The fundamental doctrine of preparing for a finance exam is that the sooner you start, the better your chances of success.
But how should you be spending your precious time and what should you focus on as the final date gets ever closer?
Firstly, remember how much you already know. That applies as much to the ‘soft’ elements of getting ready for exams as it does the technical, knowledge-based aspects. Above all, look after yourself, eat well, take steps to sleep well and afford yourself time to relax. Easy huh? Now consider the following tips for preparing for your finance exam.
Finance is all about solving problems
The core purpose of almost every finance scenario is to solve a given problem. Typically, this is by applying a recognised model, and a set of rules and financial concepts to a scenario with formulas and calculations to provide analysis and a conclusion.
There’s a reason why finance exam questions are posed in this way. It is because that’s precisely why financial functions, and professionals, are so highly valued in organisations. Approaching each question to break down a problem and provide a solution is a great way to develop a deeper insight and understanding of the material at hand.
Applying this to our learning and study helps us to develop ideas and approaches that provide a result – and that’s the whole point of an exam. Plus, ultimately that’s how we’ll prove our worth at work – and that’s the whole point of a qualification.
Pick your study technique
We’re all different. We all learn differently and what works for one person as a study technique may not work for someone else. You know yourself best of all. If you need to revise without distraction, then put the mobile phone in another room and switch off the TV. If you study best in bite-size chunks, then set a timer and work for a period that suits you before taking regular breaks.
Hone your approach to past papers
Tackle past papers and example scripts in the same way that you would under exam conditions. That means completing the whole paper before checking the answers and thinking about how the solution was arrived at. If you stop after each question then you’re not training your brain to work through one after another. Also, make sure to time yourself so that you get into the habit of completing each paper within the allotted time.
During your studies, it is also good practice to take some sample exam questions after each unit of learning. Consider ‘how will this be examined?’ to reflect on what you have been taught while focusing the mind on how the concepts are likely to be approached in the final paper. Take some notes as you do this so that you have a set of revision materials targeting the exam to refer to as it approaches. Plus, you get to identify any areas of concern early so you can approach your tutor for clarity.
Quick tips for the finance exam itself
- If you experience that awful initial shock as you open the paper and begin to work through it, consider leaving any questions which require complex calculations until later when your focus and concentration have improved.
- Work in a structured manner. Read the requirements carefully, formulate an approach and a solution, then re-read the requirements to reassure yourself that your planned answer addresses the key points.
- For every answer, maintain a concise and clear structure so that your points are coherent to the examiner. Provide headings and an explanation for calculations so that your submission shows that you have worked through a logical process.
- Ensure every sentence adds value to your answer. Examiners are not looking for generic statements or a background to the scenario that adds nothing to your analysis. A candidate writing all that they know about a topic without answering the question will simply lose marks – and waste valuable time.
Most importantly, don’t forget the basics
Dealing with the essential elements of any exam day is a really good way of settling your nerves. For one thing, it will occupy your mind with practical matters. For another, you’ll know that any last-minute panic is less likely. Plan your journey well in advance and ensure you have any id and entry paperwork to hand.
No matter which financial exam you’re taking, the awarding body will likely have guidance available online for candidates. For example, the CFA Institute provides a candidate checklist that covers everything you need to know and what you will need to take with you as well as items that will not be permitted into the exam.
In preparation for your financial exams, whether you’re taking the CFA or the FRM, it’s also important to make the most of available resources online. Websites like 300Hours have a wide range of online exam resources that can help you prepare the right way. If you need some advice on how to pass your CFA exams quickly, or just need some study motivation, there are plenty of articles and guides to help.