important if, like me, you have made an art form out of procrastination. When you have spent the money and the deadline is getting closer, it’s much easier to open that textbook.

It’s really hard to find time to study when you have a day job and if you have any kind of life outside of work. I tend to read the exam book a little bit most days, maybe 30-60 minutes (just before bed works for me!) and I highlight anything I want to return to again later as I work through it. I aim to complete my ‘first read’ about 2 weeks before the exam date.

In the next week to 10 days I go through the book again, only reading the wording I highlighted. This is usually just revision, but does flag up some sections that have not sunk in yet, so I can focus more on those.

If there are formulae to learn, I write these out on a separate sheet of paper and test myself on them every now and again. My son loves to grill me on these, which takes away the temptation to cheat when ‘self-testing’!

The exam textbooks all tell you to read around the topic too. I do this to a degree, usually by focusing on relevant articles in Professional Paraplanner and other trade publications. I have never read any of the ‘suggested reading’ for any given exam; it does not feel like good use of time. I have had exam questions come up on topics that are not covered in the CII book, but I was aware in advance because they came up in a past paper.

I recommend taking the time to complete all the past papers you can get your hands on. I usually do this about a week before the exam, at which point I have more or less finished my learning / revision, but I still have time to polish up on any areas of weakness highlighted by the questions I got wrong. In addition to that, it gets me in the right headspace for the exam, by which I mean I am familiar with the format, rehearsed and ready for the real thing.

This will also help you gauge your timing. With the written exams in particular, this will help make sure you do not run out of time.

For the computer-based CII exams, have a play with the online demo before your exam. It lets you practice moving through the questions and flagging those you want to return to later. Whilst you get to do this in the exam room right before you start the actual exam, it’s one less thing to worry about if you are familiar with it before you enter the room.

One thing to add, which is more of exam tip than a study technique. I lost a mark on my most recent practice / past paper because I did not answer the question they had actually asked – I answered the one I thought they had asked. It was a calculation, and the answer to my incorrect calculation was listed as one of the multiple-choice options. Examiners are sneaky like that. So my final tip is RTFQ. But best not repeat that to your grandmother!

(This article was first published in Professional Paraplanner magazine, March 2020)