The CA, CS and CMA exams conducted by the institutes (ICAI, ICSI and ICMAI) are tough.
You need to have mastery of a tremendous amount of facts and ideas. Mastery meaning not only putting them to memory, but to understand them.
The task at hand seems overwhelming.
It need not be.
With a good plan, efficient study and dedication, anyone can conquer this Everest.
Let us show you how.
Tips to Pass CA, CS and CMA Exams
It’s All About Planning
A great general almost never goes to war without having a plan of attack. And the attack plan consists of several stages: scouting the terrain, troop positioning etc.
Similarly, when you want to clear your exam, be it CA, CS, CMA or any other, you need to have a plan. And just like in the war metaphor, this plan also consists of several stages: finding out what’s in each exam, gathering past papers and setting up a timetable.
Let’s go through each stage one by one.
Stage 1: Find out what’s in the exam
The first stage in your grand plan is to find out what’s in the exam. What topics are covered, what weight is given to each topic, the style of questions … etc.
The websites can be kind of confusing to go navigate, and so we’ve gathered all the relevant prospectuses/syllabi here:
As you can see, the prospectuses and syllabi give you a rough idea of the weightage for each topic!
Stage 2: Go through past question papers and mock exams
Once you’ve gone through the syllabus, it’s time to get a hold of past question papers and mock exams. You can find some mock exams in the aforementioned websites in the student portals.
After you have the question papers, it’s time to do an analysis. Break each paper down and see if the questions follow the weightage/pattern given by the syllabi. You will see that for the most part, they do.
You might think then that this is a waste of time. Why analyse the papers if the weightage is already laid out? The advantage is that your brain learns by example. Theoretically you know from the syllabi, the rough weightage. It’s another thing to see it! And it primes your brain for further study.
Let’s move on.
Stage 3: Setting up a Timetable
Now that you know what’s going to be in the paper, you need to draw up a timetable. Account for all your regular daily activities. Perhaps you are in your articleship stage. Perhaps you are doing BCom or something on the side. Whatever it is, you need to set aside time for that. Also leave some time for leisure and exercise. Make sure to keep in mind the study strategies that we talk about below. This ensures that your study will be as efficient as possible.
Need help in laying out a timetable? Check out this post where we talk in detail on how to set up a study timetable.
Once you’ve filled in your timetable, it’s time to start studying.
Use Study Strategies
Before jumping headfirst, it’s a good idea to figure out best study practices. You may have used some of these before, and some may be completely new to you. But trust us. Employing these strategies will improve your efficiency of study!
Without further ado, here are our top ten study strategies.
Strategy 1: Space Out Your Study
Humans learn the best when they don’t cram. Instead of going through the same material 8 hours straight, it’s best to break up this study into short intervals of maybe an hour or two. In fact, it may be helpful to leave a day or two between study sessions on the same subject! The key to this is consistent study over time.
By the way, when you move on to the next study interval, make sure to revise concepts from earlier. Review the previous session’s info, then important topics from like a week ago and so on till the beginning of the material.
It’s quick revision, so there’s no need to go into heavy details. And it’s not about rereading important ideas. (Use the other strategies in this list for how to do this brief review.)
After this brief revision, move on to newer stuff. Study this way because (a) it’s more efficient and (b) you don’t waste time in the future relearning the same material.
An example should clear things up.
Suppose you’ve bought our CA Foundation course and are learning mathematics. Assume that you’ve gone through our playlist on Ratio and Proportion, and are moving on to laws of indices. Before jumping on to the next playlist, it’s a good idea to review material from Ratio and Proportion first. Use the study notes for revision and NOT the video lectures. Remember, this is about quick study!
Strategy 2: Switch It Up
This is perhaps the most controversial of the strategies outlined here. Because this is not easy. And may go against a lot of advice you’ve heard before.
But trust me on this. If you practice this method, even though it’s hard, you will see results. Remember it’s about efficient study. Not easy study!
How does the method work? Simple.
The idea is to switch between ideas in the study session for the same subject!
And in subsequent study sessions, mix up the order of these ideas.
Sounds complicated? Maybe.
Perhaps it’s best explained with the aid of an example.
Suppose you are studying ratio and proportion. Further divide this topic into four or five subtopics. Say, ratio, proportion, direct variation, indirect variation.
The first study session, you might want to go through them in order: ratio, proportion, direct variation, indirect variation.
In the next session on the same topic, do them out of order e.g. proportion, indirect variation, ratio, direct variation. And so on.
This way, you’ll build connections between the topics and understand them as part of an integrated whole. Rather than topics that stand alone. And it works best on subjects like maths that involve a lot of problem solving. You could move between different types of problems within a study session.
A word of caution!
Be aware that this strategy works the best on closely related material. Also, don’t switch between ideas too often or too seldom. Figure out how much time is best for you! Perhaps 30 min on each of the four subtopics in a 2-hour session is best.
