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How do I prepare notes for CA course subjects like ITSM and ISCA?


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Don’t spend time on preparing Notes

ITSM and ISCA are two dangerous subjects in CA course. These subjects require a great deal of memorising to score better. Memorising is fine until you understand all concepts or have practically experienced things. However, these subjects are purely theoretical and philosophical which makes memorising worse. Thus, it takes a lot of time to substantially cover the syllabus of these subjects. If you further go on to prepare detailed notes for these subjects, you will be actually wasting some precious time. Besides, the content of Study Material, the notes of Coaching institutes and of various authors are all well designed, since they are already in the Points and explanation format. Instead of spending time on preparing notes, we should concentrate on making the existing notes easier to recite, revise and memorize.

What types of questions asked in exam?

Good notes are one which are directly correlated to the type of questions asked in exams. So before we understand how to prepare notes we must know what type of questions are asked in exams. We consider here the latest question papers as it depicts the direction of question paper trends.

ITSM May’16 question paperISCA May’16 question paper

  • Type 1 – A majority of questions in ITSM and ISCA are straight-forward direct questions. The questions are quite similar to the way they were asked in School days or in Bcom exams. The moment you read the question, you know what is the answer or else you become aware that you don’t know the answer. These type of questions need no special requirements but only preparation. So if you have prepared that particular chapter and topic you will be able to answer, else you have to skip this question. e.g. You can see the above papers. All questions start with ‘What’, ‘Describe’, ‘Explain’, ‘Discuss’.
  • Type 2 – There are a few questions in every paper which are either twisted, tweaked or appear to have two dimensional answers. These questions are difficult and students often make major mistakes here by writing answer to a totally different question than the one asked in exam. Even if your concepts are quite clear, still you will find these questions jumbling. These questions require special preparation by way of comparison of different questions while studying. Many times these questions begin with a situation. e.g. “ABC limited is looking for a suitable IS Auditor. Please send a letter explaining your suitability by describing your skill set and competence. Now here the answer is twisted, although the question later specifically mentions the word ‘Skill Set’ which clears what has to be written. These days Examiners have been more lenient and therefore, leave no ambiguity in the question. So all you have to do is pick up the hints.

So basically either we have direct questions or some confusing but direct questions.

What kind of answers are expected?

Now without understanding what kind of answers are required, you cannot proceed ahead to prepare notes or study the subject. One must be totally aware of what kind of answers are to be written in exams before preparing for exams. I have gone through the certified copies of many students in the recent past and on that basis I have concluded the following points.

  • To the point – Questions are very specific, so answer too has to be very specific. There is no need to give any introduction or any conclusion to any answer. Just give the points. Conclusion is necessary only when the question is of true or false type. Introductions are an outdated thing for the above papers. So don’t spend time on it.
  • Point & Explanation – The best answers are the ones which mention the point in bold followed by explanation, just the way I have used the bullets while explaining this answer. This helps the examiner to give mark more easily. Try to write as many answers in this form as possible.
  • Oneliner Points – There are certain answers in Study Material where point & explanation form has not been used. e.g. State the uses of MIS. Now if in module there are say fifteen oneliner points mentioned, then in exam as well, you must quote oneliner points instead of providing explanation. This is because marks are allotted for each point and if you give less number of points by points, then you will score less, although you have written a huge answer.
  • Equal Explanation – This is my trick which has worked well for years. While writing answers, give equal explanation for each point i.e. each point explanation should be in four to five lines. Do not over explain any point nor under explain the same, equal explanation for every point.
  • Presence of keywords – Many examiners underline the correct phrases, words, sentences or paragraphs in an answer and then give marks next to it. This means that every examiner is searching for certain points in each answer as mentioned in answer key. They do this because they are responsible to explain the marking to Moderators & Chief Moderators. So your answer must contain certain keywords and key points that answer expects.
  • Reasonable explanation – Your answer must contain correct headings and keywords as I mentioned above, however, the balance explanation can be in your own words. Until you keep the answer to the point and do not write an essay, nobody expects the explanation to be word to word same. It should be ‘reasonably’ good. Ofcourse a better explanation in accordance with Study Material will fetch better marks, however, if you go on doing that way, you cannot cover the syllabus and other subjects.

