Too many CIMA students waste years and years trying to get CIMA-qualified. While taking your time to fully understand and retain everything you learn is certainly a noble goal, many students are just looking for the fastest way to obtain the CGMA/ACMA credentials. With that in mind, this article outlines six strategies to get through the CIMA qualification more quickly. The advice that follows is not necessarily going to ensure you get the highest marks possible, but if speed is what you're after, then it's certainly worth reflecting on these strategies.
This article and associated video represent just a small segment from a much longer video on getting through the CIMA qualification much more quickly. If you want to see the full 70 minute video, along with hundreds of hours of quality CIMA video content, you can purchase a 1-year All Access membership here - https://vivatuition.com/all-access
1. Minimal Use of Textbooks
Inexperienced students lean too heavily on the textbook. If you want to get through the CIMA qualification more quickly, it is better to make minimal use of the text and to emphasise other, less time-consuming study methods instead e.g. watch video lectures, do questions etc. This does not mean you can abandon the textbook entirely; it's certainly necessary to have a text to refer to, but you should just use the text to get the gist of the main ideas in any one chapter before moving right into video lectures where the concepts are explained by an experienced tutor and practicing exam-style questions. So, get the gist of the big ideas by reading over the textbook quickly, and then move on to other study materials, even before you feel you're ready.
2. Emphasise Question Practice
Once you've skimmed the text to get roughly acquainted with the key theories, then it's really all about question practice. Exam-style questions help you to really identify your weaknesses. It's a form of active learning; you've got to think, you've got to come up with the answers and generate the ideas yourself, rather than passively reading over each and every sentence from a dense, dry textbook. Inexperienced students will often spend 80% of their time reading the text, highlighting line after line (which does nothing for retention, by the way!) and then they take up exam-style question practice in the days before the exam. This is back to front. Firstly, you need to bias your time spent studying heavily towards question practice (think 50%+ on questions with the rest dedicated to readings, video lectures, note-taking etc). You also need to ensure you are working question practice into your ongoing study from day one. Question practice is the best way to highlight weaknesses and lack of understanding, so that you know exactly what to go back and read up more on.
3. Be an Active Learner
Being an active learner means not becoming too comfortable, and forcing yourself to retrieve information to test yourself on it. So, regular recall sessions are extremely useful. These recall sessions can take many forms and can be very informal e.g. you finish skimming over a chapter in your textbook to get a rough idea of the main concepts in that chapter, or you finish a video and you just try to recall the main ideas. You can either try this recall exercise by talking to someone about them or you can make some notes yourself as you try to write down as much as you can remember from the chapter you have read. And a very, very effective way of memorising information is to actually teach someone else. So, I would recommend finding CIMA study groups (there are lots of them on Facebook, WhatsApp etc) and try to help your fellow students by teaching them the concepts. It seems at the start like you're sacrificing your time by taking the time to teach, but you're the one who's going to win in the end. If you are the person who's taken the lead there, and you're teaching concepts to fellow students, you're going to really solidify your CIMA knowledge. One of the problems with experts sometimes is that they’ve forgotten what it's like to be a beginner. And a beginner has a way of understanding what other students are going through, and they have a way sometimes of explaining a difficult concept in their own words that maybe an expert doesn't, so it's very, very useful to tap into the knowledge of other students who are struggling to get through the qualification.
4. Vary your Sources
The next point is to actually vary your sources. Don't rely on the text alone, use a mix of things instead. This represents a "blended" approach to learning. So if you're studying via video lectures through a tuition provider, seek supporting videos on YouTube. You might not get all areas of the syllabus covered there, but you're going to find some interesting information, without a doubt. Google is your friend here as well - search out real-life industry examples of theory being utilised at companies in articles. Utilising mock exams is very, very important too. The textbook has its role to play, there is no doubt about that. However, as we mentioned in our first tip, many students over-emphasise use of the text instead of using it as a starting point. Newspapers and magazines like The Financial Times and The Economist are really good to use and expose you to the ideas you have across in concrete, real-world settings. And speaking of the real world, think about your own work experience and try to think of ways you could actually apply the theories that you're coming across in CIMA to your job. VIVA conducted a number of interviews with students in the last year or so, and we always learn something new from each and every student. Each student has a different take on the best approach to learning, but there are lots of things that they have in common and something that came up a couple of times was students were taking CIMA theories and they tried to think how they could apply them to their own jobs. Students said that approach was very, very effective. Theory alone tends to be dry and somewhat divorced from reality, so anything you can do to bring it to life is very worthwhile.
5. Take One Exam at a Time
Now, I didn't actually pay attention to this advice myself because there was one period where I ran two exams at the same time, (E3 and F3), but I would have kept more of my hair if I had studied one subject at a time! So, I would definitely recommend taking one exam at a time because you want to focus intensely on each and every paper. So, if you're giving yourself four weeks or five weeks for a paper, you want to really just give all of your energy to that one paper and not try to kill yourself altogether by doing two at one time.
6. Don't Go it Alone
Our final piece of advice (and obviously you're going to think: "well they would say that because they're a tuition company and want to sell us their courses"), is: “Don't go it alone.” Make things much easier on yourself by leaning on one or numerous tuition providers, there are many options. The fact is that the self-study route is long, it's tough, and it's quite boring, to be quite honest with you. I think we all fool ourselves into thinking we're smarter than we actually are. But when you have an experienced teacher, someone who's been through a qualification and has taught a subject 10/20/50 times, they know the stuff inside out, and they have a way of explaining in 30 minutes what would take you five hours to get through on your own. It's much quicker to take a course, and it's also more fun. It keeps you honest as well and it keeps you on track. It structures your study because typically with a tuition provider, they'll be working through a subject in a systematic way and you have to fall in line with that system. Furthermore, with the case study it’s very important that you get marking done, and you need to get that done by someone who's marked many exams. It's too easy to fool yourself into thinking you're doing things perfectly. Until you get feedback from a tutor who has marked 100+ exam scripts, you really cannot be sure of how good or bad your answers actually are, because there's a specific way to pass case study papers and do well in them. And as we mentioned above, try to teach other students, and learn from other students too, as they're going through the same things.
Studying for a prestigious qualification like CIMA is a tough slog, and it can be quite a lonely endeavour. It's really important to draw on the knowledge of a community, whether they are fellow-students, colleagues who have qualified, or tuition providers. Many students feel isolated and that just makes the whole journey even more difficult. Luckily, there is no need to struggle alone anymore. Even if you're living in a remote area and don't know anyone else who is studying CIMA, you have student groups on Facebook and Whatsapp, you have online tuition providers, some of whom are offering high-quality tuition for a fraction of the price that was charged for equivalent study content just a few years ago. So, this really is a golden age for CIMA students if you adopt the right mindset!