By Travis Lockhart, FP&A
Everyone studies and takes tests differently. For those who don’t regularly take tests, however, the Certified Corporate FP&A Professional examination process might be a new experience; months of studying, followed by an exam to cap it all off can seem very daunting. For those who are looking to update or build a process that fits their learning style, I hope to offer some ideas that might fit your needs.
Perhaps the most important factor is time. If you set aside adequate time every day to study, you should be fine when you sit down to take the test.
I've always been a big fan of studying in smaller intervals over long periods of time. For these tests, I recorded myself as having spent a total of 72 hours over about six months, which amounts to an average of less than 30 minutes per day. It definitely is a significant time commitment, but if you are willing to make this a longer-term commitment, breaking it down this way makes it very manageable. Reading and studying can even become something you can tackle during a lunchbreak at work.
To this point, I made use of the planning workbook provided by AFP (which estimates the time required for various sections of each exam), but also tracked my own time against what I planned to spend. It is a large effort, but it’s certainly manageable—and having a study plan makes it more bearable. My study plan was a simple Excel document where I outlined my goals for time commitment over the course of six months. This was laid out next to my expected completion dates for each of the learning material sections during my reading and learning phase, which was the majority of my dedicated six months.
The six weeks immediately prior to the exam were dedicated to go back over what I had learned and ultimately preparing for the exam. Even though I didn’t truly know how long I might need to study until I grasped the material, this method provided me with a reference point to make sure that I appeared to be on track, and to remind me to take the time on a weekly basis that I thought was needed to be successful.
This next one might seem like a no-brainer, but I would recommend reading diligently through all of the material, and going through all of the provided practice problems and study material. Even if you are very familiar with specific topics, I think it is important to know what AFP’s learning system says and to be familiar with that content (and yes, I am an advocate for purchasing the learning system). I used everything provided by AFP in my studies. For each module, I would begin with the pre-test to understand my knowledge before learning the material, read the self-study chapters, complete the chapter/quick quizzes, and complete any interactive case studies. After all modules were complete, I would move on to the provided flashcards for each module, and then began my studying process, later focusing on the post-tests and practice exams.
Lastly, after I read everything, worked the problems, and ran through the provided study materials, I went back through the books, flashcards, and anything else as needed in order to create my own set of extensive notes—which ultimately served as my main study material. I focused more on areas where I was weak, but I didn’t leave anything out—no matter how well I knew it. This is a very time consuming task, but I think that committing this all to paper (or Excel, as I did), helps commit it to memory as well.
To sum up, my study tips are as follows:
• Study in small intervals over a long period of time.
• Make a plan and track your time.
• Read all of the materials and answer the practice questions.
• Make your own notes.
Whatever you decide to do, just remember the importance of time management. It can make all the difference. Good luck!
Travis Lockhart, CTP, FP&A, is finance manager for DLT Solutions.