In my continuous efforts in winning the hopes of the depressed students due to continuous failures experienced in writing professional exams, I thought of sharing few important tips or you can also call it as guidelines for achieving success and join the band of professionals. In this article I have made an effort to collate some important points which I have already shared in my series of articles which appeared in CAclubindia in 2010 and 2011.
Most common reasons as to why students fail in professional exams is because of –
1. No clear cut Goals in life.
2. Students don’t take exams as Professional Exams.
3. Lack of conceptual knowledge.
4. Lack of Presentation Skills.
5. Poor Time Management.
6. Common perception that Professional Exam papers are always tough and Percentage of pass is less.
7. No structured and planned approach in studying, referring materials and preparing notes (Why to read? what to read? when to read? How to read? From where to read?)
8. Yield to short cut methods.
I. Basic things to keep in mind for Students who take up Professional Course
1. Develop Interest -The first thing which each one of you should develop is INTEREST in the subject. Most of the students perform good in the subjects which they are interested in and perform poor in the subjects which they are least interested. There is no subject in professional exams on which you should speculate as to interest and not interest. Since, aggregate place a major role, you need to develop interest in all the subjects and put similar efforts in preparing for all the subjects.
2. Read to Understand – No doubt majority of the students read the subject but, it is only few people understand the subject. Effective reading is one where in you understand the subject. As professional exams require understanding the concepts to great extent, it is important that you understand what you are reading. Always keep in mind 3Rs listed below and practice it till you become perfect –
a. Registration – Read and listen with concentration..
b. Recording - Recording refers to understanding in your own terms and storing it in mind.
c. Recall – Recapitulate what ever is recorded. Most students fail in this because they do not practice this in their approach.
3. Refer books and other resources – It is important that professional students like you should refer lot of books, prepare notes and understand concepts to the core. More you read and understand much better will be the points you recollect in exams and this will help in presentation of answers. It is important for students of final exams that they attend seminars, conferences etc conducted by the institutes and also get updated with latest amendments taking place in taxation, company, audits etc by referring to various professional magazines.
4. Scanners,RTPs etc to be used as references – Always use scanners, RTPs etc. as last minute references and not as main part of your study. Preparation based only on scanners and RTPs will not help you in understanding the concepts and also there is a meek chance of questions getting repeated.
5. Practice lot of writing - Most of the students with whom I interact bring out the common problem is that they know the answer but they cannot express the thoughts. This problem is because you do not practice writing skills. Most of the exams can’t frame proper sentences, write proper spelling etc. This is something which has resulted because of poor writing skills. You know the answer but, lack in expressing your thoughts. There is a thin gap which exists between your brain and you physical movement of finger due to which you forget. This is one of the biggest drop back in exams which has resulted in failures. Practice lot of writing daily, this will help a lot during exams.
6. Theory answers restrict to points – When ever there is a theory paper which you are answering, make sure you stick on to the quality of the answers restricting your answers to bullet point. In case of law papers, it is important that you support your answers with relevant case laws, sections, notification etc. When ever a question asks to bring out the differences, make sure you highlight the points on which there is difference (parameters) and then explain the reasons for differences. Again to remind, it is quality of answers which is more important in professional exams rather than quantity.
7. Good presentation skills - Always remember that what ever you have studied will be evaluated in 3 hours of exams and it is important that you make use of the time in more effective and efficient manner. You need to see that what ever you write should not only convince you but also should convince the examiner who will value your paper. Presentation skills is most important in exams and see to it that you always –
a. Write neat and tidily.
b. Always start up new answers in fresh page.
c. Serially number the answers according to question numbers.
d. Workings forming part of solutions should always be at the end and main answer should be first.
e. Use pencil and scale to draw lines.
f. Clearly specify the headings for transactions for eg. Balance sheet of XYZ Company as at 31st March 2010.
g. Highlight the assumptions and notes if any.
8. Spend time on understanding question and revising the answers – Usually questions will be set for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Spend first 15 minutes on reading and understanding the questions and last 15 minutes for revising. It is only through effective time management which comes by practice you can solve the paper on time. So, practice writing skills first and then fix timer to solve previous year question paper and this will help you out in planning your time effectively in exams. It is only those students who have not followed disciplinary approach fail to complete the paper and they spend almost 45 minutes to solve one problem and will not be left with time to complete the entire question paper.
