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5 top tips on how to approach your ICA exam

Written by Dave Robson on Monday December 2, 2013

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The way you approach an exam can have a massive impact on the outcome. Subject matter knowledge is crucial but this is only half the battle. You’ve studied the course for months, digested the wider reading and put the effort into completing the assignments. Now you want to pass with the highest score you can, achieve the certification and put all you have learned into practice.

Here are five tips that will help you achieve your goal.

1. Mind maps, signposts & the day before

Essentially, be prepared. Do your study but do it in a targeted fashion. A ‘mind map’ for each Unit can help you focus:  produce a single piece of A4 paper, with the Unit title in the middle. Then work around the outside, adding some of the key themes and titles under that subject area, noting which are linked. You could also annotate the mind map with particular page numbers in the course manual, so that if you do want to refer to the manual in the exam, you can have a quick ‘signpost’. Incidentally even though ICA exams are open-book, don’t rely too heavily on the manual to provide your answers. The exam markers don’t want to see you regurgitate the manual and you won’t receive a high marks for simply doing this.

2. Prepare some case studies

It’s always a good idea to prepare an overview of a few case studies. Where and why has a firm fallen foul of sanctions rules ? Who has the regulator recently fined and why? The markers want you to show them what you know about the subject matter and to demonstrate WHY this knowledge is important. A well-used case study shows you understand the key risks and issues and how they apply in ‘real life’. It also establishes that you have read beyond the manual and taken an interest in the external environment.

If you can, try and then associate one of these case studies to the mind maps of key Units, so they support that content (upon which you will base an answer).

3.  Use the reading time well

Use the allocated reading time at the beginning of the exam to digest all of your options. Have a really good think about each question. Can you answer it well and do you think you can score higher marks than on any other question? When you have picked your questions, try and stick with them. This is related to the next point…

4.  Deciding which questions to answer

First off (perhaps obvious but nonetheless important), read the paper properly and make sure you answer the correct selection. It may be there are different sections – with a requirement to answer a certain number of questions from each section. As tip number 3 above suggests, there will invariably be some questions which suit you more than others.

Read the wording of the question and make sure you answer it. You may be able (time allowing) to bring in some valid / interesting additional information, but don’t let it be at the expense of answering the question. Look for the ‘trigger’ words in the assignment style questions (e.g.: discuss, examine, critically evaluate). For any case studies, what ‘clues’ are in the scenarios?

Essentially, what is the examiner looking for ? If you are confident on that area of the material, and have taken the time to understand the question, you should be able to produce a good answer. Think of the ‘what’ (what is the issue ?), then apply the ‘why’ (why is it important ?)

5. Stay calm and confident

Take a deep breath, a sip of water and start writing. Show what you know. Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s not an assignment – you can’t go into minute detail, you don’t need a bibliography. The exam is assessing a different sort of skillset. Work out in advance how much time you will have to answer each question and try and stick to this. Use your time to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the key issues contained within that question.

Make what you write clear and concise. Leaving space in the answer book between questions is a good idea (and it also allows you to go back and add something in should you wish to). If you get the chance, read it all through at the end. It could be a chance to gain an extra couple of marks by clarifying or adding something relevant.


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