ITSM May’16 Suggested AnswersISCA May’16 Suggested Answers

In short, the answer has to be as straight-forward as possible and also as close to that mentioned in Study Material as possible. Don’t worry, most coaching classes prepare notes similar to Study Material without tweaking too much of content, however, you should compare with Study Material before referring any notes of your choice.

How to prepare notes & study accordingly?

By reading the above explanation you might be pretty clear what you have to do and how you have to study. Now let’s understand how to prepare notes so that we can fulfil the above requirements. I am discussing this alongwith the stages of studying the subject for better understanding and a clear picture.

(Note: I did my coaching with Amit Tated Sir and referred his coaching notes alongwith Study Material and Practice Manual. Currently, I only have those notes and hence sharing excerpts from those notes, in order to explain my point. These notes were co-authored by CA Devang Dalal and CA Amit Tated. You can accordingly imagine the notes of your faculty.)

Step I – First Reading as Self Study or during Coaching

The notes of almost all faculties are in point and explanation format. Now our first reading either might be in coaching classes or as self study, wherever it is, you must take care of following points:

  • Prepare a tree diagram for every chapter on a separate sheet. This tree diagram should contain all the questions asked in the chapter. Do not miss even a single question. Each and every question should be a part of this tree diagram. You can use connectors as we use in flow charts, if the tree diagram becomes too big. [A]
  • Ever wondered why we like certain songs so much on which we have performed or was a theme song of some event? Because we attach memorizes with those songs, hence, those songs become important. Similarly, while attending coaching classes, faculties mention some interactive examples to remember. These examples can range from real life examples to some humorous jokes; the good thing is, they really help us to remember concepts. Make sure that you note down all such examples on your printed notes for future reference. [B]
  • There are certain keywords in every question. e.g. The feasibility of a system is evaluated under following dimensions: (a) .. (b) .. (c) .. (d) .. In this question heading the keyword is ‘dimensions’. Add a Square/Rectangle around this word. This is the most important word of your question that you must relate to while remembering the answers. [C]
  • While going through the explanations, underline all the important words that are key to those explanations. Generally these are the noun or noun clauses of the sentence. These are also the words which are unique to the subject and not used in other subjects or common parlance. Make sure you underline atleast one phrase in every sentence of that explanation. [D]
  • There are certain questions which do not have headings. They are just a list of oneliner points. In such case, you must circle the most important word or phrase which is capable of being called as heading for that sentence. Else you can also write the keywords next to each point, if the points do not have a good keyword. You can also circle all headings in an answer. [E]

After doing the above markings, I am pretty sure you book will look more active than just piece of paper with black and white alphabets. It will contain squares, underlines, circles, examples, notes, etc. If you are not able to do this during class, you can do this at home after classes, but make sure it is done the same day.

Step II – Second Reading while initiating Exam preparations

Now you are into the real part of studying i.e. the last three four months before exams where you actually study for exams. Following are the steps to be followed:

  • Do not study entire ISCA subject in a couple of weeks, else you might feel like Aamir Khan in the Movie Ghajini after a month. The best strategy would be to study two to three questions per day on regular basis. On every next day, you must revise what you had learnt the last day and learn new answers again today. On weekend, you must revise all the answers that you had learnt during the week and do not learn any new answer on that day. Reserve that day only for revision, not just for ITSM or ISCA but apply this to all subjects.
  • Now before you pick any chapter, start with a reading. Reading means to read quickly like you read newspaper or whatsapp chats. Do not try to memorize but only understand the concepts and make sure that you reasonably understand the concepts with the help of examples as I had explained in [B]above.
  • While reading, you must do an additional activity of preparing memory techniques. Now different students like different kinds of memory techniques. You have to prepare any kind of memory technique that you feel comfortable with. The faculties may have given you some memory techniques, but it is up to you, whether you like it or not. It is not necessary that you will like the same as every student is different. Whatever you follow mention the same next to the keyword of question that you had squared earlier in [C] point. [F]
    • Acronyms – Forming a word out of initials of each point.
    • Word Mnemonics – Forming a sentence out of initials of each point.
    • Grouping – Forming groups of various points by relativity.
    • Organizing – Adding a number to each point, trying to make a process or a procedure out of it. (My personal favorite)
    • Diagram – Where intensity is involved you can prepare a pyramid or where there is a flow you can draw a flowchart and similarly you can group various points.
    • Simple numbering – In case you are not using any memory technique, simply add serial numbers next to the points. Remember, bullets are not serial numbers; even if the answer has bullets, write a numbering next to it. There must be some referencing for each point.
  • When you have decided the memory technique of each answer, you must mention the numbering, alphabet, the word or step number of every point next to that point. At the end of this process, every point of every answer must have a referencing next to it. [G]
  • Also add question numbers to each question. Don’t just put numbers next to the main topic heading but also the sub-questions under each question. Every question must have a numbering. Looking into my notes, I can say in SDLC chapter of ISCA there are 75 questions in totality or 37 questions in Business Contingencies chapter of ISCA. Mention all these question numbers next to the tree diagram that you have prepared as explained in [A] point. [H]

