Exam / revision techniques


I have just failed my PDS1 exams and I am feeling disillusioned with the whole programme. The course is such a huge leap from CPP study and i am having real trouble understanding the exam questions and exactly what the examiners expect from you with regards to quotes and case studies etc.

I am in desperate need of guidance on exam technique and was wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction. I have read every examiners report available but have not found them very useful.

Any links or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
  • Julie

    | 1954 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    25 Jul, 2006 13:13


    I am so sorry you didn't get through this time. Are you in touch with your local branch? The people there who have been through it may well be able to advise and encourage you. You may also find colleagues who are currently going through the process too and you might be able to link up with them.

    I hope you find help soon and sail through next time.

  • Thanks for your advice Julie.

    I live quite some distance from my fellow evening-class colleagues but may look at setting up a revision group via email.

    Fingers crossed for November re-sits!

  • Mike Morrison

    | 4175 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    25 Jul, 2006 19:19

    Do you have a tutor you can talk to - they should be in a position to help you see past papers and guide you through the expectations?

  • Lisette

    | 192 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    25 Jul, 2006 21:37

    There are some generic 'good practice' things which can go out the window with nerves so it is good to have a plan in advance. The most important thing is to get the timing right. If this comes easily, great, but if not, you should work out in advance how much time you have for each question and absolutly stick to it. It is also a good idea to do some 'exam practice' just to get into the rhythm of taking exams. What I do is to shut myself away and do a whole paper under exam conditions - 3 hours, no books etc. Aim to do quite a few of these - the more the better. If you do this, see if you can get your tutor to look over these to give you some ideas - it should not take them that long to read through and give you feedback and I am sure they want you to succeed. Alternatively do with with a few of your evening class colleagues and review each others.

    If you are doing the CIPD set exams I think there is quite a bit of stuff on the CIPD site and your tutor will also be able to give you some help. If you are doing a local colleague exam then you probably need to ask your tutor to spend some time with you. Perhaps having first done one of your own practice exams. Also Clare's suggestion regarding the local branch is a good one.

    It has been a while since I took my CIPD exams so this might not be so valid (so read with some caution) but I recall that the main emphasis was on applying the learning to practice. You might therefore try to talk to some people who are doing the HR that you are learning about. Hopefully you work with some (but I do not know how big your company is so there may not be a large HR function). You can use your study group to try to identify some real life examples etc and you can also use the communities. For example, for a topic area you are studying you can do a post asking people to give their views on one aspect or to tell you what in their experience works well and does not work. If you word your thread well and choose some interesting topics you could get quite a bit of interest and it would be generally educational for all who read it. I am not exactly sure what you are studying so cannot give an example, but am happy to try to help - or I am sure Steve Bridger would also be willing to help you with a thread.

    Also you do not want to get too caught up in the 'exam' but try to think through the anwers as if you were writing a management report in real life. I noticed that you gave some helpful advice on how to structure a plan in a previous thread. This sort of stuff works for the exam as well. Of course, you need to add in a few references and some case law etc as appropriate which you probably would not do at work, but much of the other stuff stays the same.

    I hope some of this helps.

    regards, Lisette

    | 147 Posts

    Chartered Member

    26 Jul, 2006 12:20

    I'm sorry that you feel so disillusioned with the programme, but I know that there are other skeptics out there.

    It's interesting that you've turned to the community rather than your study centre for support on this. I would have hoped that your centre would have been able to help. I tutored the Employee Relations elective last year for the first time (fortunately with some fantastic support from my former tutor) and hope that my students felt quite prepared for the exams when they came around - and if not that they could feed back to me any other support they needed.

    I agree that doing the questions under exam conditions is the best practice you can get - but you need feedback on your answers so that you know where to target any improvements. You could set up peer group marking, or ask your tutor to mediate and with the agreement of the rest of your group, what can work is that if you all answer questions and the best answers are shared with the group. With the case study I always aimed to get the written work done in 45 minutes, to allow 15 minutes reading and planning time (and a few minutes in case I got carried away!) and then 15 minutes for every 2 short answer questions - which gives you 7.5 minutes time to overrun/ plan answers for the second part of the exam.

    It is unfortunate that sometimes there is a game to be played with the exams. I won't be popular for saying this, but there are times that the examiners have something specific in mind when they set the questions, which may not be the way that the question is interpretted by students. It is worth talking to your tutor to see what the politically correct viewpoints are on certain subjects - failing that read People Management religiously. You may not always agree with the practicality of some of the suggestions made, or academic viewpoints given but if you know what the CIPD thinking is, you can tailor your answers to that.

