Having been involved in designing and setting exams for more than 20 years, it is with some trepidation that, as part of my personal development, I am studying for a qualification. This has made me think about the advice and guidance that I have written for candidates over the years and I am trying hard to follow that advice. In a few months’ time, I will be able to tell you whether it worked.
• First, it is important to allow yourself enough time to prepare. All awarding bodies will give a suggested study time or guided learning hours. These are only a guide, so you need to consider whether you will need a shorter or longer time.
• If the suggested study time is 100 hours, plan how you will fit that in between now and the exam date. Be realistic; if you are not used to studying, you may find you cannot concentrate as well as you did when you were at school or college. Little and often may be better than long periods of study.
• If you can join a study group, do take the opportunity. It is a great way to focus and give a structure to your learning. My study group meets weekly in a video conference. The group does not need to be formal but can keep you on track if there is a programme. I know that I need to read two or three chapters each week and feel at a disadvantage if I have not done that.
• Every syllabus is likely to be written as a series of learning outcomes or objectives. When you first start to study, take the time to read through the learning outcomes. These will show the content but also the way that the material will be tested. Whether you will have to do calculations, provide explanations or analyse data, the learning outcomes will tell you this.
• It is a good idea to identify those learning outcomes, that you feel comfortable with – these will need less work. New and unfamiliar material will take more time, so account for this in your planning.
• If you are using study materials, do not be afraid to annotate the important parts, highlighting with a pen or electronically. Some students find it helpful to make their own notes from learning materials, but there are all sorts of techniques which might help – try mind-mapping, key fact cards or making your own podcasts. I have even heard of students listening to recordings while they sleep, but I am not sure how or whether that will work.
• Plan to finish reading the learning materials in plenty of time before the exam date – you will need to re-read some parts again.
• Get hold of as many past papers and practice questions as you can. If the practice questions are well-written and test the learning outcomes, they will be similar to those in the actual exam. When you feel confident about a particular area, attempt the end-of-chapter questions. Do actually write the answers out or, if online, give answers to each question. Be honest with yourself and mark your answers critically. If you are in a study group, mark each others’ work.