Exams and stress articles

Stress levels can be higher than normal when preparing for exams. While some stress can help you to stay motivated and focused, too much can be unhelpful.

Aiming for success second time around

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Tips to boost your exam performance

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Maximising your study time

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Even those who couldn’t have studied harder or more thoroughly get nervous when exam results are published. But if you don’t get the result you were expecting or hoping for, it can really knock you for six. Failing even the most minor test – let alone an important exam – can leave you feeling frustrated, dejected and devastated, not to mention embarrassed. Knowing how to manage your behaviour and emotions if you fail an exam isn’t usually something you’ll find instinctive. Indeed, most people struggle with the aftermath of a result that doesn’t go their way. But it’s certainly not the end of the world (even though you may feel it is). Many successful people had serious setbacks when they were starting out – and kept having more setbacks throughout their careers. In fact many experts believe failure is essential for success, as failing always offers invaluable opportunities for learning. So the first step to getting back on your feet is not to be too hard on yourself and realise you’re in good company. Here are some other strategies that may be helpful: Make a new plan So you’ve had an exam result that didn’t go your way. What’s next? It’s important to remember you have options. But it’s even more important to weigh those options up before deciding which course of action would be best for you. Try making a list of all the pros and cons of each available option if you’re struggling to come to a decision. Can you resit? Find out whether you can take the exam again, if that’s what you’ve decided to do. For instance, if the exam in question is a CAP1 or CAP2 exam you're allowed a maximum of 6 attempts. For the FAE exams, you're allowed a maximum of 3 attempts. Also check with your employer about the number of resits they will allow if you’re in a training agreement. Learn from the experience If you’ve decided to resit the exam but you don’t have much of a clue about why you failed it, it’s a good idea to find out. Try to identify your weaknesses – if you have a clear idea of an area or areas you’re lacking in, you can tailor your study to help ensure you’re much better prepared overall during your next attempt. Besides any weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge, you may have made other mistakes previously too. You may have stayed up too late revising the night before the exam, or you may have let your nerves get the better of you – either way, these things could have affected your performance. You may not have had an effective study plan or you may not have stuck to it. Or perhaps you simply didn’t have enough confidence in your abilities. So try and identify what you could do differently next time. Aim to get a good night’s sleep the night before the resit, and look at things that may help you feel more calm as the exam approaches. Also remember that you don’t have to be the best or the brightest to pass exams – you just have to work and study hard, and practice. Be more resilient Your future attempts at passing exams – or navigating any other challenging situations – may be more successful if you learn to bounce back more effectively. Being more resilient will help stop you going into panic mode and allow you to cope better whenever you feel under pressure. But unless you’re a naturally resilient person, developing resilience takes practice. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 13, 2019
Personal Development

Anxiety can strike anyone, anywhere and at any time. With exams just around the corner, here are some tips to help you keep anxiety at bay and – should you need to – deal with an anxiety attack when it arises. Words by Dawn Leane “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy; there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti; he’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs; but he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down...” Ok, so you’re facing your professional exams, not a rap battle… but under certain circumstances, anyone can be visited by anxiety and panic. A healthy lifestyle and good study practice are essential in the lead-up to the exam. On the day of the exam, however, apart from a few practicalities, your psyche is really the only thing within your control. Anxiety causes cognitive processes to believe negative self-talk such as “I haven’t done enough”. In such a scenario, a cycle of physical reactions and heightened anxiety quickly becomes established. This cycle can be broken with practised interventions and it’s important to prepare these in advance. These strategies can be carried into your future career and will benefit you in interviews, presentations and public speaking. Before the exam On the day of the exam, avoid studying any new topics as this may impair your ability to remember what you’ve learned. Don’t study for the last hour before the exam and most importantly, keep away from other anxious people. Take a bottle of water, some nuts or fruit, and a slow release carbohydrate into the exam. Avoid sugary snacks that will lead to a quick high followed by a slump. In the exam hall It’s natural to feel nerves prior to starting the exam, but excessive nervousness is counterproductive. Give yourself time to settle and use a breathing exercise to calm yourself before you turn over the exam paper. Take time to read through all the questions and instructions carefully. Make sure you get a firm grasp of the questions and what’s required of you. Then, prioritise what needs to be done, divide your time according to the importance of the questions, and answer the easiest questions first. This will guarantee marks in the least amount of time and help build your confidence. Don’t rush through the exam and regularly check the time. When anxiety strikes… If panic sets in or your mind goes blank, close your eyes and take several long, slow and deep breaths. This will help calm your entire nervous system. Then: Identify the feeling and own it; remind yourself that your panic will end; Set aside three minutes to divert your attention away from the panic; think about something unrelated to the exam; Use the mini-relaxation exercises you have been practising; Think positive and repeat coping thoughts such as, “I know I can deal with this”;  Remind yourself of a similar situation which you survived; Remind yourself of your past successes, especially exam achievements; and Visualise yourself feeling more relaxed and able to get through the questions. If you still can’t remember the information, then move on to another question and return to this question later if time allows. If you feel unwell, on the other hand, call the invigilator. They are there to help you and are experienced in dealing with such situations. And remember, it’s only an exam! Of course you want to do well, but it’s not a life or death matter. In fact, resilience is a key component of leadership. Behavioural psychologist, Albert Bandura, suggests that “if people experience only easy successes, they can come to expect quick results and are easily discouraged by failure… the route to high attainments is strewn with failure and setbacks. Success is achieved by learning from mistakes.” If you suffer from anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can really help. Further information and support is available from Reachout, Spunout and Chartered Accountants Support. Dawn Leane is Director of People and Resources at Chartered Accountants Ireland and Coordinator at Chartered Accountants Support.