We’ve arranged our materials in topic-wise sequentially arranged video lectures, illustrated notes and quizzes.
Strategy 3: Ask Questions to the Material
This works best on study notes. If you’ve bought our course, make sure to have the study notes handy. Also ensure that you’ve got the syllabus in front of you. It will help.
First make a list of the ideas that you need to know from the study material and syllabus. A good idea is to list out the study headings perhaps.
Then, as you go down the list, ask yourself questions about how and why these ideas work. Write down the questions on a separate piece of paper.
Then answer the questions by looking at the study material. Make connections between ideas and explain how they work together. You might want to think of how these ideas apply to your life experience. For example, if you are pursuing an articleship in your CA course, you might want to think about how the material you are studying for your CA final applies when doing your articleship!
Also, when learning the material for the first time, you’ll have to look at your study notes to answer your questions. Later, when revising, don’t look at the notes and write out the answers to your questions by yourself. Engage in retrieval practice! We’ll talk more about this later …
Strategy 4: Practice Dual Coding
The theory goes that the brain represents information both visually and verbally. Not only that, the brain processes images and words in different pathways. So, when learning new things, why not learn it both in a visual and verbal manner?
This will give you two ways of remembering the same information. Thus, it increases the chances of you recalling concepts later.
When going over your study material, find images that go with the words. Look at the images and see how they relate to the words. Then cover up the words and using the images only, write out all you can remember of the relationship. You may also want to ask questions of the material! (Strategy 3)
Then finally, look at the words on the page and draw your own images. See how your visual representation compares to the visuals on the page! By the way, don’t worry if your visuals don’t match up with the images in your study notes. It only needs to make sense for you.
When you sign up for our courses, you’ll get access to study notes that accompany video lectures. We’ve designed them to be beautifully illustrated so that you can make the most of this strategy.
Strategy 5: Get Creative with Note Taking
This strategy goes hand in hand with dual coding. Suppose your study material has no visuals. It’s filled up with words, words, words.
We know the usual tips when faced with a mountain of words. People tell you to write on the margins and highlight important concepts.
We’re not against that. It works and it’s all good.
But you may want to spice it up. Use cool visuals along with your notes!
Instead of highlighting and using short notes to summarise material, you may want to draw pictures.
As an example, consider the following paragraph (Taken from study material from the ICSI website):
“The word Company is derived from the Latin word (Com = with or together; panis = bread) and it originally referred to an association of persons who took their meals together. In the leisurely past, merchants took advantages of festive gatherings to discuss business matters. Nowadays, business matters have become more complicated and cannot be discussed at length at festive gatherings. It denotes a joint stock enterprise in which the capital is contributed by a large number of people. Thus, in popular parlance, a company denotes an association of like minded persons formed for the purpose of carrying on some business or undertaking. ”
We could convert this into this series of images:
Of course, this is merely an example. You should be more creative in your own notetaking and make the images more memorable!
Strategy 6: Use Mind Maps
This goes hand in hand with the previous strategy. That is, get creative with note taking! One way is to use a mind map.
It’s most useful for information that’s hierarchical in nature.
It works like this. Start with the main concept or idea. Create a cool visual that represents it.
From this main idea, create coloured branches that relate to the main idea. Each branch represents a different sub-topic. Use different colours for each branch, and draw evocative images for each sub-topic.
Then for each sub-topic create sub-branches to expand on ideas and concepts. It’s sort of like a tree growing outwards from the middle.
Here’s our example of a mind map outlining part of the syllabus for paper 1 in the CA Foundation course: Principles and Practices of Accounting.
Note that we’ve only shown the main topic along with four sub-topics. You can see from the syllabus that there are in fact 11 sub-topics. To show all these sub-topics onscreen would make the diagram look messy and hard to understand. But, in principle, there is no limit to the number of sub-nodes, and remember, the diagram should only make sense to you!
Students often ask us if they could create digital mindmaps. While we are not opposed to the idea, we feel that creating a mindmap with pencil and paper is more useful than a digitally created one!
Strategy 7: Employ Retrieval Practice
Now this strategy works only after you’ve learned something. Not before! And it shouldn’t be employed right after you’ve learnt the material. It must be done a while after learning.
In other words, it works best as a revision tool.
Once you’ve learned something, and sometime has passed (say a day or two), without looking at your study notes, write out all you can remember about the topic. You could even draw it all out in like a kind of a mind map.
Also, remember strategy 3? Asking questions to the material? It’s a good idea to cover up your answers to the questions and try answering them on your own.
After you’ve done your retrieval practice, look at your notes to see how well you’ve done. You’ll be able to see how well you’ve done and correct any misconceptions. You could also use a five-minute retrieval practice session when you employ the first strategy on this list!
Strategy 8: Change Study Spots
Yep. We’re going to cause controversy here yet again. Many people advise you to find a nice quiet spot to study and do your study sessions there.
