There was a time when it was common for students to sit more than one accountancy paper in a sitting. With some examining bodies historically offering only two sittings per year, many students would plan, study and revise for two, three or even more papers at a time. It’s only in the last few years that we’ve become accustomed to students sitting one exam per sitting. These timescales have therefore formed the basis for their study plans.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has had repercussions for students. Not just in terms of the suspension of some assessments but also the time available to study. With a greater gap between exam sittings, it is practical for many students to pick up more than one paper. Extra months can be used to cement knowledge but also to tackle additional papers.
Being in lockdown also provides many students with more time. The guidance from the government, regarding furloughed employees, has been clear. It is possible to continue to study whilst you are not able to work. Without the day-job to occupy them, many of our students have decided to use this time to make progress in their studies. Students who are still working are also finding that they have a little more time on their hands. The absence of a daily commute and normal social activities can add valuable study time.
Many students have clearly made a conscious decision to work hard to come out of the lock-down in a stronger position than they went into it. Since the Easter weekend, First Intuition has seen a noticeable increase in enquiries from students intending to make progress.
However, accountancy, as we all know, is not an easy subject to master. The subject matter for papers varies and can require a different approach, way of thinking and method of tackling questions. So how do you balance these different requirements if you’re studying for more than one paper? We’ve put together some tips to help you prepare for success.
How to study more than one accountancy paper?
If you’re studying for more than one accountancy paper, it’s crucial that you plan your time. You can help make your study sessions more effective by building routines and habits. There is helpful advice in our article ‘How to Study an Accountancy Course at Home‘. In this article, we offer advice on building habits, where to work and also how to break your learning down into three key stages. These are Learning, Revision and Rehearsal. We cover this in more detail in the blog mentioned above but if you are looking to study more than one accountancy paper, this is the process we’d advise.
- For most papers, the Learning Phase will take students 4 to 6 weeks.
- With some papers, the Learning Phase might require a refresher of ‘assumed knowledge’ from prior studies. For example, Financial Reporting papers normally assume that you have covered the material from more basic Bookkeeping and Financial Accounting papers. It can be worthwhile digging out old notes and texts and spending a week or two reminding yourself of what you have already seen before getting stuck into the new unit.
- The Revision Phase will probably take 2 to 4 weeks before moving to the final:
- We would suggest that students don’t start their Rehearsal Phase until the last 2 or 3 weeks before the real exam as you don’t want to peak too early and use up all of the available mock exams. However, in the meantime, they can do a great job over the coming weeks of covering the Learning and Rehearsal phases of more than one paper to prepare themselves to pass 2 or 3 exams once they restart.
How to balance studying more than one accountancy paper
It’s possible to ‘overlap’ the Learning Phase of a new paper with the Revision Phase of another paper if you plan and organise your study sessions in advance. Our suggested approach would be:
- Spend an entire study session on a single unit, rather than trying to mix them together.
- Regularly alternate your study sessions between the two papers you need to overlap.
- It’s good for knowledge consolidation to stick with the same unit for a few study sessions in a row before switching to the other one.
- Put a bit more emphasis on learning the unit that is newer to you without neglecting revision of the one you already have knowledge of
So each week, you might spend 4 or 5 study sessions focusing on the Learning Phase of the newer topic, plus 2 or 3 study session on the Revision Phase of the other unit. This should allow the newer one to ‘catch up’ the older one. In a month or two, you could shift the balance so that each week you are doing 3 or 4 study sessions on the Revision Phase of each unit. You could even consider starting the Learning Phase for a third paper at that time.
Making it stick
Many students will understand the difference between the material being in your ‘short-term’ memory and your ‘long-term’ memory. The danger of only spending a few days ‘cramming’ for an exam is that, whilst you might be able to pass that exam, within a few weeks you will have forgotten most of what you learned. Short-term learning leads to short-term memory!
Having a longer period to learn the material gives the opportunity to develop reserves of longer-term memory. This will not only lead you to higher marks when you sit assessments but that means you will be able to draw upon the knowledge both in later studies and in your working career.
To build longer-term memory, it’s important to have a process of ‘knowledge consolidation’. This involves regularly revisiting and reviewing a topic that you have worked on.
Let’s say you spend 90 minutes one evening working through a section of notes on the material and labour variances.
The potential process could be:
- Review it one hour after the original study session (before heading to bed), just for 5 or 10 minutes. Try reading summary notes and maybe redoing a couple of short questions you have already had a go at.
- Next, review it one day after the original study session, again for around 10 minutes. Practice a couple of new questions that are similar to ones you have already done.
- Then, review it one week after the original study session, maybe for a little longer, say 30 minutes. You might rewrite your summary notes (including proformas or equations and calculations) to see how much you can remember and then practice some more new questions.
- Two weeks after the original study session, review it again, just for 15 minutes, completing one or two new questions.
- Review it one month after the original study session. This is likely to now fall into the Revision Phase of your studies. By this stage, you should be attempting exam-standard revision questions.
- Finally, review it six weeks after the original study session. This might now fall into my Rehearsal Phase where you are completing full mock assessments. This will include exam-standard questions on the variance calculations you need to be able to perform. Hopefully, by now, you are bossing them!
A few Top Tips for improving your memory
- Make sure that you get plenty of rest, sleep and relaxation.
- Make sure that you take regular exercise.
- Hydration is critical so drink plenty of water each day.
- Make sure that you fuel your brain effectively with a balanced diet including plenty of fresh fruit and veg.
- Nuts and dried fruit are a great study snack.
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If you’d like to study for more than one ACCA paper but are unsure of which ones work well together, you may find our article on Studying two ACCA papers – which to choose useful.
If you’re considering which of the optional units within AAT you’re going to study take a look at our article