    The examiners reports (once you get past the statistics!) will indicate that the better students will support their answers with academic theory and case studies - so get to know the main surveys, and a few really good case study organisations that you can quote in answers. I probably have a list of "acceptable" organisations somewhere that I can dig out for you if you think if would be of use? By "acceptable" I mean the larger well known organisations. Quoting your own is only helpful to you if others would have heard of them, but Sainsbury's and Tesco's are often used, as are First Direct and others. Always make yourself familiar with the People Management award finalists and winners for the past couple of years, as they are usually shining lights of good practice.

    The other tip I have is more revision orientated - the scary part when people mention needing to learn the content of the surveys and studies is how on earth you get your brain to absorb so much information. I tried a year or so back through my local branch to encourage the CIPD to create audio revision materials. You can then fit revision around your life, by listening to tapes/CDs in the car, or when commuting etc. I made my own revision tapes, and actually found the act of pulling together the information and recording it myself to help my learning as well. It's amazing the facts that you can quote without realising it!

    Perhaps the moderator has influence to get the surveys published as downloadable MP3 files? OK maybe not the whole thing, but the executive summaries are always useful?

    Although at this level you may think that the answers require your thoughts - this really means your critical analysis of everyone else's thoughts!

    Hope this helps. Don't get too downhearted - look at the pass rate statistics, at best 1 in 3 people will fail their exam first time around for each subject - so there are plenty of people in your situation, but I bet you get through next time around!

  • Steve Bridger

    | 7164 Posts

    Community Manager

    26 Jul, 2006 12:54

    Hi Claire,

    I'll enquire about the possibility of downloadable revision materials, surveys, etc.

    Thanks for your terrific post; I'm making a special note of it for future referencing.

  • Thank you very much for your replies. There is some really useful advice.

    The subjects i am studying are:
    Managing Information for Comeptitive Advantage
    Managing in a Strategic Business Context
    Managing and Leading People
    Managing for Results

    Claire, you made an interesting point about the fact I have turned to the community for advice. I have given this some thought and feel that I have not received much support from my college we have had a number of tutors replaced throughout the course due to illness and work responsibilities. We have had very little exam preparation/practice (one session) and I live a fair distance from my college so it is not practical for me to study with the college group.

    I am seeking more support from my college group via email but fear I may be an annoyance to them!

    Audio revision is a really good idea that I will look into that. I think exam practice is the way to go.

    Once again thank you both for your help and any further advice or links to info would be very much appreciated.

    Best regards


    | 147 Posts

    Chartered Member

    26 Jul, 2006 18:00

    Hi Clare,

    Don't worry about the rest of your group feeling you're a nuisance - you're forgetting that statistically at least a third of them have failed at least one exam and will probably be glad of all the help they can get too for the retakes! You aren't on your own.

    I didn't sit the same set of exams as you - when I did my Core Management it was the old syllabus (says Grandma!), so I can't offer specific help - but hopefully the tips will help give you some confidence. I would have offered you my old revision tapes - but they won't really help! I did have quite a few colleagues on my course who were sick of the sound of my voice by the time the exams came, but most seemed to find it a useful addition for revision.

    You need to be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and get on with it for the retakes. If you panic now because you didn't get them this time, the fear factor will affect your learning and ability to tackle the November exams. You'll get there. If you are particularly worried, you should consider retaking in two goes - depending on your plans for next year's study. You may find it easier to concentrate on two subjects than four for example - but not if you have to revise for 6 exams in May next year. Hopefully though you'll feel far more confident about all four by November regardless. It might not be a bad idea to start a plan for your revision before the term starts in September - if you can drip feed some knowledge in that time you'll find the last push of revision during October that bit easier.

    You also got me a bit worried about next year with your comments about your tutor - I'm planning 2-4 weeks Maternity Leave at the beginning of the year, and am desperate not to disrupt my students learning too much. From a student's perspective - if you were set individual study for a couple of weeks at the beginning of a year would you do it? Please be honest! I still have time to generate some Self taught worksheets before the beginning of term.

    Steve - thanks for picking up the downloads issue. If I see audio materials in the next catalogue I get, I'll expect a commission cheque! I have to admit that I have always found it slightly incongruous that for all the discussions and statements of ethics on equal opportunities that the CIPD doesn't seem to offer large print or audio materials for the visually impaired. A friend of mine failed his exams and gave up his studies partly as a result of struggling with materials. Ironic given the stance proclaimed - but I guess that's a different thread.

    Clare - I'll keep an eye on this thread to see how you get on, and if I ever work out how to change my profile email me to let me know how you do, or if you need any other help.

    Kind regards

  • Well done to Claire Isaacs for such a wonderful posting. And as for the first Clare, Clare Christian, for her forthcoming task, I wanted to say stick at it girlie because it really is worth it. I too failed part of my final exams and I truly felt the end would never come. But you will eventually pass the exams and complete the course, I empathise with what you're going through. Don't forget to reward yourself when things get tough and you need a little lift, and ensure your family and friends are on board to give the much needed emotional and spiritual support. Especially as you'll want them to be with you to help you celebrate when you pass.
  • So this is what I pay all that money to CIPD for!!!