But scientists have shown this is not the best way to go about things! The reason is that when studying, the brain does pay attention to its surroundings. It makes subtle connections between what you’re learning and the background. For the most part, it happens subconsciously. As an example, suppose you are going over ideas related to costing. The brain might associate costing with the colour of your table. Perhaps even the smell of it. Just weird associations.
Now, what happens if you change up your spots? Well, it forces the brain to make multiple associations with the same material. Remember dual coding? It’s sort of like that. It strengthens the memory.
Strategy 9: Overlearn
Overlearning is a study strategy where you go over a piece of information beyond the point of being able to recall it. Review it for much, much longer. Why? Because it will help you recall this information almost instantly. This is what you want when you are in the exam!
But don’t overlearn everything! Think back to when you outlined the weightage for each topic. Remember that the exam placed more weightage on certain topics than others?
Overlearn these high weightage topics. And don’t waste time overlearning material that is less likely to appear!
Strategy 10: Practice Exams
One final study strategy is to do practice exams. Remember when you downloaded all past papers and mock exams?
It’s time to go over them in detail.
Take an exam. Practice it an examination setting. Do the practice exam during the same time-slot scheduled for the real exam. As an example, say that your exam is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. This means that every Tuesday during your revision period, do a practice exam at this time. That way your brain gets used to thinking about these concepts at that particular time slot.
And going over practice papers is a form of retrieval practice. We hope you are starting to see that all these study strategies and even the planning are all interconnected.
Also note that it’s not enough to have a sound plan in mind and to use these strategies. You need to keep more things in mind.
Let’s see what they are.
Watch What You Eat
When studying for these exams, it’s hard sometimes to take care of your health and eating patterns. And this is kind of a bummer because a healthy diet helps to keep you fresh and focused.
Not only that, you’ll feel less moody and irritable.
A diet that’s nutritious and “healthy” is the best. Eat dry fruit like raisins, dates and figs. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Consume stuff like brown rice. Not white rice as it makes you feel heavy. Avoid junk food and sugary food.
Basically, it’s your grandma’s diet, don’t you know! And after a meal, don’t jump into study right away. Take a walk for 10-15 min and then get back. This helps in digestion and makes you feel less groggy when you start up again.
Relax and Meditate
Sometimes, even after very good prep, we’ve found that there are those who are still scared of not doing well. It’s called exam anxiety. Or exam fear. It’s debilitating but luckily you can overcome the fear.
Learn to relax and let go. Practice meditation. It helps to calm your mind and achieve focus.
If you’ve never meditated before, it’s a good idea to start off with mindfulness meditation. This is before you move on to more advanced stuff.
Even concentrating on proper breathing helps. Anything that takes your mind off anxiety. Remember at the end of the day, it’s just an exam. It’s not a matter of life and death. Be positive and you’ll be fine.
Need more tips on how to relax and overcome your exam fear? Check our post on how to overcome exam anxiety.
Exercise is IMPORTANT. Aerobic exercise helps get the heart pumping. This circulates blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain helping you think clearly.
We suggest that you do a 15-20 cardio session right before your study. The more intense the session, the better. It boosts memory, you see!
Not only that, exercise helps you with your mood. It makes you less anxious and helps you feel confident.
Also, while studying, it might be a good idea to try some light exercise. For example, you might want to do some simple stretches at your desk. Get creative!
And after your study? Yep. You got that right! Exercise again. This time, again a high-intensity exercise session will help you give that brain boost.
To sum up, high-intensity exercise sessions before and after study, and while studying, some light exercise like simple stretching or squatting. That’s all there is to it.
Get Enough Sleep
Make sure you get good sleep. Research shows that students who sleep right after intense study show improvements in recall and understanding as compared to those who don’t sleep much. If possible, take a quick nap between study sessions. And take a good night’s rest at the end of the day. This helps to consolidate memories.
The best result from the research? The conclusion is that if you sleep after learning something new, you slow down the rate of forgetting after you wake up. Science doesn’t know quite how it works – it’s got to do with REM sleep, but all that matters for you is that getting adequate sleep is an essential component of learning something new.
Make Sure You are Studying from Relevant Sources
As you are probably already aware, the syllabus for professional courses like CA, CS and CMA keep getting updated. This is because of changes in related legislation. So, you must ensure that the material you are studying from is also up to date! It would be extremely silly to fail the exam(s) if you have studied from outdated material.
At LearnCab, we make sure that our material stays up to date according to the legislative changes that force updates to the syllabus. You don’t have to go hunting around for the material.
A Few Final Thoughts
This way of study is based on the latest research in learning methodology. And you may have noticed that you don’t employ these tips in isolation. They are all inter-connected and you use them together. Also, don’t worry if you can’t employ all the tips we’ve talked about. In the end, studying efficiently is personal, and do what works best for you.
Which is your favourite strategy? And do you have any special strategies of your own? Tell us in the comments below.