Step III – Memorizing

Now I have given various reference numbering above. These all were some sort of notes that will help you and make it easier for you to memorize. Let me explain:

  • The tree diagram [A] is the heart of every chapter. You start from there. You will find the topics, sub-topics, questions and subquestions in its branches. By the time you complete the chapter, you will automatically learn the tree diagram. This tree diagram helps you to remember the questions. In exam hall, this tree diagram will help you to locate the answer and avoid all kinds of confusions that may arise in exam.
  • The reference number [H] to the each question will help you to locate the question easily. Also later when you are revising, you will revise with the help of tree diagram i.e. read the point and try to recall the answer. If you don’t remember the answer then directly jump to the question reference number and check the points. It also helps you to calculate the number of days for each chapter and accordingly plan your studies better.
  • The jokes, examples, notes, etc. that you had noted during classes [B] will help you to understand the concept, if you fail to recall the original concept or find any concept difficult to memorize. With the help of those points, you will always be able to quote atleast a rough answer in exam which can fetch you 1 or 2 marks, in case you don’t remember the complete answer.
  • The squares [C], the circles [E] and the underlines [D] are visual aids. These visual aids help you to visualize the answer. Our mind can remember things either by seeing or by hearing. So these visual aids help you to remember things in a much better manner. Squares & circles can be seen more dominantly and hence, they are used for question keywords and answer keywords, while underlines are less dominant, hence used for explanations.
  • The memory techniques or simple numbering [F] and [G] help you to remember how many points are present in that question. In Law and Tax we remember everything with the help of section numbers. With section numbers it becomes easy to remember points. Similarly, here the point number of for each answer helps to remember the number of points. Even you can remember as “the first point is Privacy, the second point is security, the third point is Efficiency.” In case you forget any point, these numberings help you to recall because you know you are forgetting fourth point or first point. It has worked greatly for me till date.

Step IV – Practice Manual

Go through Study Material first before you start studying Practice Manual. This is because the wording of questions in your notes and in Study Material may be different and it is important that you note how the question is mentioned in Study Material because that is the exact manner in which questions will be asked in exams.

You don’t need to solve by writing, unless you have a very poor command over English. Writing answers to practice would take up a lot of time and you cannot afford the same. While solving practice manual, only look at question, then ask yourself which question is this, which topic it relates to, which sub-topic it relates to, speak out loudly the points that you remember and then check if you correctly answered by referring to the answer in practice manual. This will be a totally oral practice and no need of writing answers.

Step V – First Revision

Revise the entire syllabus including the underlined [D] words.

Step VI – Paper Solving

Solve papers orally just like you solved Practice Manual. It is very important to solve as many papers as possible. Until this stage, you were studying each chapter independently, hence there was less confusion. However, in exams all chapter questions will be mixed and therefore, students get confused. That’s why I recommend to solve atleast 6 papers of ITSM or ISCA to get rid of this problem. Since you will be solving papers orally, it will take less time and each paper can be quickly completed in one hour.

Step VII – Final Revision

Revise the entire syllabus by surfing through the tree diagrams alone.

Conclusion: Don’t prepare notes, just upgrade your existing notes. ITSM and ISCA are really harsh subjects especially for people who are not good at memorizing. I am one such person who at times forgets the names of friends as well, so it was tough for me. Even being a technosavvy person and having good understanding of IT concepts does not help in exams. Hence, upgrading the notes in right manner is key and the above methodology helped me a lot. I hope it works for you as well.

Credit: Saurabh Toshniwal

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