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Do you have an exam strategy?

Written by Jo Lewis on Monday May 19, 2014

You may not have even thought about a strategy for your ICA exam yet but having just sat an examination myself, I thought I would share my experiences.

My exam prep started 3 weeks ago following my last workshop where we discussed the sorts of things that we ought to know for the exam. I then started to think about what my exam strategy was going to be. (The topic of my exam was ‘strategy’ hence my constant use of the word!).

I worked out that I spent an average of 20-25 hours on each assignment that I had to also write as part of my course. This may sound a lot but writing, re-writing, deleting, checking Facebook, writing, snack hunting, writing, checking Facebook some more – it all adds up! I decided that I would also apply the same strategy to the exam.

Week 1

I spent time going over the handwritten notes that I had made during the course, filling in gaps to make sure I had a good coverage of the syllabus. Making handwritten notes as you study isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if I don’t make notes then I find I tend to drift off when reading and not remember a thing. Making handwritten notes also allowed me to put the content into my own words so that I understood it better.

Week 2

I now selected the models and frameworks that I would use in the exam. Unlike ICA exams, my exam was closed-book so a certain amount of rote learning was needed. Maybe slightly OCD-ish I then typed up my selected notes to concentrate my revision (and make it look pretty and efficient).

Week 3

I set about applying my models and frameworks, writing them out in full sentences and paragraphs to pretend questions. I looked at one or two past papers and started to draw up a few model answer plans. I had a go at answering a question in full, it took about 3 hours and made me realise my strategy was wrong. This isn’t an assignment so the same amount of depth wouldn’t be required.

The exam was set for three hours, in which I had to answer two questions. So what was my strategy going to be? The advice from fellow students and the tutor was always to write an answer plan. The question was should I do them both at the beginning of the exam or as I go along?

The exam

Given the length of the exam, I elected for the ‘as-you-go-along’ approach. I had 90 minutes per question so I decided to spend the first 15 minutes writing my plan, 60 minutes writing the answer, then I had 15 minutes ‘spare’ if needed. That last 15 minutes was crucial. I sat back, ate my banana and re-read my answer, added in a few lines, crossed out a few superfluous sentences and enhanced the conclusion. The second half of the exam followed the same route.

What should ICA exam candidates do?

Well, if you’re an Advanced Certificate student the above strategy would work a treat. If you’re a Diploma student, I think you’re more up against it. There are 4 questions to answer in 3 hours (45 minutes per question). If you’re strict with your timings then the above strategy is good; spend 5 minutes on your plan, 35 minutes on the answer and 5 minutes to read through. The alternative is to write your 4 answer plans at the start, on the examination paper itself, utilising the 15 minutes reading time. You’ll then have a bit more time to review if you get side-tracked on one question.

The important point is to give your approach some thought and have a strategy in place that works for you.

So having mentioned the word ‘strategy’ 10 times, I’ll leave you to think of yours.


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