It is often assumed that completing a professional qualification is similar to completing GCSE's, A-Levels or a degree at university. However in reality, it is a very different and a much more intense experience. The revision strategy that once helped you power through your previous studies, may not necessarily work when balancing your exams alongside a full time job.
Recently qualified Chartered Accountant Monique Malcolm-Hay shares her top tips on what you can do as a new ACA student to effectively complete a professional qualification whilst progressing in your career:
Manage your time
Working on your career will already take up the majority of your time therefore it is natural to get tied into a consistently busy routine - wake up, go to work, socialise, cook dinner, clean, sleep - and then repeat. Therefore, it’s vital to remember that adding a professional qualification into your already busy schedule will put significant pressure on your time.
A great way I managed my time was by creating a study plan at the beginning of each exam period, which allowed me to actively carve out blocks of time in my schedule to focus on my studies.
Here is an example of a study plan that I used: ACA study plan (PDF 344KB)
I was able to map out when each topic would be covered, to ensure that all relevant areas and tasks were tackled before the exam date. This was also helpful during busy periods at work as it allowed me to see how much time I needed each day to ensure all topics were covered and therefore I could negotiate my working hours with my line manager.
Take your wellbeing seriously
It can be extremely easy to become so focused on working and studying that you forget to spend time looking after yourself. This can become a vicious cycle, as neglecting your wellbeing will have a negative impact on your ability to study efficiently and therefore will make you feel you need to push yourself to do more. This will cause your wellbeing to decline further.
Take regular breaks! Although I had to limit some of my usual activities such as socialising, I did not cut them out completely. I was really bad at managing my wellbeing at first however I eventually implemented the following wellbeing plan:
- Exercising and healthy eating: I exercised regularly by going for jogs in my local park and also ate healthy snacks such as carrot sticks, bananas and satsumas, which were good for boosting my energy
- Socialising: I ensured that I socialised at least once every 2 weeks because striking a balance was important. Often I would return from social activities feeling revitalised and ready to tackle my next study session
- Sleeping: I slept for approximately 7 hours every night during study periods as this was crucial for studying effectively after a long day or week at work
- Coping with stress: I made sure that I was able to recognise if I was struggling which then allowed me to seek help. CABA is a great resource for ACA students who are feeling overwhelmed and require help and advice
- Building a support network: There’s nothing better than being able to talk to someone in a similar situation about your worries. I built a support network by attending socials at work, going to ICAEW networking events and joining accounting networking groups such as the New Gen Accountants
- Rewarding yourself: My favourite hobby is travelling therefore I always ensured I had a trip booked after every exam as this was something I could look forward to
Listen to your tuition provider
Remember, it’s your tuition provider’s job to ensure you pass all your exams, so it makes sense to take every piece of advice they give seriously, right? They spend the majority of their time producing lesson plans which will ensure students pass – therefore, they are the experts.
I took detailed notes within class and took into consideration any tips that were given. I also consistently asked my tutor any questions I had, no matter how insignificant I thought the questions were. Additionally, I made full use of the resources provided such as workbooks, extra activities and online chat services.
Overcome your fear of failure
The fear of failure can be defined as the intense worry you experience when you continuously think about all the negative things that could happen if you fail an exam. It is a significant obstacle which, if not managed effectively, can actually prevent you from being able to pass an exam.
Think about what actually worries you the most about failing an exam. For me, it was the fact that I faced losing my job. However, it took me a while to realise that my company employed me because I’m a good candidate! This meant that many other organisations would be quick to employ me too if I worked hard on my application. I was also worried that failing would cause embarrassment amongst family and peers.
However, I then understood that failing is all down to your performance on one single day, it really is not a representation of how smart you are. When you pass on a later attempt, your initial failure will become a distant memory to everyone.
If you do fail, reach out to someone in your network who has experienced the same thing in order to get support and advice. Remember – failing really isn’t the end of the world and doing your best is all that you can do!
Written by: Monique Malcolm-Hay
Monique is an ICAEW Chartered Accountant and winner of the 2019 WeAreTheCity Rising Star in Professional Services award working within Private Client Tax at PwC where she advises high net worth individuals. Monique drives positive cultural change through proactively advocating for diversity, inclusion and wellbeing within both PwC and the ICAEW. As part of her mission to educate, empower and inspire, Monique engaged a team of 6 and spearheaded the creation of New Gen Accountants, a non-profit organisation which provides advice to more than 250 individuals in the U.K. pursuing accountancy as a career.