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Study techniques to nail your next professional exam

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In order to progress in our careers, many of us have to take professional exams. Often though, it has been a while since we were last faced with the prospect of study and learning. As a result, we have forgotten the learning techniques that we once used when we were at school or university. Often, we find ourselves sat in front of a book, desperately trying to learn its contents, but failing to make any of it stick.

The good news is that science has been busy on the subject of learning for the last couple of decades. Here are some scientifically backed ways to help you nail your next professional exam.

Study When Sleepy


One of the most surprising findings of the science of learning is that revising something just before you go to sleep can be very effective. According to science, sleep strengthens the neuronal connections that form memories in the brain. This means that there is a good chance that we will remember whatever it was just before we went to bed. It’s probably a good idea not to bring all of your learning materials into the bedroom, but focusing on one particular topic that you are struggling with could be beneficial. Often you will find that when you wake up in the morning you feel a lot more confident about that particular topic than you did when you went to bed.

Make It Into A Story

People love stories. In fact, when people listen to stories they are far more likely to remember the contents than if they simply listen to a list of the facts.

Science has recently found that this can be turned to people’s advantage. People who learn through telling themselves stories rather than by memorising information tend to do better at memory recall than people who do not. One example of this is in the world of mathematics. It’s much easier to remember the order of operation through the acronym BEMDAS – meaning brackets, exponents, multiplication, division, efficient, and subtraction – than it is to remember it without.

Switch It Up

Science is increasingly finding that it is a good idea to approach similar tasks from different angles. The greater the number of ways that we approach a particular problem, the better we become at solving that class of problems.

The best CFA study materials, for instance, will include lots of different ways to approach similar tasks in financial analysis. If you are about to take a professional exam, look for resources which allow you to approach the same problem from radically different angles. This will help make your knowledge more general and flexible, and you’ll be able to see how to deal with new types of problems if they show up in the exam.

Quiz Yourself

When most people revise, they tend to make notes and highlight sentences in text books. But this isn’t actually the most efficient way to learn according to science. Science says that the most effective way to learn is to quiz yourself by asking lots of questions on a particular topic and then searching for the answers. Scientists don’t know exactly why this technique works, but they think it has something to do with the fact that searching for memories and answers helps to solidify understanding.

Have you got any study techniques that work well? If you don’t mind sharing then let us know in the comments


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