II. Upgrade your Presentation Skills
1. Read and Understand the questions properly.
2. Main question numbers and sub question numbers should be neatly written.
3. Each answer should start from fresh page.
4. Use quality pen, pencils, eraser and ruler.
5. First start answering those questions which you are confident and with which you are comfortable with.
6. Always remember in problem based questions it is always good to present the main answer first (i.e what is asked in the question) and then show the workings at last.
7. Assumptions if any made should be given at the end by underlining the text.
8. For theory based answers restrict the answers to bullet points. Avoid writing answers in lengthy paragraphs (Remember always it is quality which matters and not quantity).
9. Papers which needs quoting of rules, sections, cases etc., give references only if you are 100% confident and don’t ever quote wrong sections, cases, rules etc.
10. Follow the accepted principles, rules, standard guidelines etc while presenting the answers. For eg. if you are asked to prepare company balance sheet then, you need to present it according to Schedule VI of Company Act, similarly Cost Sheet need to be presented according to the format.
11. In answering problem based question, clearly mention the headings for eg.in case of preparing accounts or passing journal entries specify clearly in whose book, account type, period, Debit, Credit, amount in lakhs etc etc.
12. Don’t ever manipulate or forcefully match up the figures. If the balance arrived at is not matching, then don’t ever adjust by violating the principles or rules.
13. Marks will be awarded on step wise, so present your answers in stepwise according to marks. Avoid giving irrelevant information or too much information.
14. Keep an eye on the time after answering each and every question.
15. Request for additional sheets only when you feel it is required (In my view all the papers of professional exams can be answered with in max 26 pages, no need for additional sheets).
16. In case of answering objective questions (true or false, multiple choice or match the following etc) in case of CWA/CS exams, try to give only answers and avoid writing questions. For true or false, your justification should be in max 2 sentences.
17. Avoid markers, sketch pens, crayons, colour pencils etc in exams.
18. Revise the answers at the end and check whether you have written your register number on main sheet and additional sheet and properly tagged the additional sheet.
III. Don’ts in Professional Exams
1. Always don’t underestimate yourself – What ever your preparation may be don’t underestimate yourself. Be always confident and don’t go with what has happened in the past.
2. Don’t strain yourself physically and mentally – Presence of mind and physical fitness is very important as you need to be very much attentive and confident for 3 hours. So, don’t strain yourself too much both physically and mentally before and during the examination time.
3. Don’t discuss your performance with your friends – Every day after writing exams, access yourself and don’t discuss your performance with any of your friends.
4. Don’t compromise on sleep and practice balanced diet - Always remember before and during the exams have good sleep at least for 5 hours daily and have a good timely meal and a balanced diet.
5. Don’t yield your ears to rumors - Many of the students have shared with me different sort of rumors like change in question paper pattern, important questions etc. before the exams but, my advice is that don’t yield your ears to such rumors. Professional exams are conducted by institute with high professional standard and if any changes are there then please refer the official website of the institutes for the information.
6. Don’t ever be late to the examination hall – Always be 15 minutes before schedule time in examination hall. You get sufficient time in searching for your registration number, hearing to the important instructions, making yourself comfortable and removing stress to some extent before the exams.
7. Don’t carry pens, pencils and calculators with out being checked earlier - Always carries spare pens, pencil and good quality calculators to the examination. Check it before you leave for exams.
8. Don’t start writing immediately on the answer book – After you get the answer books please check whether the papers in the answer books are neat, stapled, ruled lines are drawn properly, number of pages etc. See, whether on the front sheet all fields for which you need to give information is provided or not.
9. Don’t change your handwriting and pens every now and then – Many students quite often change their colour of ink while writing answers, this is not advisable unless if it is for the reason that you need to change the pen. Please get the signature of invigilator for any change in colour of ink. Also, make sure that your handwriting is uniform all over the answer book.
10. Don’t start the answers immediately after getting the question paper - Spend some time in looking at the questions and understanding the questions, make proper choose of questions which you are familiar and confident to answer and read all the instructions given on the question paper. Question paper is usually set for 2 hours 35 minutes and you need to spend at least 15 minutes to read and understand the question and 10 minutes to finally revise your answers at the end.
