It is over 10 weeks since we first started on this journey and it’s hard to believe that this is now the fifth article in this series to help you get ready for exam success. It is great to hear from you that the advice I have been sharing is having a positive impact on your learning as well as your confidence.
Many of you are probably starting to come to the end of your learning phase and in this article, I look at how best to consolidate your knowledge now that the revision phase is on the horizon. I plan to go into the details of how to get the most out of revision in the next article, and you need to have all your learning in place so that you can hit the ground running.
I know from your feedback that many of you are getting a lot of benefit from maintaining habits, as I’ve suggested in my previous articles. Habits are the best way to create automatic behaviours which you don’t have to think about, and therefore don’t need any willpower to do, as they become just like brushing your teeth.
How can we maintain all the knowledge in our head?
Research suggests that people who are good at remembering things are not more intelligent than other people; the difference is in the techniques they use when trying to remember things. To make sure that the information you have been studying stays in your brain and is easier to recall, I want to share with you a few proven techniques that will help make this easier.
The starting point is to create what is known as a strong primary memory, where you help your brain to understand the concepts rather than just cramming. The second key thing to ensure you retain things for longer is to use a technique called spaced repetition.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. Creating a strong primary memory
The first thing you need to do is to make sure that the information you are studying is coded into your brain in such a way as to make it easy for you to remember. Here are some ideas for you to try:
Distilled version of your notes
Having created notes during your studies it is now a good idea to distil the key information in them down further into bullet points and key words. These words will then act as a catalyst to help your brain remember the broader themes to which they relate.
Bullet points and key word notes
The bullet points and key words you create when distilling your notes will link to the original notes you made but will be more concise. The following suggestions can help you retain them in your memory.
An acronym is a combination of letters used to help your brain. It is sometimes known as ‘the tip of the tongue roll’ as you know the answer but can’t remember it, and prompting your memory with the first letter gives you enough of a clue to remember. Probably the most well known in accountancy is SPAM SOAP, used to summarise different types of internal control procedures (Supervisory, Physical, Access, Management Segregation of duties, Organisation, Authorisation, Personnel).
This is more than a list of letters and often involves the creation of a sentence or poem, with the first letter of each word acting as a cue to remember.
I still remember from school My Very Easy Method Just Seems No Use, to remember the planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.
Stack and link method
This is a technique commonly applied by world memory champions who can memorise five decks of playing cards in less than 60 seconds. In this method each word is linked to another by way of a story. It often helps if you link it to something that you already know, such as the rooms in your house or your regular journey home from work. To have maximum impact use exaggeration, colour, sounds and smells to make the memory unique.
For example, here is how you could use the stack and link method to remember different types of internal control procedures, instead of using the acronym SPAMSOAP:
I open the door and go into the hallway and there sitting angrily in the chair is the supervisor from the supermarket where I worked as a student and then I walk in the kitchen and there is a body builder physically lifting weights and I move into the dining room and there is road sign on the dining room table saying no access…
The crazier the ideas, the better, and the fact that you already know all the rooms in your house makes memories easier to create.
Mind maps have been made famous by Tony Buzan, and many believe that they are one of the most effective ways to aid learning.
Mind maps integrate and link topics together in a connected map. For example, when I teach SBL I summarise all the knowledge needed into a one-page map of connected information – you could try and do the same in your notes, as the process of mapping is very effective at committing information to long-term memory.
For further information on the suggestions that seem interesting to you, why not Google them.
2. Spaced repetition approach
Research has shown that if you space out your learning over a period of time, you will remember things much more effectively than if you just cram the night before an exam. Cramming is fine for short-term memory, but spaced repetition is needed to ingrain information into your long-term memory.
Think of your study session as similar to heating up a pot of water to boil. When you turn the heat off the water will be boiling, but over time will go cold. In the same way, directly after studying a topic our brain will be brimming with knowledge, which over time will slowly fade away.
You therefore need to make sure that you put the pot back on the heat regularly, to keep the liquid warm. Also, if you boil the liquid down to a more concentrated form, it will make it much quicker to heat up. You should do the same with your study and consider summarising information into more concentrated notes, such as bullet points on study cards. The result is that the information becomes much more embedded in your permanent memory.
To go back and review your notes regularly at an appropriate time, you need to be organised and diarise when you want to review particular subject topics. If this might prove difficult for you, there are apps such as Anki that you can download to help in this process.
It is important that your notes do not remain static in form, so you should make sure you regularly review, rearrange and rewrite. This is really important, as the constant process of changing and reordering notes so that they make more sense is vital to transferring knowledge into your long-term memory.
Follow this approach, and the knowledge you need will be more accessible and you will be able to apply it as needed. Next time I will look at how you can practise applying your knowledge in both CBE and paper exam format.
If you have any of your own tips which work well, please let me know via LinkedIn and I will try and include them in future articles.
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.