As well as running the IIA’s exam success workshop, John Chesshire CFIIA is a tutor on the institute’s diploma and advanced diploma programmes and has experience as an examiner and moderator. Time and again he sees candidates missing out on valuable marks, not because of a lack of understanding or knowledge but simply because of poor exam technique.
“Candidates often fail to manage their time appropriately, answering some questions too succinctly and overshooting on others,” he says. “It’s important to note the number of marks available for each question and allocate your time accordingly. Similarly, providing a focused introduction and a professional conclusion can be positive thing if it adds value to your answer, but it shouldn’t make up the bulk of the response or simply repeat what’s said in the question.”
Another common mistake is a failure to answer the question properly. “Some candidates interpret the question as they would like it to read or as they have prepared for, rather than answering what has actually been set,” Chesshire says.
Not reading the question carefully enough can also result in missed marks. “It’s common for a single question to have more than one dimension,” he points out. “For example, a question might ask you to list four risks and then to describe the appropriate mitigation of those risks. Often candidates will answer the first aspect but forget to address the second.”
The workshop is designed to give candidates confidence that they have all the skills they need to do their knowledge justice. As well as highlighting the common pitfalls, it provides some useful tips on preparing for and taking exams. “There are various things that candidates can do to boost their chances of success,” Chesshire explains. “For example, before even turning over the paper it’s a good idea to write down all of the things you have been desperately trying to remember. That information is then down on the paper should you need it, so that you can focus on the job in hand.”
He also advises candidates to consider the order in which they attempt the questions, because simply working through the paper in sequence may not always be the best approach. “Almost all papers have a compulsory first section, based on a scenario, followed by a section where you typically have a choice of three questions out of four. I’d advise going to the second section first and tackling the two questions you feel most confident about,” he says. “That gets you into the exam frame of mind and boosts your confidence before you tackle the more challenging elements.”
Effective preparation is, of course, crucial. This should include ensuring that you know what’s on the syllabus as well as gaining an understanding of what the examiner is looking for. Past papers can prove useful here, according to Chesshire.
“While each paper is slightly different and has its own character, they can help you to get an idea of the style of approach of the examiner,” he says. “Knowing what to expect can build confidence and you can also practice the papers against the clock.” But he cautions that answers provided in past papers should be seen only as a guide: “If your answers are different, they aren’t necessarily wrong.”
Candidates can learn a great deal from colleagues who have taken the exams, as well as from their tutors. “Many students are not demanding customers, so they fail to make the most out of this resource or the more local assistance that’s available to them,” Chesshire says.
For many IIA members, simply coping with the volume and pressures of study alongside their professional duties will be the biggest challenge. “Be as disciplined as possible, setting aside some time specifically for your studies, and make sure that you also take some days off,” Chesshire advises. “Approaching your exams in a methodical way, little by little, can greatly improve your chances of success.”
For more information about the workshop or to book your place, email firstname.lastname@example.org