Learn to study, study to learn (Part 2 of 2): More tips to super-size your exam results

By Brian Gordon | December 31, 2004 | Last updated on December 31, 2004
3 min read

(January 2005) Are you in the midst of preparing for a financial industry exam such as the Canadian Securities Course, the Certified Financial Planners Professional Proficiency Exam or the Chartered Financial Analyst Exams? Here are some tips to consider to optimize your efforts — and your results!

Environmentally sound

The environment in which you study is an important factor in determining your study effectiveness. Remove all distractions, go to a quiet place in your home, or better yet, go to a library — this will help your focus. The sight of other students studying will also motivate you.

If you find your mind is wandering, get up and take a break. Don’t read just for the sake of reading – you’ll end up wasting your time and might have to repeat the material.

Memory mechanics

Our short-term memory works by association, so the use of mnemonics, a technique of improving the memory by using acronyms or word associations, can be very effective in helping you remember lists, facts and formulas. An example of this would be: (A [assets] — B [bills] = C [cash needs]).

Read the material, highlight significant passages and, very important, write your own study notes as you go.

Seminar seeking

If you decide to enrol in a review course, find one that accommodates your learning style. Ask yourself:

  • Are the classes large or small?
  • Will you be able to access the teacher after the course has concluded?
  • Is the length of the course appropriate for the amount of material to cover?

Review programs come in all shapes and sizes and are not created equal. Weekend reviews are great if you’ve studied the material and are just looking for a forum to tie it all together. But they are not a last-chance cram session to rely on to get you through the exam successfully.

Weekly lectures are a great way to integrate a systematic study schedule with a professional course. Above all, make sure you receive guidance from a qualified instructor who can address your needs.

Exam essentials

Tools of the trade are important, so get a financial calculator that you know how to use. It may sound basic, but many times students have had to ask me to help them set functions, input data or clear the memory in their calculators. The exam is no place to experiment or learn how your new HP functions!

When you’re writing an exam, make sure you don’t give up the easy marks. The first chapter of the CSC is often overlooked by students, yet it tends to show up time and time again on the exam. Other exams contain qualitative-type questions dealing with the history of the financial services industry and the capital markets in general. These count just as much as the harder derivative and bond calculation questions, so go and get the easy ones first.

R elated Stories

  • Learn to study, study to learn (Part 1 of 2): Tips to improve your exam preparation process
  • If your exam is essay style, such as levels 2 and 3 of the CFA program, practicing sample exam questions and reviewing answers is critical to your success.

    Essay questions are graded by a group of industry professionals, who are often working from a sample answer. As a professor of accounting and finance and an exam grader, I look for key words in students’ answers that demonstrate an understanding of the material. Your job as the exam writer is to show the grader that you know what you are talking about. Utilizing key words and key phrases accomplishes this task.

    Your commitment to continuing education and professional development will help you forge a successful and rewarding career in the financial services industry. Best of luck with your studies!

    • • •

    Brian Y. Gordon, CFA, MBA, FCSI is a professor of accounting and finance in the Faculty of Business at Centennial College. He is also managing director of Oliver’s Seminars, an independent provider of financial industry exam preparation courses, investment sales training and specialty learning workshops. Exam questions and comments are welcome at brian@oliverpublishing.com.


    Brian Gordon