Below are a few tips on how to tackle exams. I am going to try and break it down into three parts: the revision phase, the strategy in the exam hall and specific tips for individual exams.
Studying the ICS helped my career greatly. It gave me confidence with my peers and my superiors. Some of my best friends are from studying at college. The ICS opens you up to an extensive global network and those you study with now will become your main business partners, clients and principals in the future.
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You really have to revise and study for these exams. Even if you are an experienced person working in the industry - if you don not study you will fail. I know of dry cargo brokers who tried to rely on their working knowledge to get through the exam and failed Dry Cargo Chartering because they never picked up the book before the exam.
When I needed to memorise many facts, I recorded myself and then listened to it when I was travelling home from work. Now, listening to your own voice sounds terrible; however I found it useful for things like the cases in Legal principles.
There is a large amount of memorisation for topics like Shipping Business, because you need to know about all the various different organisations and bodies. The only way to get that into your head is through repetition so posting notes on your fridge or bedroom mirror etc. If you see it every day it will become more familiar to you.
The book should be the base of your learning in order to pass these exams. I tried to read through it and then summarise each chapter with my own notes.
Practice handwriting. Mine is absolutely rubbish because I use the computer all the time, so I really had to practice to make sure it was legible that someone could understand.
Within the book is a mock examination and on the ICS website are the last three years exams plus examiners notes. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to study these and note down patterns you see occurring. All exams have topics which come up year after year so make sure you are on top of those – and you will more confident by the time of the exam.
It is definitely worth practicing a few questions from the past exams under exam conditions with 30-35 minutes per question. You need to make sure you don’t spend too long on some questions to the detriment of others. Read the examiners comments so you understand how the papers will be marked.
In the exam you need to do five questions out of eight – make sure you prepare for at least six topics. Seven would be ideal, but six should be enough.
Exam Hall Strategy
First thing you do is scan through exam questions when you pick up the paper. Your mind will be fresh so quickly jot down some bullet points next to the question, and this will serve as an aide memoire when you write out full answers.
Make sure you understand the questions you have decided to answer. It is very important to pick the right questions. Sometimes it is better to answer the “theory type of questions” such as what is the role of a broker, rather than a scenario question if you do not have the deep practical knowledge of the area, because sometimes you can go down the wrong path with scenarios and you won’t even know about it. Whereas theories you either know it or you do not.
If you are not one hundred percent about all five questions, then try to decide the first two or three questions you know a lot about and then get going on those then come back to the other two questions. By that stage you will have built your confidence up a bit and put some valuable marks in the bank already.
If you forget everything, just try to relax, breathe deeply and then take another look at the questions. You will be surprised how much you actually know. Definitely do not leave the examination hall, if you bothered to turn up you have no downside in staying and attempting the questions.
If you have a mind blank and get stuck on a question, just skip a couple of pages and move onto next one. This may give your brain time to remember and you can come back to it.
In terms of essay length you need to write a minimum of two pages per question, but preferably three pages.
Make certain you read the question properly and do not launch into an answer about something you wanted to write about, rather than what the examiner wants. So if they say write a report – make sure it is report format, if it’s a memo – then ensure it is memo format etc.
Exam Specific Tips
For Legal Principals – it is imperative to include reference to cases. Make sure that when you first get into the exam room and you read the questions, once you have decided which ones you want to answer – jot down the case name plus the two parties.
For Sale and Purchase make sure that you know the Norwegian Sale Form from beginning to end. If you know that MOA, then you cannot fail that exam.
For Economics you need to know the theories and support this with graphs and examples. Also keep up to date with world news, economic situations such as Brexit, or Hanjin going bust, weak pound etc., but make sure you relate these back to the question asked of you.
In Intro, Ship Ops and Dry Cargo - for the vessels questions, you will need to draw a ship. So turn the notebook on its side and draw it landscape. You can achieve high marks for these sort of questions, so I recommend learning them, but make sure you label as much as possible.
Also try and attempt the trading routes questions. It is another one of those questions where you can pick up easy marks. Clearly describe the routes referring to the diagram on the map, talk about weather factors, tides if necessary, canals, costs, piracy, breaching INL, bunkering etc.
For anyone who is doing ship ops or dry cargo, the voyage estimation question is one that I would highly recommend preparing for. Once you understand the methodology of it, you can achieve very high marks. The figure you get to at the end is not of huge importance – what is crucial is the method you used to get there.