    No seriously, thank you all so much for your words of encouragement. You have made me feel a lot better about making a second attempt.

    I have decided to re-sit two in November and defer the other two subjects to May 2007 taking a year out to settle my nerves and build upon my existing knowledge and experience of course!!!

    Thank you all for your support.

    To Claire Isaacs: With regards to the 2-4 weeks individual study, first of all, that is not maternity leave you workaholic! To be honest, at the beginning of the year I probably would not have done the work, seeing it as an extra little holiday. However, knowing now how much study is required things would be different.

    I know students everywhere will curse me when I say this but it is for your own good, believe me! Set a mini-task/questions to be handed in for feedback upon your return.


    | 147 Posts

    Chartered Member

    27 Jul, 2006 10:21

    Thanks for your honesty Clare. Also just so you don't think I'm totally nuts I am taking a full 6 months off the day job, but I think I'll go mad if I don't keep my hand in with something during that time - hence an hour and a half a week of lecturing I am hoping will be managable after those first couple of weeks or so (once I can be sure of being showered and dressed by 5pm!!!!). I also feel a bit of a responsibility towards students and don't want to leave them abandoned for long!

    Thanks also for making me realise that I needed to get a move on and get some plans done for September - you inspired me to get some work done and funnily enough did a couple of worksheets last night to get the students to read some research papers in a more targetted way.

    I hope you find it easier to focus on just the two for November - it should give you a bit more confidence, but if you are not going to go back for a new year of study this year please speak to your centre about what support they can offer in terms of revision sessions for retakes, just so that you have some structured study in there as well. You don't want to break the habit of learning and doing homework, because you may find it harder to get back into next year.

    Good luck (not that you'll need luck any more!) and let me know how you do.

  • Elaine

    | 6 Posts

    Chartered Member

    28 Jul, 2006 14:24

    Hi Clare

    I am in total empathy with you! These are the first CIPD exams I have sat, PDS 2nd year : PMD, ER and PR and failed all three? I intend to re-sit in November however, after reading the examiners' reports - which helped put things just a little more in perspective, I have decided to spend money on getting personal exam feedback. This, I hope, will identify any exam or knowledge weakness and try to plan my revision and practice exam technique around this exam feedback. I have also decided to postpone my final year to concentrate on the revision and to begin my Management Report. I will let you know how useful the personal feedback was if you're interested?

    You have received some very good advice which I intend to follow - so thanks to everyone's posting.

    Perhaps the CIPD could arrange workshops of their own on exam technique through their branches rather than through course centres?

    If anyone out there has failed the exams I have taken and would like to get together in a study group and live in the Herts/Cambs/Beds area please contact me?

    Finally, good luck Clare - if you need any help on your next level of study (and I have passed the exams) contact me through the Herts branch.

    | 147 Posts

    Chartered Member

    28 Jul, 2006 15:03

    Elaine, you make an interesting point about the CIPD arranging exam technique workshops but what do you pay your fees to your centres for? As a tutor I feel a strong sense of responsibility to my students to send them into the exams as prepared as they can be, and in fairness as prepared as they want to be, given the revision the students wish to put in. Tutors can't do everything for their students - but after my first year of teaching I can honestly say I was more nervous about this years exam results than I was when it was just my own!

    It is disappointing that not every student has that but I would definitely see that as a basic responsibility of the college/study centre, rather than the CIPD. The CIPD hold conferences for tutors/ programme co-ordinators to share feedback on the exams, so it should be possible to pass that on and influence their teaching methods/content accordingly.

  • Hi Elaine,

    I would be very interested to hear how useful your exam feedback is. I have heard very mixed views on the subject.

    Good luck for November!
  • I have failed the Managing Information (part of the old Core Management syllabus) exam three times. The last time I sat it was in May 2004 and have since given up taking the view that clearly this is a subject I am destined never to grasp! Each time I have tried different learning methods, the first time I sat the exam I was going to college in the evening with a tutor who assumed everyone in group had the capability of completing degree level maths! Not helpful if maths is not your strong point. The last two times were on a home learning programme, but that still didn't seem to do the trick. Luckily I have a very sympathetic boss who has not pushed me into taking it a forth time so I have decided to take a break and think about what to do next. Anyway, I paid £50 for one of the 'personalised' examiners reports and have to say that I didn't think it was worth the paper it was written on. It was really no different to the generic examiners reports you can download off the CIPD website. It certainly didn't help me understand where I was going wrong each time which for me, was what I needed to know!
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