“Accounting” – the dread of many a first-year business undergraduate and (unfairly!) derided by most as a dry and humourless subject and profession. We all know the old stereotypes about the diligent bean-counter, toiling away quietly and sternly. The reason many people hold such outdated views is because they think that accounting is a monotonous job.
We know better though, don’t we? The smartest operators know that understanding accounting gives a person a major advantage in the world of business. Warren Buffett has made one of history’s greatest fortunes by understanding the subject deeply. In Buffett’s own view: “Accounting…is the language of business”. Accounting is also one of the most profitable industries in the world.
Nevertheless, the perception of accounting as a slightly dull, taxing (pun-intended) subject, persists. When people start learning the basics of accounting, they usually ask themselves “What the hell is this!?” Your eyeballs start hurting when you see all those numbers and calculations. It’s easy to give in too early. Those who persist to grapple with and understand the subject often find effective study strategies early on that help them enormously.
That’s why we decided to outline 5 of the most effective study tips we know to help you stay motivated on your CIMA journey. If you use these tips they will help to transform the most tedious and difficult parts of the CIMA qualification into an interesting and engaging challenge.
What is CIMA?
If you are a first-time visitor to our website, you may be asking yourself “what is CIMA?”. CIMA is an acronym of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. This professional body is based in the UK and it offers support and training in the accounting industry. CIMA has a long history and has established itself as the leading global voice in management accounting.
5 Study Tips that Will Keep You Motivated
Zig Ziglar said once – “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
Getting and staying motivated for your CIMA studies isn’t a one-time thing; it’s a process. You can’t generate enough motivation today to last you the next 30 days. So, here are 5 tips that you should use again and again to continually generate enough motivation to become (and remain) an effective student.
1. Be an Active Learner
There are basically two different kinds of students:
- Active learners
- Passive learners
Passive learners seek the path of least resistance. It’s tempting to call them “lazy”, but it’s more a case of poor habits built up over time. The fact is that most of us are actually passive learners. Passive learners do not try to engage in any way with the educational material to which they are exposed. When presented with a chapter of a book to study, for example, they choose to re-read the text many times, highlighting key terms, in the mistaken belief that repeated exposure will solidify the main points in their memories. Scientific research shows this method to be ineffective because it leads to the “illusion of mastery”, rather than true understanding.
Another common error passive learners make is to engage frequently in what researchers refer to as massed practice. Cramming for an exam the night before is a good example of this approach to study. However, this sort of study is ineffective because it utterly fails to commit the content to long-term memory. It’s also not at all enjoyable: who likes getting 2 hours of sleep before a big exam - stressful!?
Active learners get far more bang for their buck study-wise. They always try to find a way to really engage with their study material. More precisely, active learners look for ways to create desirable difficulties by engaging in effortful retrieval.
Let’s imagine that an active learner has 4 chapters to read and understand for a particular topic e.g. Budgeting and Budgetary Control. Before she starts reading the chapter, she will try to figure out what exactly she will learn, perhaps generating some initial, speculative thoughts as to what the following chapter will actually be about. In this way, our active learner is priming themselves for an engaged, thoughtful study session. After that, she won’t just go through the chapter and skip to the next one immediately. She will stop at key intervals along the way to try to summarize important points she has read in her own words, without looking at the text. Finally, when she ends the chapter, she will take a short quiz to check if she understood everything. In case she is not satisfied with the results, she will repeat the process once again.
This might seem much harder than just reading the chapter once. However, that’s the point of active learning. It initially requires a lot more effort, but this approach will ultimately save you time as what you do first time round will be committed to memory much more effectively than if you had passively read and highlighted. As you hold on to what you learn and see better results, you will move more rapidly towards your goal of becoming CIMA-qualified and it will make the entire process more interesting and enjoyable and it will motivate you to continue in the same manner for the remaining subjects.
2. Sharing Knowledge with Others
Many people strive to keep everything they learn for themselves. They are afraid that someone will “steal” their knowledge. This attitude is misguided. Sharing knowledge (i.e. teaching) is a valuable endeavour that brings beneficial motivational side-effects. The Roman philosopher Seneca said: “By teaching, we learn”. Try sharing your knowhow with other students on Facebook groups and study forums. It’ll feel great and highlight any blind spots in your own understanding. You can even try explaining a topic to someone close to you. If you can explain a technical concept in plain language, you really understand it.
