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The Study Strategies That Seemed to Work for Me

The Study Strategies That Seemed to Work for Me

Mark Underdown shares the strategies that he personally used for tackling his exam revision. Not all his techniques are what you might consider ‘recommended’, but you will most likely relate to some of the challenges that he faced, and you might be able to take away a few techniques that work for you.

Written by Mark Underdown

There are many different study techniques and time management strategies you can implement to improve your chances of study success.

Each one of us will have different challenges to overcome, whether that be lack of time, stress, remembering formulae or even maintaining a healthy work/life balance (good luck with that one!).

I thought I would share my experience and the strategies that I’ve used in my studies to give you some ideas. You may find it helpful for how to do things, or perhaps how not to!

The important thing is to understand that we’re all different, so before studying, you should take some time to think about what works for you.

Fitting in Study Time

Fitting in study time around your work, whilst ensuring that your personal life or actual day job doesn’t suffer, is probably the most important thing to master.

There is no getting away from the fact that you simply have to put in the hours.

Those who commute on a train can fit in some much-needed extra study time, and I know of many who use their lunch break for study.

I personally find lunch time study to be a little useless. I sit there staring at a book, not really taking anything in, and then I end up going back to the afternoon of work without properly resting my mind.

We underestimate the power of resting our minds (or at least diverting our mind’s attention to something else).

I know of some who get up early and put in the study hours while they are fresh. I think this is a smart approach as your mind is free from the goings-on of the day.

Personally, I feel that being up at 5 am is something you should only be doing if you are going to the airport or coming home from a night out. I’ve tried these early mornings and I’ve decided that I like doing it about once a month at best.

I am a night-time studier. I tend to have an hour or so break after working and then spend 3-4 hours in study each night (which probably explains why I’m a useless morning person).

You also can’t get away from the need to put in some study hours at the weekend.

You really have to do this. I find it healthy to get out of the house and go and spend a few hours at a coffee shop or a quiet pub. It helps reduce that feeling you have of wasting your best years reading about pensions and tax! 

Rewards and Breaks

I think I’ve mentioned the word healthy a few times already, but I have a study habit that is entirely unhealthy.

I don’t know about you, but studying just makes me want to snack!

I tend to buy a bag of sweets and ‘reward’ myself by raiding my cupboards after each section I complete.

Ironically, whilst I’m increasing my risk of diabetes, I tend to end up having a snack break every 30 minutes, which helps get my head out of the books and takes my eyes away from computer screens.

This habit of mine fits in with the useful study strategy of taking regular breaks. If you do follow the snack approach, may I suggest some grapes rather than Minstrels?

Free Your Brain

Given my comments in the previous section, you won’t be surprised to hear that there is a direct correlation (and possibly a causation) between studying for an exam and my waistline!

I’m not one who finds a gym particularly interesting or enjoyable, and given the excuse of having to study, it allows me to pay for a gym membership I use only twice over a 6-week study period!

Please don’t follow this approach. It’s very important to get the blood flowing, de-stress and forget about study. It also makes the mind sharper.

Thankfully for my heart and my hips, I do still go out for a run once a week. I find this a great way to clear your mind. There’s nothing like some fresh air filling your lungs to get away from a CII study manual.

And before you ask, I don’t listen to those study CDs. The idea of listening to someone drone on about these subjects is the last thing you should be doing when you are going for a run.

Running for me, is my time to simply shut off and rejuvenate –  ready for more rounds of study.

Study Method

My comment about the study CDs raises another important part of the learning process.

We all learn in different ways.

Personally, I love to read and can happily sit there on my own for hours teaching myself subjects, re-reading if I don’t understand, and reading around the material if a certain topic piques my curiosity.

Some people will find listening to presentations and lectures appealing and helpful, and conversely, the idea of reading for hours is their worst nightmare.

Personally, I am entirely incapable of listening to presentations. After 10 minutes, I am either bored because they haven’t got to a point I actually find useful quickly enough, so my mind wanders; or they say something that is interesting and my mind wanders about that interesting comment or idea.

Both of these scenarios ensure that if I’m in one of your presentations, after 10 minutes I will not really be listening!

The great thing about reading for me is that it is at your own personal pace, whether fast or slow, and you can divert your attention for as long as you wish, simply returning to the page when you are ready to do so.

We are all different and it’s important to know what study methods suit you before you go signing up to courses and buying CDss etc.

Otherwise it will just be a waste of your time and money.

Visual Appeal

I’m not really a fan of endless amounts of black and white. Or perhaps it’s the dry nature of the study manuals that make me feel this way. Not exactly page-turners are they?

The official study manuals seem severely lacking in visual appeal.

By visual appeal I mean colours, pictures, charts or diagrams. Anything that highlights important concepts and breaks up the monotony of endless text will help you study. It certainly helps me anyway.

I usually have a few different colour pens and highlighters and try my hardest to make my textbooks and study notes look like an Indian paint festival.

On the subject of highlighters, don’t use too much. I’ve sometimes gone through a page highlighting the text, and I’ve looked back and realised that I’ve highlighted more of the text than I’ve left out. If all of the text is highlighted, it’s not really highlighted at all; you just have a bright yellow page.

If lots of the text needs highlighting, you’re better off making specific study notes on the subject.

Final Little Cheat

Okay, so this isn’t officially a cheat.

It is, however, a great little tip if you are going into an exam with lots of formulae. I put these on study cards, so I can cram right before an exam. As soon as I’m allowed to put pen to paper, before even looking at the questions, I scribble down as many of these formulae as possible. This has helped me more times than I can remember.

Over to You…

I’m not sure if my study strategies or habits will be useful to you, but the important point to understand is that before you go down the path of studying, you need to spend some time thinking about how you are going to study.

It will ensure you use your time effectively and hopefully will mean that your study experience is smooth sailing.

Please share the study tips you find useful, or any habits you form when studying for an exam.



Mark Underdown is The Nomad Paraplanner.  He works remotely and can assist with investment research and financial planning reports. Visit to find out more.