A new year always feels like a fresh start. We hit the ground running with numerous plans, many of which include becoming more qualified.
Give it a few weeks, though, and the novelty starts wearing off. Perhaps the thought of sitting more exams to achieve chartered status loses its shine. Or the arrival of a thumping great study text puts you right off getting started. Before you know it, we are halfway through the year and no exams have even been scheduled in. Sound familiar?
I dislike New Year resolutions. Rarely is one really fully achieved. But pinpointing goals and breaking them down into manageable steps can get you to where you want to be.
Say, for example, your goal is to reach chartered status. How do you achieve that? What exams need to be taken? How long will it take?
Nailing down the exact exams that need to be sat should be the first step. This will also give you an idea of how long it will take. Chances are it will take longer than a year. For some, pinpointing the exams needed is straightforward; for others, it is a case of reviewing those already gained, finding out what exemptions may apply and what exams are still required.
Let’s assume you need to sit CII AF1, AF2, AF3, AF4 and AF5. The next step is to decide in what order. To keep you motivated and moving forward, we always recommend you sit the exam most closely matched to your day-to-day job and which you find the most interesting first. Those with a particular interest in taxation would do well to start with AF1 Personal Tax and Trust Planning, for example. Take some time to review the brochures and information available.
Plan the order in which you are going to sit the exams you need and then commit yourself to when. AF exam sittings are in April and October each year, so if you knuckle down promptly you could be sitting AF1 in April and another in October.
Now you need to think about the study texts. Some exams (such as the CII’s R0 and J exams) come with these, while others (such as the CII’s AF exams) do not. Pinpoint what you need and get them ordered.
That said, the study alone is usually not enough, especially where advanced exams are concerned. Research this and make yourself aware of other available resources. Ask colleagues what they used during their studies, and search forums and online groups.
Next, review the study text and pinpoint the topics you feel confident with and those you do not. Sitting a mock paper can help work out your stronger and weaker areas of knowledge. Then plan your studies. Put together a study timetable. How much time each week do you have available? What topics are you going to study? How much time do you need to allocate to each? Remember that this timetable can, of course, be fluid.
You will find some topics will be harder than others and you may need more help. Sometimes a simple Google search can throw up some useful information that makes everything click. Perhaps you are struggling with certain calculations, in which case you can find certain study aids to specifically help with those.
Finally, keep testing your knowledge with mock papers. You should see an improvement from the first one you sat. Where are your gaps in knowledge now? Where do you need to focus? You are far more likely to reach your goal with a specific plan. Break it down into bite-sized chunks and work steadily towards it.
Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training