I would say I have sat a LOT of exams in my 25 years, including more recently the 15 ACA exams. With every exam comes exam stress to some extent. To make matters worse, there was even the added pressure with the ACA exams that my job could be on the line if I performed poorly. However, after passing all exams first time I have picked up a few tricks along the way. Hopefully these tips help you to minimise exam stress for whichever exam(s) you are sitting. Some of these may be quite basic tips but nevertheless, they are still important.
1) Know what works for you to minimise exam stress
By this stage, you would have already sat many exams to get to where you are today. You should therefore know what works for you when it comes to sitting exams. This is why my first tip is to that you should do what works for you. For me, it is not to eat much the morning of an exam as my stomach clears out and cannot handle anything.
Let me give you an example of where I did not do what works for me. The night before my Corporate Reporting (CR) exam my mum told me to eat something substantial in the morning. Therefore, the morning of I thought right, let me try an egg sandwich and I took it further and I even had a shake. Comparing this to the standard banana I would usually have, this was a lot. Anyway as imagined, I could not keep this down and it all came back up and I may as well not have eaten anything at all.
This was not a good exam day for me and I will shortly post a blog on how I nearly failed this exam. Join my journey so you do not miss this!
Stick to what you know. If cramming and less sleep has always served you well, do it. I definitely need 8-9 hours of sleep each night even during exam season as I learnt in University that when I do not I will get mind blanks. Although, cramming would be risky with these exams given the high amount of content and application needed so I would not recommend this. If you are more productive at night and study best in the evenings, do this. If revision posters on your bathroom/bedroom/kitchen wall help, do it.
2) Plan your revision and commitments
I must admit, I am a very structured individual who lives for a routine. You may have gathered this already from my detailed finance planner. Whether you are like this or not, I think a solid routine is especially important when it comes to sitting exams. If you follow this tip it should definitely put your mind at ease and minimise exam stress. Be careful to not over plan and make the plan unachievable though because this could be counterproductive. If you are constantly not hitting your targets for the day, this feeling of under accomplishment will build up and you will feel overwhelmed.
I would suggest using a diary/planner to plan what revision you want to get done and by when. Depending on how detailed you want to be, you could plan on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. The below weekly planner really worked for me. I would figure out exactly how many ICAEW question bank questions there are to practice before the exam. I would then work backwards from the exam date, set an achievable daily goal for questions and then write these into the planner. It is important to include catch up days so if you do somehow fall behind it is still in the plan!
Planning your revision is one thing but you should also plan your revision around your commitments. I do not think it is good for your mental health to cancel all your plans to revise. If you start planning early enough, you can still take time to fit these in. The week leading up to my Advanced Level exams (see below) was more question practice heavy. However, the weeks before this it was not as bad – I still made time to eat out to help out in August 2020!
3) Take breaks and make time to unwind
I personally find it very easy to sit in a room and revise literally all day. Arguably this is not common for everyone but regardless, it is very important to factor in breaks and time to unwind. You do not want to feel like all you have done in the day is revised non-stop.
4) Prioritise your health
I will forever bang on that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. In your breaks perhaps fit in some stretching, a walk or even a run. In point 2) I mentioned planning around your commitments and I would plan around going to the gym. Given the lockdown period, perhaps you could plan around your DIY home gym workout? Remember to do what works for you though, this includes if you prefer exercising in the mornings to stick at it. If this clashes with your revision schedule perhaps alternate the times each day but essentially make it work.
Secondly, when it comes to health a big aspect is eating well and drinking plenty of water. When it gets closer to the exam I know I do not enjoy spending time making food. I want to quickly grab food and carry on revising. Something that helps me massively is meal prepping on a Sunday evening for example. This way I can ensure to still eat well but to manage my time efficiently.
5) Sit mock exams to minimise exam stress
One of the best ways to minimise exam stress is by getting plenty of practice beforehand. Admittedly nobody likes doing it but sitting mock exams are so important. Undoubtedly there will be surprises in the exam but if you practice it should be less daunting and you should be able to react better. Additionally, with the ACA exams especially they can be very time pressured. That is why it is important practice, practice and practice!
By sitting these mock exams you can hopefully experience passing or at least know what you need to do to pass the real exam. This should hopefully feed into a positive mindset and the belief that you can pass. Self belief and confidence is key to minimising exam stress and this comes with sticking to plan to get there.
I have the mindset that you are more likely to pass aiming for 100% rather than aiming to only pass. Granted it is unlikely you will be able to remember every single detail but this should hopefully ensure a pass.
Hopefully you found this post helpful. Ensure to utilise all resources available to you when revising and speak to others too. Feel free to join the ACA LinkedIn group where you will find links to the ACA Telegram groups so you can expand your network and talk to others in the same boat. Good luck for your next exam!
The next ACA blog will give you an insight into the final Case Study exam. You don’t want to miss this!