As the countdown continues to my exam date, I feel the preparation has gone well. Having conscientiously waded through the dreaded black Cemap file and attended a Scottish Widows Bank training session, I am now fairly confident. I have addressed the areas I was not 100 per cent sure of, in particular the legal and post-completion aspects, producing some impressive and thorough notes and now feel my knowledge is up to scratch. What I was not so sure about is my exam technique and readiness for the Cemap exam, which has been brought home to me every time I have caught sight of the exam application form loitering on my desk, and was hit by a wave of pre-exam tension.
However, I contacted the Institute of Financial Services to set the date and ended up finding out more about what is in store.
I spoke to Bill Hibberd at the IFS. While not their resident psychologist, he did have some good advice on preparing mentally for the Cemap exam and explained that some candidates experience bouts of apprehension. He put these pre-exam nerves in context of the fight or flight syndrome.
“In caveman days, a threat would often be immediate and life-threatening. A surge of adrenaline would give us the ability to make very quick decisions, enabling us to decide – in an instant – whether to fight or to run. Other chemicals would ensure that whichever we chose, we would be able to do it to great effect. Although, for most people the threats have changed, our responses haven't. The build up of adrenaline sharpens our minds and makes us think far more quickly than is usual, greatly aiding recall and our ability to grasp the meaning of exam questions and answers.
“Unfortunately, exams creep up on us rather than leap out and so do not shock us into action. We know about them for days and the release of chemicals into our systems can start to have uncomfortable consequences. We may find that we wake up ridiculously early in the morning. We may be short tempered and experience a mild panic – but this is all normal,” says Hibberd.
As you might expect, there is a solution to dealing with these reactions, which unsurprisingly is to prepare thoroughly. This is the checklist he gave me.
Do complete all relevant study materials.
Do revise and preferably involve a helper to check knowledge with you.
Make notes where you are unsure and verify knowledge.
Find out where the exam centre is and find out how long it takes to get there.
Plan to be early and know where to park.
Familiarise yourself with what is expected of you at the exam centre.
Place all paperwork and identification ready for departure the day before the exam.
Do go to bed at a sensible time and if you do wake up uncharacteristically early then think of past successes and pleasant experiences that you have enjoyed and visualise yourself leaving the exam centre with your pass certificate in your possession.
To ease my mind about the procedure on the day, I also asked about what happens at the driving test centre as it has been some time since I have been in one.
The format is that on arrival you will be asked to identify yourself and say which exam you are sitting.A terminal is prepared for you and you will be invited to enter. All the centres have lockers for valuables and all the centres have a toilet near the examination room.
You will be handed paper, a writing implement and a calculator for use during the exam and you will be asked to return these at the end.
When you sit down at your terminal you will be given instructions on how it works and when you feel comfortable you will be given a set of activities on the screen that enable you to see how easy it is to make, change or complete a task.
When you have practised enough, you can begin the exam. At all times, you will have indicators on the screen keeping you advised of time and progress through the exam.
When you have completed the exam and touched the part of the screen that confirms that you have finished, you will need to go to the check-in, where you will receive the results of all your hard work.
Irrespective of a pass or fail, you will receive feedback about your performance in various sections of the exam.
A pass will be rewarded with a certificate.
If you do fail, the advice is not to run back in and use the adrenaline build-up to vent your anger at the centre managers but channel it back into revisiting the areas of study highlighted in your feedback. Contact the IFS and arrange a resit within a few weeks.
Now you know how to prepare and what to expect, I hope many of the unpleasant feelings associated with the exam process should subside. Remember that a certain amount of adrenaline on the day will improve your performance in the exam room.
With the eyes of the industry on me, I have more than enough adrenaline coursing round my veins if anyone is short – results in my next, and final, instalment.
Scottish Widows Bank Revision Round-Up
A guide to exam revision
With the December deadline now in sight, normally care-free IFAs and mortgage brokers are taking on certain characteristics usually found in pimply youths about to face their GCSEs, but instead of repetitive mantras about mathematical formulae, mortgage brokers can be heard muttering oaths under their breath.
Where effective revision is concerned, the main thing to be considered is setting realistic and sensible goals and ensuring that you have regular breaks of about 10 minutes every hour rather than immersing yourself in your books for hours at a time.
It is also sensible to study in a place without any distractions, where you are comfortable and there is plenty of light.
Exercise is essential to the revision process as it helps relieve stress and increases oxygen in the blood. The brain uses 40 per cent of every heartbeat of oxygen, so the harder your brain works the more oxygen is used. About 20 minutes of solid exercise, four times a week, should help you to relax and stay in top condition to put in a peak exam performance.
Healthy eating and keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of water is also important. Too much sugar and high-caffeine drinks can have an adverse effect by making you feel tense and drain you of energy.
The night before the exam it is important to relax and take the evening off from studying. The morning of the exam a full English breakfast can be counter-productive by making you sluggish, it is better to eat something light to keep you alert.