Specific study strategy advice?
June 6, 2021 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I am studying (very reluctantly) for my ACCA accounting qualifications in the U.K. I'm really struggling to focus. I haven't really studied properly since 18 and suffer from some mental health issues. I am in treatment for those and am trying to eat healthy and exercise. When I sit down to study, I feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start. Does anyone have any specific studying strategy tips that might help me or any resources (books, articles) etc that have been useful to them? Studying at school was effortless, feel like I've forgotten how to do it and am floundering a bit. Any advice/help above "just sit down and do it" would be much appreciated.
posted by Sunflower88 to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When I am working on something that feels overwhelming - both as a whole and even any of its component pieces, I like to use the "pomodoro" technique. Basically, you commit yourself to keep your butt in the chair for 25 minutes and do what you can in that time. Then take a break (5 minutes, 10 minutes) and do it again. Set a goal of a certain number of times. Like 3. Not too much. I find that this takes the pressure off of completing or learning anything in particular and feeling like you are failing at that; the focus on the time commitment is much easier to manage and something it is easier to succeed in. Good luck, and good on you for going back to qualify for this new certification.
posted by sonofsnark at 8:31 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]

If you're really floundering, you can do an ACCA revision course for £50 a month. It will provide structure and might really help. (I picked that one at random, there are many!)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]

This may or may not be useful for the topics you're studying, but I find making physical flash cards for myself, as childish as it can feel, is one of the absolute best study techniques I have to this day. Physical because the act of making them is part of the studying (in a way that's never worked the same for me with online flashcard tools) and because they give a tangible thing to do if you're struggling with how to spend study time.
posted by augustimagination at 9:28 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]

I just finished grad school while also working full time, so maybe I can offer some studying advice. Feel free to adapt or adjust (or ignore) any of this to make it more useful for you.

1) I can't just "sit down and do it" either without some kind of plan. In my case, that meant spending some time, usually at least an hour, on Sunday to review everything I needed to read and everything I needed to write for the coming week and putting all of that on a list. I used Evernote for this, but anything will work as long as you stick with it and reference it.

For example:

To read:
- Chapters 2 & 3, PDF handout

To write:
- Start outline for paper due on DATE
- Finish report due on DATE (Submit on DATE)

You get the idea...having a plan allowed me to just punch through the work during the week. I didn't have to spend time on a Wednesday night to figure out what I needed to do, I had already spent the time beforehand and could just...do the work.

Of all the advice I give here, I would say that spending time to plan out what you need to study and then following that plan is the most important bit. This is what got me through grad school while juggling full time work and taking two courses every semester.

2) Seconding the Pomodoro technique. It is amazing how much you can get done when you work in uninterrupted 25 minute blocks. Once the timer starts and you're working, it becomes easier to just power through and ignore any distractions.

Really feeling the need to check your e-mail? You've only got 10 more minutes on the timer, just keep going... Wondering what's happening on Reddit? Only 5 more minutes, just keep going...

It's hard at first, but becomes much easier once you see just how much work you get done by not letting yourself get distracted.

3) Also seconding flashcards. I used Anki (an online / app-based tool) but in hindsight I should have used physical flashcards instead. I spent too much time getting everything just so in Anki, and that's time I should have spent just making flashcards on index cards and using them.

I would be willing to bet that there are flashcard decks you can buy for this exam, which would save you time and effort.

Also, are there ACCA specific blogs or subreddits? A friend just passed his PMP (a project management certification) and found a few blogs and a few specific subreddits to be very helpful. From his description a lot of people would discuss their study plans and strategies and that helped to find the best methods that worked for him. Maybe you can find something similar.
posted by ralan at 10:12 AM on June 6

I thought "just sit down and do it" was how studying worked when I was in college. It turns out I was wrong, and getting up and taking breaks to get some fresh air and exercise are most important when you least feel like you have the time for them.
posted by aniola at 10:49 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]

The preparation and revision courses were absolutely worth every penny for me. They teach you both the theory but more importantly they teach you exam technique. So if you can make use of the prep courses do.

