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Top tips for distance learning success from a CIMA prizewinner

Steven Scullion

CIMA prizewinner, Steven Scullion achieved 8th place in the world for the Strategic Case Study in the November 2015 exams. Here he shares his top tips for succeeding when studying via Distance Learning.

What was it about Distance Learning that suited you?

The main thing was the flexibility. I work full time in an environment where peaks and troughs in workload are common, thus the flexibility to fit study in around my work and personal life was ideal. Additionally the instant access to ALL materials at the touch of a button was desirable and much more environmentally friendly than printed text. Finally the guaranteed 48 hour response SLA of tutors was a big swaying factor, as one of the things I would have been concerned about with distance learning at the outset would have been the level of tutor support.

How did you structure your studies to make sure you were confident for your exam?  

My key goal for the Strategic Case Study Exam was to ensure I split my time between the key elements needed to pass the exam, i.e. technical knowledge, knowing the case study and exam practise. With this in mind I drafted a study timetable immediately after booking onto the Kaplan Distance Learning Course, ensuring that I set aside adequate time in each of these areas. Whilst I often had to take a flexible approach in implementing the study plan, due to work and personal commitments, I always kept track of the hours I had completed to ensure that I was getting enough exposure across all areas. I also cannot emphasise enough the importance of practise exams. Kaplan provide 2 practise exams as part of the course, however I would strongly recommend getting additional practise exams from wherever you can, as the practise exams will get you comfortable with the process and format of the exam and will also increase your exposure to different scenarios which may come up in your actual exam.

Were there any particular challenges you faced with Distance Learning? How did you overcome them?

At Operational and Management level I had attended classroom based learning and therefore the biggest challenge I faced with distance learning was the lack of disciplined lectures, homework assignments, practise exams, etc. Kaplan assist with this to some extent by setting deadlines for each of the mock exams to be submitted for marking/feedback, which certainly focuses the mind (particularly if you fail the first mock exam like I did). However I would reiterate the importance of a timetabled and planned approach to studying, which provides you with that level of discipline that I think is required in order to be successful.

Do you have any top tips to give to people who are thinking of studying on their own / via Distance Learning?

Unlike classroom-based learning, you will have to develop your own notes using the study text provided, therefore I would recommend starting to get your notes together as early as possible. Don’t leave this to the last minute as you will be wasting valuable study time taking notes, at a time when you should be focusing on repetitive learning and exam practise. Also people should not be afraid to use the tutors for advice, no matter how immaterial your question may seem. I was maybe guilty of not asking enough questions when I was unsure of something and wasting time looking things up.

Do you have any top tips on how to become a prizewinner?

I know that I am not the most naturally intelligent person, but what I lacked in natural intelligence I made up for in effort. To be a prizewinner you either need to be extremely naturally gifted (a very small % of the population), or like the rest of us you need to have a strong competitive instinct and apply this to studying. For me personally it was an goal to be a prizewinner and I think it is important to have that mentality in order to be successful. When others have had enough for the night, a potential prizewinner will do an extra question or two from a past paper, or read a relevant article even when they feel they have had enough. So my main tip would be to believe that you can be a prizewinner and use this belief as motive to put extra hours in when studying. You will also need an understanding partner, friends and family, who may not see you for a month or two!

Do you have any advice to prospective students who may be considering studying CIMA?

Before starting any studies, you must consider whether or not the qualification is right for you and your preferred career path. There are a lot of accounting bodies out there, each with their own benefits and weaknesses, and only one of these will help you on your own career path. It’s vitally important that you choose the right qualification that suits your chosen career at the outset;

Be prepared to dedicate a lot of your time to study and to work hard. The new approach by CIMA (Objective Tests and Case Studies) tests your knowledge of the study material in much more detail, your general business awareness and your “report” writing skills, thus a lot of work is involved in order to achieve your qualification.

Find out more about our CIMA Distance Learning courses.