There are several different reasons why teaching others is good from a motivational point of view. First of all, you are changing your role. You are no longer a student; you become a teacher, someone with something to give, and giving to others feels great. This is a good way to check whether you really know your stuff or not. If the results are good, it will boost your confidence because you will know that you truly possess knowledge of a certain topic.
Secondly, in doing something of value for your peer-group, you will undoubtedly feel a sense of pride that will motivate you to continue with the hard work.
Teaching is also a characteristic of active learners. It means taking the source material and putting your own stamp on it by explaining it in your own words.
3. Make a “To-Do” List
People frequently complain about not having enough time to do everything they want. We all have 24 hours in a day, yet why does it seem that some people have an almost super-human ability to get things done, while the rest of us seem to be running just to stand still? Effective people know time is the most precious, non-renewable resource of all, so they manage it with the utmost care. Essentially, the most successful people prioritise well. It’s not that they do 1,000 things every day. Instead, they ruthlessly focus on the 2 or 3 crucial things they want to do in that day, and then execute on them.
One great way to prioritise tasks effectively is to use a to-do list. By committing just a few items to your to-do list each day, you are making it crystal-clear to yourself what is most important to you and how you need to spend your time.
Poor time management, on the other hand, always decreases our motivation. Active learners always schedule a little time for themselves and their loved ones. It’s important to reward yourself for a job well done. When you sit to study, it’s important to be fully focused on that alone, but make sure to give yourself breaks, or you will very quickly burn out.
An effective to-do list on a weekend day might see 3 hours allocated in the morning to go through a particular topic. After that, you might to the gym or spend some time with friends. In the evening, you might once again spend a couple of hours studying, energised after your time with friends or your session at the gym. Your brain will thank you for giving it frequent breaks rather than flogging it mercilessly all day long!
How many hours of study does CIMA suggest? People frequently ask how long they need to dedicate to each CIMA subject.
A precise answer to this question doesn’t exist because each learner has different circumstances and abilities and will find certain subjects easier and others harder. However, CIMA does offer some guidance, with the maximum study time per professional level subject ranging somewhere between 134 hours and 150 hours. Spaced over 9-14 weeks, that equates to about 9.6-16.7 hours per week, or 1.4-2.4 hours per day.
E1: 134 hours
P1: 150 hours
F1: 150 hours
E2: 135 hours
P2: 150 hours
F2: 143 hours
E3: 135 hours
P3: 150 hours
F3: 135 hours
4. Removing Distractions
Distractions come in different shapes and sizes. One very common distraction, unfortunately, is the people around us.
Let’s imagine that two of your friends are passive learners. Their habits will sooner or later influence you. Seek out like-minded, active learners and your healthy study habits will reinforce one another (see tip number 5 for more on that).
Another thing you should do is to find a proper place for active learning. This could be a place without a TV, Wi-Fi connection or bed/sofa. Checking your Instagram account every 15 minutes while studying won’t allow you to concentrate on the study material.
Also, don’t be afraid to change up where you study. It’s a common myth that we need the same space to study in. In fact, research shows that varying location quite frequently can be quite powerful. The mind will associate a certain topic often with the place in which it was learned. If you become accustomed to only learning in your kitchen, then everything you learn there will just blend into the oneness of the space. If you take a different location for each chapter in a text, for example, then the mind is being given something quite unique to associate the new chapter with.
5. Find a Teammate
While people around us can be our biggest distraction, they can also act as our biggest support. It all depends on which habits of learning they have. If you can, seek out fellow students that are also active learners, who you can meet up with to brainstorm problems and teach one another. If you can’t meet up, the internet gives you many options. Find a “study buddy” on a Facebook or Whatsapp group and formulate a plan for a particular subject. This is especially important at the beginning of your journey, where you form the habits (good or bad), that will accompany you through the CIMA journey. In this case, the motivation and habits of active learners will reflect on you as well. They will give you the necessary support and motivation when you get stuck.
Remember, two heads are better than one!