Having attended the courses I never did anything other than practice questions to prep for the exams. The only time I ever opened a textbook was when I was going through question solutions and couldn’t figure out something. That happened rarely.

I was also working full time so my revision was limited to the weekends and evenings running up to the exams. I found somewhere where I could sit for a few hrs with minimal interruptions and got on with practice questions.

I timed myself - not spending more time on a question than the points it can earn you are worth is a key aspect of exam technique. For example, a three hr exam with max points of 100 means you have 1.8 mins per point. So you should never spend more than 18 mins on a ten point question. To get the last two points could take you an extra 10 mins and in that time you could be picking up 5-6 easier points on the next question. But it takes practice to move on to the next question regardless.

In planning my studies I tried to allow about a third of the time for marking questions. The ones you get right (more or less) will take very little time to mark, the ones you struggled with take longer. Try to make sure you do these again a few days later to consolidate learning.

In all honesty, I think taking a purely academic learning approach where you read widely around a topic will not help you pass these exams. This is all practical application of stuff, much as they claim it’s academic learning. So spend your time on exam practice, not reading.

Final thought, nobody is going to care if you pass with 51% or with 90%. So 51% is good enough. The world is divided into qualified accountants and unqualified ones. The rest is down to professional experience.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:23 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]

I was having a ton of trouble focusing on some work I had to do and had some major procrastination issues for a bit, but signing up for Focusmate REALLY helped me get the ball rolling. It's free virtual co-working. You briefly discuss what your goals are for the session (and being forced to this about this was also a help), work for an hour, and then briefly discuss what you accomplished. Knowing that someone was waiting on me to help THEM focus helped a lot with accountability, and having that person on the other side during the work session made me want to work! I haven't used it in awhile actually because it helped me push past those mental barriers to the point where I can focus alone again.
posted by thebots at 3:11 PM on June 6

This is going to sound counterintuitive, and it may very well not work for you, but it's worth trying: I discovered at university that when I was so overwhelmed and terrified of failure that I just could not knuckle down to work, having something unchallenging playing on the television in the background helped. The narrative gave the panicky part of my brain something to concentrate on instead of panicking, freeing up the rest of my brain to actually do the work. And this is despite the fact that I'm someone who usually struggles to focus at all when there's background noise. The narrative is the key.

Also, yes, flashcards are great, if there are things you just need to memorise.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:37 AM on June 7

If any of it is akin to maths problems (apply some theory, clear right and wrong answer) then the best way to revise is to practice a varied selection of problems. And practice some more. You might find timed sessions good - or challenging yourself to complete 10 questions, or 20 questions before stopping. But that relies on you having understood the techniques you are supposed to be applying. If you are struggling to get questions right or to understand why the solution given is correct, then stop answering questions and go back to understanding the material using worked examples, videos etc as needed. If you think you've nearly got it, try explaining how it works to a tame and generous friend or colleague.

If there are more essay-like components, I've got nothing.

In terms of general studying, I find it hard when I've been working all day. It seems unfair. I like to make myself sit down on a Saturday morning and commit to doing a comedically short amount of time (like 1/2 an hour) I find once I get started I'm more likely to continue. But even if I don't, at least I've done some. My alternative approach is to just do it as a continuation of my day job - usually by just doing a little bit after work.
posted by plonkee at 7:52 AM on June 7

I recently read a book titled Ultralearning which, despite its stated aim of teaching you to be one of those people who can pick up a language in a matter of months or memorize hundreds of digits of pi, is actually a really good roundup of learning and study strategies.* I never learned to study, and managed to coast my way through undergrad and spent grad school in a discipline that's less about retaining information and more about how to find and organize information.** I really wish I'd had a book like this in high school, when everyone else seemed to intuitively know how to study and retain information, because it would have made college much easier and would have opened up other areas of study for me.

* What makes ultralearning different from regular learning is that you take the strategies and turn them up to 11.
posted by telophase at 7:52 AM on June 7

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