Preparing for exams

Cath Littler Head of Learning - Accounting

Effective exam preparation

I’m often asked how to effectively prepare for exams and that question always makes me think of my Father who passed all his engineering exams by 1%; failure meant being conscripted into the military forces for WW2.  Of course, it’s not quite that bad these days but some employment contracts do not allow trainees to fail exams, or they limit the number of resits that are acceptable before the trainee loses their job.  So, passing first time is still essential for some students.

The good news is that AAT exams are on demand so students don’t have a week of exams in June and December, candidates can sit one exam at a time now, spreading them throughout the year.  Results don’t take twelve weeks; most are instant, and the rest take only six weeks. Resits can be taken immediately for most assessments, and feedback tells us broadly what topics were found to be most difficult.

Set your targets

So how should you prepare for exams? Well, I start with the exam date and work backwards.  A target date is important, continually delaying exams decreases pass rates.  Once you have your target date, allow time in the day or so before the exam to relax your brain.  Our brains are like muscles, they can get fatigued and if you go into an exam with a tired brain, it doesn’t work as well as it could.  So, the final preparation is to have eaten, be hydrated and be as rested as possible.  Too many students turn up for exams having worked or crammed all day and are tired, stressed, hungry and ready to fail!

Therefore, last minute cramming needs to be managed to allow time for final revision on the topics that are still flagging as weak in your concluding revision stages.

Revise the challenging topics

Working backwards from your target date, consider the topics that you need to revise. Look at examiners reports, if they are available, to see where students are showing weaknesses and add them to your list.  Also look at the topics that you find hard.  Often students waste revision time by going over the topics that they find easy.  They congratulate themselves for having studied all day, but they have not contributed to their knowledge because they have worked on enjoyable tasks. Instead, roll up your sleeves and tackle the tricky topics.

Test yourself

Use AAT’s practice assessments as tests.  Complete one of them early in your revision timetable and mark it using the answers provided by AAT before submitting. Note all the tasks that you found challenging and put in extra revision time for those topics.

Don’t make the mistake of doing the same practice assessments again and again, all you achieve is learning to pass the practice assessment – the actual assessments are likely to ask many different questions.

Use the second practice assessment as a final test a week before your exam.  Again, focus on topic areas that you still struggle with and revise the whole topic, not just the questions in the assessment.

Practice writing

Finally, for all levels and all assessments, write about each topic, describing or explaining them.  This has the duel effect of helping you to learn about the topics, and teaching you how to write – a skill you need in the workplace and increasingly in exams.

As for Dad having to pass exams to avoid being conscripted? Well, obviously, he eventually joined the military and spent the remainder of the war in the Royal Air Force, but his qualification meant that he spent the time working on radar sets which tracked aeroplanes – cutting-edge technology at the time!

Posted on: 6 June 2023

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