Rebecca Wright ACA ACCA, ICAEW Course Leader and Lecturer in Professional Accountancy at the University of South Wales, provides her tips on successfully studying online during the pandemic.
I studied my ACCA and ACA Professional Accounting qualifications at the University of South Wales a decade ago. Now I stand on the other side of the desk as ICAEW Course Leader and Lecturer in Professional Accountancy at the University.
Some of my students have adapted quickly to the lockdown, but others find online learning daunting and have understandably struggled to stay motivated and maintain focus. Many of my students need to spend the summer preparing for deferred exams in the late Summer or early Autumn.
Here are my top tips for staying on track and making the most of your learning experience.
Create your own study timetable
When completing studies through a combination of pre-recorded sessions and virtual live classrooms with an ICAEW Partner in Learning, it can be hard to get into a regular study pattern.
Schedule a suitable time to watch your pre-recorded sessions, allowing enough time to digest and understand their content before the live tutor sessions. Ensure your study time is focused and uninterrupted so that you can give it your full attention.
It can be really challenging to balance family and social life with studying. My twins were two years old when I began to study, and 4am was the only time I could find for my uninterrupted learning – although I’m certainly not recommending this for everybody!
Even so, make sure your study and revision timetable is realistic. If it’s not, you won’t achieve it, which will make you feel like you have failed before you have started.
Keep in touch with your tutor
Stay in regular contact with your tutor from the start. Introduce yourself and understand what is expected from you on the course and the learning timetable. If there’s an opportunity to book a one-to-one meeting or session, make sure that you take it.
Take one chapter at a time
Completing the ACA takes a long time, and at times can feel completely overwhelming.
Focus on the module you are studying, rather than overall completion. And even break the module down into bite-sized chunks, focusing on one chapter of that module. No one eats a three-course meal in one bite.
What kind of learner are you?
It took me a long time to understand myself as a learner. When I was studying, I often revised through association. For example, when completing my Law module, I would remember case law by thinking of things I could associate with the specific cases to remember them.
Try different revision techniques to understand which revision is the best for you. Without a doubt the best revision is question practice, but we need to be creative with our revision, so it doesn’t become too repetitive.
Another revision technique is repetition. I would create flash cards of Accounting Standards and stick them inside my kitchen cupboards (I always advise my students to stick them where they will look the most!). When you see them, cover them up and test yourself, have you recalled all the information?
When you question practice, sometimes attempting another full question in that session might seem too much of a challenge, so try answering the question through a mind map or answer plan instead – that is still more beneficial than not attempting the question at all.
And planning is vital per se. When you get to your final Advanced Level Case Study exam half of the four-hour exam is spent planning, so starting to develop this essential technique of planning at lower levels can be really beneficial.
Ask for feedback
When studying with an ICAEW Partner in Learning, you may have the opportunity to have your work marked and obtain feedback.
Take advantage of these occasions to understand if you’re on track. Feedback on your technical approach and layout will help you maximise your marks.
It can be easy to avoid completing mock exams and progress tests for fear of not doing well, but these are vital learning opportunities to help you and your tutor gauge your understanding and progress.
You can also access your marks feedback from ICAEW for any failed exams via your online training file.
On the ‘Examinations’ tab you will see your examination history listed and beside any failed exam attempt there will be a link you can click to view your feedback.
To fully utilise the marks feedback available to you at Professional and Advanced Level, visit the Exam Resources hub for a copy of the exam and Marks Plan. You can use these to cross reference and discover where you could have obtained further marks in your exam.
Feedback is important both ways too. As a tutor I welcome ideas and constructive feedback from my students. Some of my best teaching has come from ideas from students who have been clear on what they need help with.
Be bold and if there is something you would like to be covered, let your tutor know.
Make sure you’ve got the right tech
Our online tuition includes live virtual classrooms with breakout rooms and interactive class activity, and most online providers will have such a live element.
To make the most of online learning, you need to have the right technical set-up. Ask about any technical apps/software you will require to access resources. Make sure you have a working webcam and microphone as interaction with your tutor and peers is crucial.
Whilst you might feel uncomfortable initially using the webcam, you wouldn’t attend a classroom and sit under the desk, so dial in, turn your microphone and camera on and say “hi” at the start of the class. It’ll help you feel more present in the online class.
Build your own support structure
The ACA qualification is challenging and demanding. So surround yourself with people who can support you on your journey.
As a Course Leader, I always advise my students to swap phone numbers and set up WhatsApp groups. The people in the room are the only people who truly understand how hard the course is and how challenging the learning materials are.
Don’t be shy about using the WhatsApp group to discuss homework and class suggestions – it will encourage others to use it.
I met one of my best friends studying my professional qualifications, and her support throughout my studies was essential - we laughed, cried, qualified and graduated together (we were lucky at USW to be allowed to be part of graduation as professional accountancy students).
It is possible that during your studies you might lose focus, confidence or direction. As an ICAEW student you have access to Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (CABA) support.
CABA offers a wide range of support and advice, and if at any point you feel that you don’t have support, it can offer lots of help and advice.
Take time out
We all need time out, but everyone’s time out is different. What’s important is that you find the right balance.
Obtaining my professional accountancy qualifications was one of my most challenging yet rewarding achievements, but it wasn’t without struggle.
But nothing beats the feeling of viewing your final results letter or email, or holding your mortar board hat in your hand at professional graduation.
And it opens so many possibilities for your future career. I’d have never imagined being a lecturer ten years ago but it’s one of the best jobs I could have.
I love seeing how students progress and overcome challenges to get their qualification.