Preparations for your final Certificate in Theory of Accounting (CTA) exams are likely the most stressful and emotionally gruelling time for a future Chartered Accountant. You will need to prioritise your studies above all else in this time and will need to come up with a plan to study smarter, not harder, as there is a significant amount of content.
These tips may help in your exam preparation (also applicable to ITC):
Identify your weaknesses
This is a very important part of the studying process where you sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself about the areas you need to develop in practice exams or tests. It could be any of the following points.
Structure your studies
This works best when you follow a process:
- Identify where you need to be by exam time, structure a realistic timetable and try and stick to this as much as possible.
- Review what you achieved versus what you planned at the end of the day or the week (try being kind to yourself, life can get in the way).
- Compare your progress against your overall goals and see if you need to adjust your study timetable or how you can limit distractions to meet your short-term study goals
Know your way around the legislation
Flagging and highlighting can be your best friend or worst enemy – remember, quality over quantity. Develop a flagging system that works for you, whether it is with key words or the section numbers, or a cross reference noted on the tab. (Writing in your legislation can be an automatic failure, so don’t make notes in the legislation itself.) Understanding the flow and structure of the legislation will help you to feel grounded.
Some institutes (like UNISA) ask questions on extremely specific sections. If you find yourself hunting in your legislation for marks, it is best to leave that question for last and attend to the things you are more comfortable with first.
Understand the question
Many students struggle to identify what the questions are actually asking. The key to learning what they are asking is linked to the solution. Practice linking the keywords between the two and the wording of the question compared to the depth and range of the model answer.
I found the most efficient way was to read the question, jot down key words and points applicable (like when planning your answer), then compare to the solution. It was the quickest way to identify if I was on track and how to amend my thought process.
Plan out your answer before diving in
Most repeated and least followed but adds so much value. You can have it as the first section of your answer, just clearly identify it is the plan to answer and not the answer itself. Jotting down the points you identify as most important, keywords you should include and where in the standards to find your answer will benefit you by:
- Giving you a sense of calm as you realise you know what you are doing.
- Preventing you from rambling on a point in a way that adds no value.
- Enabling you to address each point you identified as necessary.
- Provides the security that you have answered the question to the best of your ability and can move on to the next, satisfied.
Do not forget to take a step back and read through the information again to see if any additional points jump out at you.
Trust your gut
The most common thing many students note when they fail exams or practice questions, is they read a question, began to answer it a certain way, became flustered, crossed out their answer and tried to answer it a different way, only to find that the first way was correct all along.
Trust that you have prepared appropriately for these exams. They will never feel easy, but if they do, that is not a bad sign either. Understand that you have come this far for a reason, you have grown and gained so much knowledge, you are allowed to trust yourself to know what you are doing.
Learn to let go
Set yourself a time limit based on the number of marks, allowing yourself about 20 minutes for the end of the paper to go back over each question to see if there is anything more you can add or if you need to round out the conclusion. When you reach your time limit, finish your sentence and move on.
Studies have shown that an 80/20 rule applies – 80% of the marks are earned in the first 20% of the time you spend on the answer, stick to the basics, every problem has a foundation. If you sit for 2 minutes on the question and have no idea what else to write, move on. Opportunity cost even applies to exams. It is impossible to achieve the perfect answer, so rather spend your time aiming for adequate answers – this is how you pass.
Do not be discouraged
Everyone has their strong points, and a CTA exam often feels like a “luck of the draw” situation. If you encounter a question about one of your weak points, treat it as any other and remember that 2-minute rule I mentioned before. Your time is coming in a later question so take a deep breath and remember the other tips.
Don’t psych yourself out
Your mindset is the most important thing when taking an exam. Try to think of each exam as just another practice paper – you already do your best when you do those, so you don’t need to worry about complacency.
If you really must study the morning of or the day before the exam, rather go through your own notes and don’t look at practice questions in this time, otherwise you will feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
Give your body what it needs
Eat properly on the day of the exam and the day before – this is very important to keep you energised.
Try get a good night’s rest, spend time with family or friends and think about all of your favourite things the night before.
Remember, you’ve got this!
Jordan van der Merwe
Supervisor: Audit Technical Training, Johannesburg