11. Don’t ever leave the compulsory question unanswered – If the question paper says that one of the questions is compulsory, make sure that you don’t leave that particular question unanswered at any cost.
12. Don’t waste too much of time in remembering the answers – If you are struck with any particular question or adjustments or case laws then don’t waste time in remembering it, leave some space and start answering the other questions and when ever you remember, you can still come back and complete it .
13. Don’t ever continue answers for new questions in the same page – When you have answered a question and if there is some 3/4th page still left, then don’t continue your next question answer there itself. Always start your answers for next questions in new page.
14. Don’t ignore the instructions stated in the question paper – If the question states clearly – workings form part of answers, make necessary assumptions where ever required, don’t do unwanted discussion etc then, please read the instructions and act accordingly.
15. Don’t ever start your answers with working – In case of problem related questions, always remember that while starting the answer don’t start with workings. What it is asked for in the question should come first and working should be part of answer. For eg. If in accounts the question asks to prepare a balance sheet. the you need to show the balance sheet first and then under working notes mention the various working which you did for getting balance sheet figures.
16. Don’t violate rules and principles set by profession – Since, you are writing professional exams always remember you should not violate any rules, principles, guidelines put forth by the institute or accounting profession. Your answers should not violate the basic rules and principles put forth by the profession and institute. For eg. Presentation of Balance sheet, one should follow the principles as to how assets are listed (priority wise).
17. Don’t ever do incomplete presentation - For example if the question asks to pass journal entries or prepare a process accounts, then clearly mention in whose books accounts are prepared, company name, date, debit, credit, amount etc clearly. In case of journal entry don’t forget to give narrations at end of each entry.
18. Don’t forget to mark your answers with relevant question number – Most of the students does this mistake, they don’t write clearly and legibly the question numbers and subparts of question number for which the answers pertain to. Remember one thing, you are writing answers for examiners to understand and take little extra care to win the examiner to your side with good and neat presentation.
19. Don’t use too much marker and highlighter to mark your answers in your answer books – It is good to use highlighter wherever it is important. Too much use of the highlighter and markers may not be liked by the examiner and so avoid using too much of it. Also, use only light and pleasant colours while highlighting.
20. Don’t compromise on quality of answers - It is always quality of answers which is more important in professional exams. So restrict your answers to simple points and try to justify your answers with good quality rather then quantity. Quote case laws, section, rules, standards etc where ever it is necessary.
21. Don’t write answers for your purpose of understanding – Always keep in mind that you are writing answers to convince the examiner and not for yourself. So, keeping examiner in mind, try to answer questions with good presentation, relevant and clear information and with good quality.
22. Don’t ever leave the front page of the answer book without filling the question numbers which you have answered – Especially in case of CA students, make sure that you fill the relevant question numbers which you have answered on the front page of answer books. Make sure you enter correctly your role numbers – in words and figures where ever necessary and subject code properly on the first page.
23. Don’t be careless while tying tag to the additional sheet - In case you borrow additional sheet don’t forget to tie the tag properly and cross check the same at the time of revising your answers at the end.
24. Don’t worry about the exams after you come out of the examination hall – After coming out of exam don’t start self assessment and get in to discussion with your friends on the answers to each and every question. Even at home don’t refer notes or solutions for the questions to which you have already answered. Start fresh and concentrate only on next exams and prepare for it.
25. Don’t be pessimists be optimist and see good side of life when there are failures - Exams are process of evaluation of what you know and what you don’t know. It is not last in life and if I fail that doesn’t mean that I don’t know anything and I am unfit to do any work. I can still come up by improving the grey areas. Always be optimist and put the efforts and finally can reap the benefit of success. So, don’t loose hopes in case if you couldn’t fair well in one paper. There are still hopes to get exemption in rest of the paper and can carry forward for next year.
So my dear Professional students prepare with passion and in order to achieve something in life. If no successes here, then don’t worry there are other doors which are open where we get warm welcome. Put sincere and hard efforts and success will follow.
So, commitment should come from your end and I wish to see that there will be drastic and enormous change in the Professional Exams results history this time in May and June 2012. ALL THE BEST.
CMA Raveendranath Kaushik