As the school bells ring in the near distance, we’re reminded that the school year is upon us. No matter your status, you should always be thinking about continuing your education. Whether you’re studying for a professional certification or going back to school for another degree, keep in mind that continuing education is important for a constantly changing world.
Studying for and taking certification tests while balancing work and life is difficult. (I know, I’ve been there.) A few things, however, helped me stay focused and sane.
Budget Your Time
When I was studying for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, I had a seven-year-old daughter and a toddler. It was difficult to manage my time between family and studying, but with good time management skills and a schedule in place, I found the time. Budgeting my time while I was on airplanes for business trips, a half hour before and after work, and during lunch was critical to my success. Set up a study plan with ample time so that you can prepare a little bit each day instead of cramming the month/week/day before.
It’s also important to schedule time to relax. Find an activity that will relieve your stress, even if it means going for a walk, going to a ballgame, or watching TV with your family. This will allow you to unwind and return later with a clear mind.
Put Things Into Perspective
For me, my family always came first, then my job, and then studying. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t pass. You’ll always have another opportunity to take the test, and life is too short to stress over it. Sometimes you might wonder, “Is this ever going to end?” But six months isn’t a long time compared to the larger picture of your life and your career.
Learn How to Study and Take a Test
It’s important to determine which way of studying works best for you: studying by yourself online, in a group online, in a classroom, or by yourself. There are many resources that can help you stay focused, including practice questions, reading material, and flashcards. No matter how you choose to study, the most important part is that you do what works best for you.
Not all people are good test takers. Some have to study for hours to get good grades, while others absorb information naturally. The important thing is to not overthink and to know that tests are imperfect tools that aren’t the only measure of your knowledge and who you are. Go into the test-taking room with a clear mind and positive thoughts.
I was out of school for a while when I took my first certification test, so I had to mentally get back into test-taking mode. That meant relearning how to manage my time and quickly and efficiently answer questions.
Build a Support Group
Having a support system is really important for being successful in this endeavor. If you’re trying to balance work, life, and studying, you have to have family buy-in. The support of your family, friends, and coworkers will bring you encouragement and motivation.
Another option is to find a mentor who has been through the process and can provide guidance. When I started studying for my CAE (Certified Association Executive) certification, I found a mentor in IMA’s President and CEO, who had also just achieved the CAE. He provided me with additional notes to study from and encouragement along the way.
Continuing education, including additional college degrees and professional certifications, signifies the next step in your career and your dedication to your profession. It isn’t easy to achieve a professional certification while working full time and having a family, but if you have the right balance, prepare the best you can, and have a calm mind, you will surely succeed.
Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney