Louise Kennedy's top tips for tackling professional exams

I joined the Grant Thornton Tax department in January 2017 as part of my Professional Work Experience for College. After a thoroughly enjoyable eight months, I returned to College with an offer to join the tax team upon completing my studies. During my final year, I had the pleasure of taking Grant Thornton’s Agri-Taxation module in conjunction with UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science, it was then I decided I would like to focus on transaction and capital taxes when I re-joined Grant Thornton.

I began my CTA journey in October 2018 with the Part 1 exams. The CTA qualification is flexible in that lectures are held on the weekends, with all lectures being recorded and uploaded online for viewing in your own time. The support I received from Grant Thornton and those on my team was great and although I don’t miss waking up early to attend the Wednesday morning exam support sessions, the payoff is definitely worth it. The generous amount of study leave provided allowed me to unwind and refocus before the exams began.

Balancing work life, exams and a social life can be difficult if you don’t organise yourself well. I found the best approach was to plan my week ahead and try to stick to a similar routine each week. You don’t have to sacrifice your social life in order to do well in your exams and Grant Thornton do their best to ensure that doesn’t happen with their wide range of activities, from tag rugby to Friday evening drinks in The Dockers.

For me, exam success was down to finding a good balance, a good study routine and staying focused. This was also helped by some great mentoring from my managers Courtney Cullen and Sinead McKeaney and my director Úna Ryan, along with the rest of the Transaction Taxes team.

My top tips for tackling professional exams while working are:

  • don’t mess around and leave everything until the last minute. Work hard and stay focused – if you work hard you’ll enjoy the free time afterwards so much more;
  • attending lectures is hugely beneficial – not just for retaining information and learning but more so for keeping you focused. It’s easy to fall behind and push the exams out of your mind when not attending lectures;
  • try to understand the technique of each exam – familiarise yourself with the format of the paper, how many questions need to be answered, time per question etc.;
  • practice past exam questions in exam conditions i.e. close your books and time yourself;
  • take some time to unwind at the start of your study leave – if Study leave begins on a Monday take the weekend off and start fresh on Monday or Tuesday;
  • figure out a study routine that works best for you;
  • try and dedicate one or two evenings a week (and weekends where possible) leading up to your exams to stay in work and study for a couple of hours – it makes a huge difference;
  • put the work in for the interim/mid-term exams. If you study the material well at the time it won’t take as long to revise when the final exams come around; and
  • try and understand what you’re studying rather than just learning things off – it will make it much easier to remember in an exam situation.