November 20, 2014
by Ellen

Want to Ace Your Finals? Study at the Gym.

We all know how important it is to stay healthy during finals week — eat your veggies, exercise, get enough sleep. Yet we tend to neglect these things because we think we just don’t have enough time to do them. After all, the most time-tested method for cramming for exams (developed, no doubt, by medieval monks) requires an I.V. drip of caffeine, bags of chips, and long stretches of sitting in uncomfortable chairs, ignoring the sleeping foot and cramping back. It may work, but what a slice of hell that is.

Why not try something different? Did you know that exercising while you study will increase your retention of the material? Sounds crazy, I know, but there’s science behind it. A study conducted by researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main found that light to moderate simultaneous physical activity during encoding… is beneficial for subsequent recall of new items.” The cognitive stimulation induced by non-strenuous exercise appears to “prime” the brain just enough to provide the ideal environment for learning.

So hop on the elliptical or stationary bike and review your notes while you work up a light sweat. Plus, studying while you exercise not only boosts your memory, it also gives you all the other health benefits of exercising — it will elevate your mood, help you sleep better, and even encourage you to eat healthier foods!

November 12, 2014
by Ellen

“The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get”

You know I love me a good Ted talk, and this is a great one. In “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get” Susan Colantuno points out that women make up 50% of middle management and professional employees, yet less than 1/3 of that number reach the executive level. Why are women not being identified as “high potential” talents to be groomed for advanced leadership positions? The answer may surprise you. A must-watch for women starting their first jobs – put yourself on the right track from the beginning!!

October 17, 2014
by Ellen

CPAs Anyone?

Getting ready for the CPA exams? Freaking out? Yeah, I get it. I sat for two bar exams (California and Illinois) and the Ph.D. candidacy exams. The intensity of these life-altering events is enough to make even the steely of us crack. I still feel a little anxious when I think about it — trauma? Maybe. But you can harness that intensity and make it work for, rather than against, you. Use it — jump on the wave and ride it to shore. Your anxiety can become the fuel your brain needs to focus, if you impose a little structure on it. Here’s how.

1) Take a review course. This is a great way to get an idea of the scope of the exam, and the materials provided usually contain a relatively clear explanation of the relevant material.

2) Create your own subject matter outlines. It’s important to create your own outlines, rather than simply relying on the review materials, because the act of independently creating an outline forces you to actually process the material — you have to figure out how it all goes together. Each outline should reflect full understanding of the specific subject matter — if you were a super-genius, this would be your memory (the mastery you aspire to). Having a brilliant outline is crucial because it provides the foundation for your preparation.

3) Progressively memorize the material.

  • Break it down into sections and then break the sections down into layers. For example, take the first heading of the first outline level (I.) and the material that falls beneath it as your first “section.” Then, identify the layers — the heading (I.), the subheadings (A., B., C…), the next level (1., 2., 3…), the next level (a., b., c.,…)….you get the idea. Depending on the complexity of the material, you may have several layers.
  • Notecards are great for memorizing, but before you go there, try writing the outline out several times first. I literally used 100s legal pads when I was studying for the bar — writing out my outlines over and over. You could also type the material, if that works better for you, but there is something about physically writing the material over and over that helps me memorize it. Start with the big picture — the first level of the outline — write it out a few times. Then transfer it to notecards, memorize the notecards, and then write it out again from memory. Pacing around and saying the material out loud helps — kind of getting more senses involved. One of my study partners liked to create flowcharts, too.
  • Every time you add info, repeat what precedes it — like you are continuing the thought. This preserves the logical connections and helps you actually understand the material you are memorizing. For example, first you learn “I.,” then “I., A., ” then “I., A., 1.,” then “I., A., 1., a..” etc.
  • The key to memorization is repetition. Take your outline with you everywhere — stick copies in your bags, car, bedroom, coffee table — put it on your phone. Read through it whenever you have a moment or when you have a little shock of anxiety about the exam.

4) Stay calm and focused. Yes, it’s a herculean task, but it’s also doable. Thousands of people have taken — and passed — the exam. You will, too.