Cram and exam, or real CPD?

  • Author : Val Cox
  • Date : August/September
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Val Cox is Student and Technical Support Manager, STEP Worldwide

The approach you take to your studies can make the difference between passively taking in and regurgitating facts, and doing high-quality professional development that will take you to a new level of understanding in your chosen field and pay dividends for many years to come. For those who are taking your first STEP qualification, I should let you know that regurgitating facts isn’t enough to pass!

Getting started

Good continuing professional development involves individuals actively engaging with new information, whether it comes to them via a training course, textbook, website or conversation with a colleague, and putting serious thought into planning and application. In an increasingly competitive job market, where training opportunities are being scaled back, none of us can afford to do anything less than squeeze as much as we can from every learning opportunity we find.

So, you’ve chosen the subject that you’d like to learn about and a course to suit, with either an exam or an essay at the end, and you’ve committed to an assessment date. What’s next?

Make a plan

Those of you who have enrolled on a pure distance-learning course, such as the STEP Advanced Certificate in International Succession and Probate, will need to think carefully about how you will build and maintain momentum for the four months of the course. Students whose courses involve workshops have no choice but to prepare for a set date, but you will have to set your own deadlines for targets you have set for yourself. Some of you may find it easier to motivate yourself by treating it like a business or project plan, while others may prefer automatic reminders in your diary, or a calendar on the fridge.

Whichever method you choose, remember that plans are only plans – don’t be discouraged by setbacks or waste time and energy criticising yourself for allowing a minor deadline to go by. Those of you whose course includes a workshop should also have a look at how you can divide your textbook between enrolment and exam/assignment and set yourselves some informal deadlines. The better prepared you can be, the more you, your lecturer and your fellow students will be able to extract from each workshop.

Get creative

On all of the STEP programmes, you might want to try several different ways of reviewing the content of your textbooks or the research that you’ve undertaken. Repetition is useful to get key facts to stick in your memory, but to do well in exams or in writing assignments you need to apply some creative thinking.

Creative thinking can be as simple as setting aside 15 minutes to read a chapter on a new concept or describing a court case, making some bullet points to summarise it and then imagining explaining what you just read to a colleague or a client.

You could also apply ‘what if?’ What if this situation arose in your office? What if a client told you they wanted this new product? What do you think a rival company would do in response to this set of facts? Or a senior colleague? What would be the impact on you, your client or your company if the legislation in X jurisdiction was adopted by Y jurisdiction?

Keep it fresh

Carrying a notebook that is specifically for jotting down thoughts about your course, colourful sticky notes around your home or office, a voice recorder and discussing points with your colleagues are all ways to keep the material fresh in your mind and find new ways of looking at it. Anything that keeps the information or techniques that you’re trying to learn at the front of your mind will help you to memorise it and, more importantly, help you to assimilate it into your working practices.

The above reflective techniques are useful for any course of study, whether you are preparing for an exam, which often includes short essay-style questions, or writing an assignment.


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