Going it alone

Self-studying for your exams is a journey that requires a lot of grit, says Iwona Tokc-Wilde

Not all students attend face-to-face or online tuition courses with one of ACCA’s Approved Learning Partners. Some choose to study independently, preferring to work at their own pace.

‘The younger, so-called iPlayer generation want to learn at a time convenient to them and not be bound by an external schedule,’ says Rob Sowerby, director of professional courses at London School of Business and Finance. ‘They want to dictate the speed at which they study too. If they have more available time, they speed up their learning and take exams more quickly, or they slow it down when other things get in the way.’

Others, however, opt for the self-study route when they feel they have no choice. They cannot take regular courses because of family commitments, or because they or their employer cannot afford to pay for them.

Mahadi Osman, an ACCA member now based in the United Arab Emirates, attempted all of his exams as a self-study student. At the time, there were no Approved Learning Partners in his home country of Sudan. He admits it was very hard – he failed P3 seven times – but he persevered and eventually qualified in 2014.

‘My experience proved to me that depending solely on yourself to get ready for exams is very challenging,’ said Osman. ‘I don’t know if those who go to tuition centres always clear their exams quicker than those who study by themselves. But, in my opinion, self-study students need to put in double the effort.’

Psych yourself up

It goes without saying that you need to be extremely disciplined and focused when self-studying.

‘There’s no one checking on the work you have or haven’t completed, and whether you are ready to sit and pass an exam is all down to you,’ points out Rachel Harrison, senior academic support tutor for Kaplan Financial.

Osman says you need to put yourself in the right frame of mind and fully commit to your studies before each exam session. ‘Holding yourself accountable for a long period of time takes a lot of patience and dedication,’ he admits.

Most likely, you will also have to make sacrifices in your personal life and forgo some of the time you usually spend with family and friends.

There will be times when your motivation will wane and you will feel overwhelmed with no end to studying seemingly in sight. But keep your eye on the final prize and reassess if what you have set out to achieve over the next six to 12 months is realistic

‘You need to grab every opportunity to study and revise, protect your study time and increase it if possible,’ says Osman. Let your family and friends know when you are studying so they do not distract you unnecessarily.

For sure, there will be times when your motivation will wane and you will feel overwhelmed with no end to studying seemingly in sight. But keep your eye on the final prize and reassess if what you have set out to achieve over the next six to 12 months is realistic.

‘Review your progress regularly and readjust your goals accordingly,’ recommends Harrison.

Gaining the qualification is a real mountain to climb and you cannot scale it in one or two leaps. You will, though, if you break it down into a series of smaller, more manageable steps. Harrison says: ‘For example, setting yourself the goal of passing four exam papers in one year is achievable and will help you keep up the momentum with your studies.’

Map it out

Each exam is one step on that mountain, but you need to map your journey so that you don’t get lost. In other words, you need to plan your studies.

‘A classroom course gives you the structure and timeline by which you learn,’ says Sowerby. ‘The timeline is dictated by the tutor and you can almost sit back for the ride. But here you take over the responsibility to make things happen and so you need to come up with your own plan to follow.’

Your plan for each exam should break down the syllabus into study sessions – it should show what you will be studying, when and for how long. Build in some contingencies to allow for unforeseen sick days or work pressures so that you can easily make up the time if you fall behind.

‘Try to study little and often: studying for two hours, five days a week is much more effective than one 10-hour study session,’ says Harrison.

‘After the whole day at work you may find it hard to focus on what you’re trying to learn. To help your concentration, break up your study sessions into smaller chunks. For example, you could break up a two-hour session into two 50-minute sessions, taking 20 minutes of rest in between.’

Study resources

It's really important that you buy study materials from an Approved Content Provider. They are reviewed by ACCA’s examining teams and are updated to reflect the latest syllabus content, examinable documents and exam structure.

The question and answer banks they provide are a great source of exam-style questions. Harrison says: ‘Textbooks will give you the underpinning knowledge you need to pass an exam. Attempting practice questions will help you cement and apply that knowledge to different scenarios and identify any gaps in your learning.’

There are also lots of free exam-specific resources available via the exam resources finder on ACCA's website – for example, examiner’s reports and interactive self-study guides (pictured) for FAB, FMA, FFA, F1–F9 and P1–P7. The guides have clickable checklists to help keep you on track.

Paid-for practice tests are available for all computer-based exams. They replicate the live exam and provide you with feedback on your performance, allowing you to identify your strengths and weaknesses before you take the actual exam.

Osman attempted at least two practice tests before each exam: ‘I did them under full exam conditions and marked them in accordance with the model answers. Then I carefully read the examiner’s report and transferred the examiner’s comments on to my script to help me understand what mistakes I had made and how to correct them.’

English is not Osman’s first language and he admits he struggled with crafting essay-based answers: ‘I believe this was the main contributor to my repetitive failure of P3.’

If you think you could benefit from building your English language skills, take a look at the BPP English Language support for ACCA, a free online programme specifically designed to support you through your exams.

You are not alone

‘Getting the books out in your home or office can be a lonely experience and, if you get stuck, resolving the matter is more difficult since you don’t have the direct interaction with tutors or peers,’ says Sowerby.

But there are literally hundreds of students just like you, and it’s easy to reach out to them.

You can link up with others around the world via the online ACCA Learning Community to share ideas and advice, and join discussions and live Q&A sessions and presentations.