So, you have a designation exam coming up in a few months and you’re preparing to study.

Getting yourself into “study” mode when you haven’t been in a classroom in years is not easy. Now that you have developed a time line and a study schedule, the next step is actually wading into the material. This step can be daunting.

“Financial advisors have all of this information staring at them and it seems overwhelming,” says Brian Gordon, a Toronto-based professor of finance and founder of Exam Success, a program that provides investment sales training and financial services industry exam preparation. “They just don’t know how to jump into [studying]. So, they leave these books sitting in front of them and they procrastinate.”

However, putting off your goal of achieving a new designation is detrimental to your business-building goals. So, here are three ways to tackle this initiative:

> Engage in “active” studying
If you think reading your course book with a highlighter in hand is the best way to learn, you’re wrong, according to Gordon.

“Advisors need to apply their knowledge so that they can use it,” he says. “I think that’s the most effective way to really master the material.”

Put your knowledge to the test by answering practice questions in addition to your reading. One place to look for resources to help you learn this way is the certification body through which you are taking the exam.

For example, the Financial Planning Standards Council provides sample case studies and examples of retired exam questions for advisors who have registered for the certified financial planner exam through that organization.

> Look for help from others
If you’re a part of an advisory team, you probably know that bouncing ideas off your peers can be helpful in developing new initiatives. The same goes for studying for a new designation. Try creating a study group in which you meet regularly with others who are going through the same process and ask each other questions and talk through sample case studies.

Just be cautious about who joins your group, Gordon says.: “You may not want to form a group with friends or coworkers because it may just turn into a social gathering, which makes it ineffective.”

Organizations authorized to grant designations will sometimes have online discussion boards through which you can become acquainted with others going through the same study process. This is one way to find people for your study group. For example, the Canadian Securities Institute offers access to discussion forums when you sign up for one of its courses.

> Motivate yourself to succeed
Some academics suggest you should let others know you’re going through this process, Gordon says. By telling others of your attempt, you’ve put pressure on yourself not to fail.

“If you’re telling other people that you’re preparing for these exams,” Gordon says, “you don’t want to let them down.”

If you’re looking for the ultimate motivator for success, try telling your boss about your efforts to improve your credentials.

This is the second part of a two-part series on studying for exams.