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Study Zone

So you think you know how to learn?

PQ has a guest editor this month – Craig Coda. Here he offers some top tips on how to pass ACCA – and he should know the score, as he did it in two years!

January 2018

One of the first steps I would suggest to any ACCA student is to take the time to study ‘How to learn’, which is a subject that I revisited many times.
We are all different, yet in my opinion we live in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ world. So working out what actually works best for you is important, especially if you are about to make a handsome investment in your future.
I found that studying via textbook was OK for me for most of my papers; despite reading being my least favoured learning technique, it was literally all I could afford when considering that I would be taking eight papers a year.
I did manage to successfully make this work for me though, discovering a number of notetaking techniques and online resources (listed below) to overcome my weaknesses. Toward the end of my exams I bit the bullet and opted for online/classroom courses, but again I invested time into how to make the most of each of these study platforms prior to undertaking each one.

Learn how to take notes:
Have you ever been in the final weeks leading up to an exam, flicked through your notebook/s and been left dazzled by page upon page of useless notes? I certainly found this in my first papers, despite making the effort not to! The good news is that it does not have to be like this and that it does not take a lot of time or effort to have notes that work for you, although it may take some trial and error.
It is not that I underestimated the value of note taking, but I did underestimate how simple it was to make effective notes. By utilising several known techniques and resources I found that my notes became a go-to that I could revisit weekly/bi-weekly to test myself.
Highlighters are great where you are surveying a chapter, finding a topic in the textbook that is important or something that you are struggling to understand. I would assign colours to them as follows:
• Yellow – important definitions, key areas, equations.
• Green – areas that did not appear to be ‘key’ ones, but that were important.
• Pink – areas I couldn’t wrap my head around.
I should stress here that if your page looks like an illuminous zebra you are overdoing it! It is important that you are highlighting a third of each page, maximum.
Once done this will assist you greatly when you come back around to reading the chapter with the intention of writing notes and when you reach a ‘pink’ area, as you will either have benefited from reading ahead and comprehending the subject, or you will need to find another resource to gain an understanding.
When taking notes I found that assigning colours to them was invaluable later on; it not only made each page of my notes more aesthetically pleasing, it made them easy to use. I assigned my colours as follows:
• Blue – key concepts and introductions to subjects.
• Green – definitions and equations.
• Black – more detailed information.
• Red – reference to a page number, with a title for an area I am not yet familiar enough with to write a summarised note on.
Just using this method made me so much more confident with my subjects, as I had a summarised version of each chapter that was easy to review and hence retain.
This method can also be used when you are undertaking exam-based questions as you can highlight the sections that you have achieved low marks on. I personally kept a table in the back of my notebook with a tally of how many times I had undertaken a specific area and the percentage I had achieved, which helped me to identify subjects I was performing poorly in so I could prioritise these in the final weeks prior to an exam. Making peace with the fact that I was never going to know everything, it also helped me prioritise my questions in the exam, leaving the worst until last.

Other note-taking techniques:
There are a number of different note-taking techniques, each being more suited to some papers than others. The ones that I would suggest are worth looking at are:
• The Cornell method works wonders with concepts, definitions and equations. The idea is that your page is split into three sections. This works by dividing your paper into two columns, drawing a line vertically down the page five centimetres from the left side, drawing another line horizontally five centimetres from the bottom. The left side is a key word/question column and the right side a notetaking/answer column. The bottom box can then be used to extend your understanding later on by writing greater detail within it.
I found that by covering the right side of the page and working my way down I could test my understanding of definitions, concepts and equations regularly.
• Mind maps – I am sure that many of us are aware of this concept. It may not be so useful for learning detail, but don’t dismiss it when you need to understand how a subject pieces together. I found this really helped me separate the taxes incurred by individuals and companies in my mind by having a mind map for each and a brief summary/example of how they incurred the tax.
There are many more techniques available, so please take the time to search them.

Resources and how to use them:
When it came to study materials, as I said before, I was limited to what I could afford. However, this did not hold me back when I was left bewildered by a topic that I could not make sense of.

Platinum accredited study resources:
If you want to feel confident about the information you are studying you need a platinum provider’s study material. In order for a tuition provider to be recognised by ACCA as a platinum provider they must meet a range of challenging performance targets, ACCA’s best practice statements and specific pass rate targets.
For each exam I would have the Kaplan study book and exam kit as a minimum. However, for a little bit extra cash you could have access to a personal tutor by telephone and video content, and for a bit more money again marked mock exams, revision videos and extra question practice. For me, the premier package made all the difference, particularly by having a third party mark my papers. I felt this made a huge difference, as it is difficult to award yourself marks without bias on a subject you don’t know you understand.

ACCA has some fantastic resources available on every subject. Briefly, these are:
• Examining team guidance.
• Self-study guides.
• Practice papers/past exam papers.
• Technical articles.
• And much more!

Other resources:
Opentutition.com has a huge amount of video resources, with examples on many of the ACCA papers, broken down by subect. They are a great secondary source of information and without them I would not have got my head around consolidated accounts, at least, from a text book, anyway!
• Although I did not use Acowtancy.com, I understand that they are similar to Open Tuition, but you are limited by what is free.
• YouTube – I would stress that you need to be careful when trying to understand ACCA subjects through YouTube, as the videos here were not made specifically for ACCA exams. Always check the year they were made, the regulations they are intended for and that the source is reputable.
Once you have understood something over this medium, make sure to revisit it in the book to make the knowledge acquired relevant!
• Craig Coda is a Compliance Officer with the Clark Group

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