Guide on Study and Exam Techniques

This section of our website is designed to help learners, and particularly adult learners

While many of our students are continuing on their education in accounting without a break, a reasonable percentage are returning to education with a significant gap between deciding to study to become an Incorporated Public Accountant and their previous engagement in any type of formal education. This can be a daunting prospect, however every year there are individuals who commenced studying with the IIPA in just that position who receive their Membership certificate. Each of these people prove that it can be done.

This section of our website is designed to help learners, and particularly adult learners, gain the skills that will help them to successfully learn the materials in our course, and ultimately pass the Professional Exams of the Institute of Incorporated Public Accountants.

IMPORTANT – People prefer to learn in different ways. This does not mean that you cannot learn in multiple ways, nor does it mean that you cannot learn something if it is not taught in exactly the way that you learn, all it means is that you learn better in a particular way. If you know what your preferred learning style is, you can use learning techniques that better aid you to achieve your learning goals. The main learning styles are:

  • Visual (spatial) – People who are “visual” learners like to use pictures, images and  maps. They like network diagrams, mind maps and illustrations;
  • Aural (sound based) – People who are “aural” learners prefer sound and music – they like to use rhythm and melody. They like to read out loud and are good at explaining;
  • Verbal (linguistic) – People who are “verbal” learners like the written and spoken word. They like debate, writing and discussing;
  • Physical (kinesthetic) – People who are “physical” like to learn by doing. They like to touch, feel and learn through physical engagement;
  • Logical (mathematical) – People who are “logical” like to learn by reasoning out answers. They like mathematical reasoning, patterns and seeing connections between things;
  • Social (interpersonal) – People who are “social” like to learn in conjunction with others. They like working in groups, comparing ideas and considering the responses of others; and
  • Solitary (intrapersonal) – People who are “solitary” like to work alone. They like self-directed study, focusing on their own thoughts and feelings about a topic, and reflecting on learning.

Bear in mind that it is very unlikely that you are a learner who can only learn in one way, what you have is a preference or a bias towards one area but this does not mean that you cannot learn, and indeed learn well, in another style.

Find your learning style(s) – You can take a “learning styles” quiz which will show you the styles of learning that are most likely to help you to learn. There is a shorter version of a learning styles test here. Once you know your preferred style (or styles) you can use this as a basis for undertaking your studies. The best thing would be just to Google “tools for _____ learning” (your preferred style(s) in the blank section).

Study Skills

There are a number of skills that can help you greatly no matter what type of learner you are.

Mind MappingMind-mapping is a noting and learning technique that uses a web-like diagram to capture information around a single thought or idea. It is considered to help leaning and understanding because it uses multiple leaning “presentation” forms of the learning including words, pictures, colours and spacial awareness. Find out more from the “inventor” of Mind Mapping Dr Tony Buzan. See below for technology that can help in the creation of Mind Maps.

Note-taking – While Mind Mapping is often cited as a method for note-taking, it is not the only one. Another well known method for note taking is the “SQ3R” reading method (Wikipedia Article). The letters in SQ3R stand for the different steps to be taken in the learning process:

Survey – Survey or skim, glance through a chapter in order to identify headings, sub-headings and other outstanding features in the text in order to identify ideas and formulate questions about the content of the chapter.

Question – Formulate questions about the content of the reading. For example, convert headings and sub-headings into questions, and then look for answers in the content of the text.

The “3R” part of “SQ3R” stands for 3 words beginning with “R”.

Read – Use the background work done with “S” and “Q” in order to begin reading actively. This means reading in order to answer the questions raised under “Q”.

Recite – Using key phrases, identify major points and answers to questions from the “Q” step for each section. This may be done either in an oral or written format.

Review – If the student has followed all recommendations, the student should have a study sheet and should test himself or herself by attempting to recall the key phrases. The student should immediately review all sections pertaining to any key words forgotten.

Speed reading – contrary to popular belief, speed reading is not a magic trick. The simplest forms of speed reading are just a series of methods designed to avoid the bad habits that many people fall into when reading material on a page. It is important to understand that speed reading may not be suitable for all situations.

Practice testing – any form that allows students to test themselves, including using actual or virtual flashcards, doing problems or questions at the end of textbook chapters, or taking practice tests (Wikipedia Article).

Tools that can be used for the above techniques and other useful tools:

With a four-coloured pen and a bit of imagination you can design highly engaging notes

Pen and paper. All of these things can be done with a pen and paper. Just because you can do all of the above using technology, does not mean that you have to. If you prefer your pen and paper then you should use pen and paper. With a four-coloured pen and a bit of imagination you can design highly engaging notes.

Mind Mapping

  • X-Mind – X-Mind is a free (with paid upgrades) tool that can be used to create Mind Maps.
  • Freemind – Freemind is also free, while not as sophisticated as X-Mind, it is still an excellent Mind Mapping application.
  • MindManager – MindManager is a commercial mind mapping application. It is generally the best known commercial programme available.


There are also lots of speed reading applications available for mobile and the advantage of these is that they can be used on the go. Examples include:



Windows Phone

A note on free apps – Free apps are usually supported by some form of advertising within the app. The producers of this form of app usually offers a paid verson of the same app which does not have adverts.

Exam Technique

  1. Write down the time you must move onto the next question so that you have time to answer the right number. It is easier to pass if you answer the right number of questions rather than to write a few good answers. Leave about five minutes each to check through essay answers at the end.
  2. Number each question. Leave space between each answer so that you can add in points later if necessary.
  3. Read the questions slowly. Highlight key points. Ensure you have really taken in what each question says as it is easy to misread questions or miss parts of questions when you are in an exam.Check the back of the paper to see if there are further questions – many people forget to do this.
  4. Write answers to the questions you have selected. Avoid regurgitating answers you gave for coursework. You will only get marks for material that answers the question.
  5. Structure your answers just as you would for coursework. Essays should have an clear line of reasoning, a well structured argument, an introduction and a conclusion.
  6. If you go blank, brainstorm words and ideas onto a sheet of rough paper or onto the back page. These will eventually begin to stimulate your ideas. Leave a space and go onto something you can do rather than sitting with the same problem. The information will probably come back to you later – and if it doesn’t, it may not be critical. Find a point of calm. Breathe slowly.
  7. Include references in the text. You do not need to write a list of references or to give the titles of works as your tutors will usually know the works to which you refer.Check through your answers at the end. You will find parts that do not make sense because you have missed out a key word or point. Add these in neatly in the text or at the bottom of the page.

Above from Palgrave Study Skills

Other exam skills guides: