Why Practice Really Does Make Perfect!
Practice is an essential ingredient in the recipe for achieving excellence. From the widely discussed 10,000-hour rule to the importance of purposeful and sustained practice, mastering any skill requires dedication, focus, and a commitment to continuous improvement. In this article, we delve into the significance of practice, debunking myths, exploring different perspectives, and highlighting the key elements that make practice effective and valuable in various domains, including the realm of financial services exams.
This article is correct as at 11 July 2023.
The old joke still always bears repeating. Question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer: “Practice!” And the exhortation to practise (or, more specifically, to complete practice papers in preparation for forthcoming exams) is one that is oft heard from the lips of highly experienced lecturers and tutors the length and breadth of the country.
The Importance of Practice for Excellence
There’s even a widely discussed theory that to truly excel at something, you need to do at least 10,000 hours of it. Expressed differently, that amounts to nearly sixty solid weeks or well over a year, with no time to eat, sleep or anything else.
The concept became popular following American author Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, which quoted research saying that the best violinists at one conservatoire were those who had completed thousands more hours of solitary practice than their contemporaries.
However, interestingly, that study’s author, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, claimed that Gladwell had not reported the research findings accurately; he insisted there was nothing particularly relevant about 10,000 hours of practice per se. It was merely a ‘nice round number,’ he argued, pointing out that around 50% of the top violinists had not, in fact, accumulated that many hours of practice.
Quality of Practice Matters
Equally, Ericsson stressed, Gladwell’s book did not draw any distinction between purposeful effort and any kind of activity which could technically be described as ‘practice.’ So a key argument put forward by Ericsson was that it is the kind of practice you do that matters more than simply the number of hours you put in.
For example, it’s not meaningful practice simply to repeat a task until it becomes automatic. It’s about ‘purposeful practice’ – an expression that sports psychologists have now widely adopted. This means being willing to leave your comfort zone and remaining constantly aware of (and understanding) what you are doing, plus being willing to self-criticise after you conclude your practice session. The ability to stay focused for extended periods, however difficult or tedious that may seem at times, is also important.
Sustained Practice and Skill Retention
Practising any activity also needs to be done in a sustained fashion. After all, practice may make perfect, but you will only remain perfect briefly if you stop. It’s important to review regularly what you’ve learned and to use your newly acquired skills, i.e. put them into, well, practice.
You need practice beyond the point of mastery if you are to acquire skills and knowledge and become an expert. After all, this isn’t just about acquiring facts but about being a skilled problem solver, effective communicator and creative thinker.
None of this makes innate talent or an environment that allows you to flourish meaningless, of course. Practice is necessary to excel, but it may not be enough on its own to guarantee success.
One of Ericsson’s key arguments is that the only real ‘gift’ that most of us have is a brain which can adapt and rewire itself via training.
Defining Effective Practice
If you’re wondering exactly what merits the designation ‘practice’, bear in mind that it must be done with the goal of improving and not:
- For your own pleasure.
- As a performance to please others.
- As work in return for financial compensation.
Also, to be useful, practice requires feedback about whether (or not) any progress is being made.
Essentially, effective practice should incorporate the core skills and knowledge you’ll use repeatedly when carrying out your desired activity successfully, in addition to the type of knowledge you’ll need to retain in the short term to allow for the long-term retention of key concepts.
Applying Practice to Financial Services Exams
One of the best ways of preparing for financial services exams is by completing and marking past – or ‘practice’ – papers, as this process will provide you with a deeper understanding of the types of questions you may encounter in the real exam as well as providing feedback on your progress and meeting the other criteria discussed above.
Working through mock exam papers is thus a purposeful way of practising, ensuring that you’re not just sitting at the keyboard/staring at the screen for however many hours and simply kidding yourself that you are revising. Ensure that your revision time counts by practising the skills you require for your upcoming exams in an efficient and effective way.