Prepare, plan and practise

Essential study skills for CSQS students

The Chartered Secretaries Qualifying Scheme (CSQS) has a broad curriculum that incorporates knowledge and expertise from corporate secretarial practice, law, governance and finance. The skills of technical competence, analysis and organisation that you demonstrate in the workplace are equally valuable for students at professional level. Whether you have recently sat exams or are returning to study after a break, thinking about your study habits and strategy is always a worthwhile exercise. By doing so, you are more likely to enjoy your CSQS studies and maximise your chances of success.

Learning outcomes

You are given the flexibility to choose the order of the modules you take on CSQS. However, it is important to look at the Level 1 and Level 2 learning outcomes early on in your studies to decide which modules you may find easier to cope with and those that may take you longer to grasp. A common thread running through all Level 1 modules is the skill of applying knowledge and principles to a hypothetical scenario. As you progress through to the Level 2 modules, the scenarios you are presented with increase in complexity; three of the modules at this level require you to prepare for the exam using pre-released material. By the time you reach the final case study module, you will be able to synthesise your knowledge and will be capable of presenting balanced arguments and reasoned conclusions on all areas of the CSQS curriculum.

Studying independently

Many of you are independent learners relying on your skills of time management and organisation, yet some of you may have opted for tuition. If you fall into the first category, the first thing to bear in mind is that there are many formulas that could lead you to success. At the start of your studies it is useful to identify the strategies that work best for you and practise them at every opportunity. Ways to become a successful independent learner include:

Making the most of your time – timetable your study hours in advance. Each CSQS module requires at least 150 hours of study. Your timetable should not take you too long to draw up but time should be allocated right up to exam week. Establish when you can study for an hour or two and when you can spend a longer amount of time revising or practising past exam questions. Do not be too rigid with your timetable as sometimes you are going to have to be flexible to accommodate work and personal commitments. Having said that, you must make time for study and not simply think you will ‘fit it in when you can’.

Establish good study habits – we are all easily distracted by social media, mobile phones and other interruptions. Try to find a quiet place to work, start working immediately and concentrate on one task at a time. Include breaks in each study period to ensure your concentration levels remain high. There are a number of apps you can download for free on your phone that will help you schedule in study periods and keep a record of what you have done.

Develop strong cognitive skills – exams at professional level are not simply a memory test. You need to demonstrate that you can analyse a hypothetical or empirical problem and use your relevant knowledge to provide a solution. It is highly likely that you already practise these skills in your workplace so draw on your experiences there. Spend time talking through exam scenarios with another student, a friend or family member. Even if they are not versed in the topic you are studying, if you can explain your reasoning to them, you can be assured you understand the material.

Studying with a tuition provider

Those of you who are studying with a tuition provider may be attending face-to-face classes or using a distance learning package. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask your tutor questions and seek clarification on subjects that you may be finding difficult. If exam technique and timing is something you need help with, make sure you practice questions in timed conditions and get feedback on any assignments you submit.

The benefit of studying with a tuition provider is that you are taught the subject by experts in that particular discipline. However, simply going to class will not ensure that you retain all the knowledge. In the same way as an independent learner, make sure you spend time consolidating the material you learn in class. Review your notes and create a study timetable to suit your needs.

Common problems

Lack of concentration – if this affects you, try the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes having chosen a topic to cover. Read and make notes in that time then take a five-minute break. Come back to that topic and check how much you have retained. Schedule 90-minute study periods and then take a break: as before, an app on your phone may help.

Worrying about taking too many or too few notes – select key points and order them properly. Review your notes regularly as you study the text. Use index cards for key terms or cases, or the iPhone and Android app StudyBlue that helps you create flashcards.

Memorising your notes or points from the study text – firstly you do not need to remember all your notes. You need to understand the material and keep reviewing your notes. Secondly, the more you try to apply your knowledge to past exam questions, the more able you are to draw on relevant knowledge. If you like to note down where you found information from the study text, try the app RefMe.

Top 10 study tips

  1. Make a plan and stick to it. You will have enough time to cover the syllabus that way. It also prevents procrastination and gives you a sense of achievement.
  2. Work with the study text and go through it thoroughly: it contains everything you need. Divide the text into sections and be realistic about much you can absorb in each study session.
  3. Define the task you are setting yourself in any study period. If you are reading and making notes, scan the pages to get an overview of the chapter, look for key words and be succinct in your notes. Abbreviations and short sentences are best.
  4. Your notes should outline the key arguments, principles and your own ideas about the topic. Avoid re-writing the book in your own words at all costs.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask questions. You will learn more and consolidate your learning more effectively if you seek advice.
  6. Listen to the examiner webinar recordings which are all available on the CGIUKI website in the MyCG section. The examiner helps you to grasp the ‘angle’ of what is required in an exam answer.
  7. Use all the past papers and suggested answers available to you: all CSQS modules have 10 past papers that are available for you to practice.
  8. Practise deep learning – i.e. learn topics in depth with relevant detail. For example in the Corporate Governance module you need to know the principles of the UK Corporate Governance Code.
  9. Practise exam questions in timed conditions. CSQS exam questions are 25 marks and take 45 minutes to complete.
  10. Attempt at least one full mock exam of 3 hours 15 minutes with a past paper you have not looked at before. More than one mock before you sit the exam is even better.

The key message is… prepare, plan and practise. Good luck with your next exam.

Sopna Thomas is Learning Support Manager at The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland

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