Techniques for effective study

If you’ve read my last few articles and acted on the advice in them, you will now be well on your journey towards successfully attempting your exams in the next sitting.

Sean Purcell

You’ll have a clear plan of action with regards to what you are doing each day, and when you maybe feel a bit down and demotivated you can remind yourself of the rewards of all this effort by looking at the image you chose to represent the goal you’re working towards.

Following the last article on how having a plan makes sure you do things, some of you have reached out to me and said that the creation of structure to your day has really helped, but that sometimes your plans fall apart through no fault of your own and you do not know how to get back on track.

You are not alone in this. Implementing a new behaviour is not easy, no matter how perfect your plan is. Therefore, in situations like this it is very useful to use something called the ‘if-then’ strategy. Here are some examples:

  1. If I meet a friend in the park while exercising and get chatting for longer than planned, and therefore I’m unable to study my costing chapter at 3:00 PM, then I will not look at social media today.
  2. If I sleep in and I do not have time to do my exercise today, then I will get up half an hour earlier tomorrow and go for a run then.

The ‘if-then’ strategy gives you a mechanism for overcoming those unexpected situations, which means it’s less likely that you will be too distracted by the unpredictability of life. We can’t always control when little emergencies happen, but we don’t have to be a victim of them.

As you are now well into your study regime it might also be a good idea to do a little self-reflection on how it is going, what works well and what might be getting in the way. Remember that the difference between success and failure is not linked to intelligence but to the best study techniques.

So, here are three questions for you to consider, to help you study as effectively as possible:

  • Do you recognise your learning style?
  • Are you managing to stay focused?
  • Are you looking after your mental health?

Do you recognise your learning style?

There are lots of studies on learning styles and, without going into the detail of the theory, it is worth noting that different brains will sometimes respond better to different styles of learning. If you can understand why you learn the way you do, your ability to learn can vastly improve.

Learning styles include:

Visual learners
If you remember taking a test at school and you don’t remember the answer, but you do remember that you highlighted it green in your notes, then there is a strong chance you are a visual learner. This is because visual learners remember and learn what they see most.

If this is you, you might want to use different colours for different topics, or create charts, graphs, and mind maps to help you improve your study approach.

Auditory learners
If you sometimes find you talk to yourself when studying, it might be that you’re an auditory learner. If that is the case, you will learn best by hearing and carefully listening. Therefore, you might want to consider recording some of the key messages you need to remember, or meeting up with a fellow student (either face to face or online) to have a debate about particular subjects.

Reading/writing learners
Are you the type of person who zones out when people are talking to you? Would you rather read the transcript or get the information from a book? If that’s the case, you’re probably more of a reading/writing learner. If this sounds like you, you might learn best by writing and reviewing detailed notes.

Kinaesthetic learners
Do you need to physically undertake a task to learn how to do it? If so, it sounds like you’re a kinaesthetic learner. Such learners learn best by doing, so watching demonstration videos and then applying the learning yourself could be an effective study method for you, for example these APM CBE preparation videos (also available for other ACCA Strategic Professional CBEs).

There’s no right or wrong way to learn, however it can be very useful to reflect on how you find it most easy to remember things, if you have not done so already. This could lead you to consider flexing your approach to learning according to your preferred learning style.

Are you managing to stay focused?

We mentioned this in the second article in this series, but if you have identified things that distract you, you need to work out a way of removing them. For example, if you don’t need the internet for your studying, turn your Wi-Fi off. Here are some other points to consider, to help you focus your mind and maximise the effectiveness of your study time:

Where you study
Are you studying in the same place each time? If so, this will send a message to your brain saying it’s time to learn

How many subjects are you studying?
Often, when stressed, it’s tempting to work on multiple subjects at the same time because you’re worried about all of them. However, research shows that this makes the tasks more difficult to accomplish and makes everything take longer. Remember what we said in earlier articles about devoting a chunk of time to one subject, taking a break and then studying the next subject

Does your schedule regularly breakdown?
If it does, it might be that your schedule is a little bit unrealistic, and you may want to build in some more free time.

Are you taking an active break?
Rather than studying for 40 minutes at your desk and then spending 20 minutes on social media as a break sat at the same desk, it’s important that you stand up and move around. Your body needs a little activity so that it can focus again.

What are your sleep patterns like?
You should know how many hours sleep a night you need and try to maintain that, as sleep is the best ingredient to help you focus. Try not to indulge in a TV watching marathon until after the exams are over.

Are you looking after your mental health?

In the same way that it’s good practice to follow a course of exercise to look after our physical health, we should pay the same attention to our mental health. Try to focus on the positive steps you are taking to prepare well for your next exam rather than the negative thoughts that we all have at times.

If you have not done so already, you should look at all the great resources available on the wellbeing section of the ACCA website, where they have some great videos and articles created by psychologists and other experts. Reviewing this should ensure you are able to train your brain to stay in the right place.

Hopefully this article has provided you with a useful checklist to make sure you are using your brain to its maximum advantage. You should be proud of how you have improved your study approach, and for those still not on board please read the previous articles to catch up as soon as you can.

As always, let me know how you are doing via LinkedIn and I will be in touch in a couple of weeks with some more advice.

Sean Purcell BA ACMA CGMA is an ACCA expert tutor who regularly contributes to ACCA programmes around the world. He was recently voted 2020 lecturer of the year by PQ magazine.