May 02, 2017

Failing an exam can be deflating but you can turn things around, writes Graham Harrison. Like most people, I took the day off for my FAE results. They’re officially issued at around 9am but are usually available earlier, so I checked mine at 7am on my phone. After seeing my results, I was disappointed and frustrated. To put a lot of effort in over the study leave period and to fail both Core and Elective was incredibly disheartening. Having passed the CAP2 exams on my first attempt, I thought I would pass at least one of the FAE papers. After getting my results, I started to get texts and calls from friends and colleagues. They were obviously thrilled that they had passed but, if I’m honest, it just made me feel worse. I decided not to head out to the celebrations that evening – I just wanted to relax at home and get over the result. Negative thoughts After failing both exams, there were a lot of thoughts running through my mind. I questioned my own ability and how colleagues would perceive me. I was worried that people in work would think I was stupid, less able to perform or that they would somehow treat me differently now that I had failed. I was working in a Big 4 firm at the time and this was at the back of my mind for quite some time. I was convinced that there was going to be something said on my first day back at work, so I was quite anxious. Nothing was mentioned until a couple of days later though, when one of the partners took me to one side to see how I was getting on. She said that failure was a terrible feeling, and told me to get back into my work and she was confident that I’d do better next time. Everything returned to normal after that chat, but I definitely questioned my career choice. Working for a Big 4 firm requires a lot of hard work, and what was the point when I ultimately failed the exams? The primary reason for doing a training contract is to get experience and pass the exams. I previously worked in a bank for 12 months and wondered if I made the right choice in pursuing the ACA qualification. It took time to pick myself up after the results as I had to get over the initial disappointment before I could look at things logically. Failing the exams didn’t take away from the experience I gained from my training contract and all I had to do now was focus on passing the exams. A new study strategy The following year, I was determined to get off to a better start. I began with preparation for the AAFRP because I didn’t pay much attention to it in the previous year. I was in the height of the busy season and work was very demanding. I made sure I was more prepared by leaving work on time to study in the evenings. I also prepared for the exam in plenty of time – not just the week before. This strategy paid off and I went from getting a ‘NC’ in my first attempt to a ‘C’ in the second sitting. This was a huge boost for my confidence because after failing the AAFRP, Core and Elective, I seriously questioned whether I was able to produce the answers the examiners were looking for. Going in to the final exams the first time around, I spent most of my study leave studying theory, which was similar to how I studied for college exams and the CAP 2 exams. By the time the FAE exam arrived, I had only gone over five past papers. This approach clearly didn’t work. The  second time around I focused on completing as many mock questions as possible – especially in  Financial Reporting, as I got a red in this paper the previous year. I found Derry Cotter’s book, Problem Solving and the FAE 2nd Edition, particularly helpful. The questions are organised by topic, so I could focus on the areas where I felt I was weak. When it came to the actual exam, I again approached it differently for my second attempt. In my first sitting, I spent almost half of the exam planning my answer. This isn’t to say that planning your answer isn’t important, but in retrospect it was an excessive amount of time and left me very little time to write my final answer. In my second sitting, I really focused on keeping planning to 30 minutes. This meant I had more time to allocate to each indicator. Having gone through so many mock questions and solutions, I understood the type of answer the examiner was looking for. It’s important to link the indicators rather than answer them separately. This approach worked for me, and I ended up with all green indicators and a ‘decile one’ result in Core. The game changers Looking back, I simply needed to focus on doing as many questions and solutions as possible. A lot of my friends practised questions in exam conditions and although this approach didn’t work for me, I did go through each question and jot down a skeleton answer. I then checked the solutions to see what detail the examiner was looking for, and what kind of structure the answer was in. This helped me focus my answer in the final exam. And here’s a tip – all examiners seem to love seeing solutions in a table! Stay positive At the end of the day, failing an exam – or even a few – is definitely not the end of the world. Nobody will think you are any less intelligent or not capable of doing your job because you failed. The FAE exams are tricky and you most likely have the knowledge to get by – you just need to understand what the examiner is looking for. This is where I fell down, so don’t make the same mistake as I did. It could save you a lot of heartache. Graham Harrison ACA is a statutory analyst working in the pharmaceuticals industry. He qualified in 2016 after completing his training contract with EY.

Jul 01, 2016