Tag Archives: Nick’s Thoughts

Nick’s exam tips

Having recently read Lucy and Will’s blogs on application and interview tips, I though it would be helpful if I could offer some of my tips on exam success.

I sat my GCSEs some nine years ago and since then I’ve put behind me somewhere in the region of over 100 exams (I worked it out). As a result of doing a degree without a dissertation, I have become all too familiar with the term ‘revision’ and I hope that for those of you who are setting off for your AS/A2 or degree exams, this blog will be of use.

The first tip is to find out what works for you. This is really a matter of trial and error but, as everyone learns in different ways, it’s important to find out how you best retain knowledge. Be it question practice, reading, listening or in groups it’s worth trying all out so you can get a feel of how you best learn. Sometimes revising at night can help as your brain reorganises the information during your sleep.

High on the list is to take breaks but avoid procrastination. It’s all too easy to tell yourself you’ll go and make another coffee, or check Facebook quickly but being able to revise effectively requires a great amount of self-control. It’s very important that you take breaks in between studying but keep these to around 15 minutes every hour or so. This keeps the mind fresh. Use the break wisely, so you feel like you’ve actually taken a break, I like to play the guitar and have a cuppa during a break as it’s a way for me to relax and prepares my mind for another session on the books.

A lot of passing an exam comes down to confidence and keeping your cool. Hitting the books will help to build confidence as your knowledge develops. I like to artificially build confidence by having a positive attitude to the exam and I will constantly tell myself that I can do it. Testing your knowledge is a good way to see where you need to focus and will help to increase your confidence. Sometimes it can be helpful to get a blank piece of paper and just brain dump all you know about a certain subject. I do this the night before every exam as it helps me to feel assured about the exam.

When revising, it’s important to avoid distractions. Whether this means finding a quiet space, turning your phone off or just having a clear head, it’s almost impossible to revise with something distracting you. As a result, revision in front of the TV isn’t really revision and I’ve never bought into the idea of listening to music although I hear this helps for some people, again, each to their own!

In the run up to the exam, it all falls down to how your head is. Clear it of anything which is bothering you and gain complete focus on the task ahead. I find self-control is really important and I therefore tend to eat well and avoid alcohol for weeks before the exam, it works for me, it might work for you too!

On the day of the exam you have the opportunity to show the examiner what you’ve been working on. Tackle the easier questions first and always keep your eye on the clock. Keep hydrated and always remain focused, never let your mind wander!

The worst case scenario during an exam is the panic. The lesson is to keep cool and carry on, you have a few hours to make good a bad situation, flicking frantically through pages isn’t going to help you. Take a minute to calm down, take the exam paper by the scruff of the neck and do what you’ve prepared to do. Everyone goes through that feeling of panic, how you deal with it is more special.

When the exam is done, it is important to reward yourself, whether that’s a fancy meal or a night out with friends, it’s vital to relieve some of that stress and find yourself back in normality.

I hope this helps and good luck to anyone who is preparing for exams over the coming months.

Nick’s thoughts on aggressive tax schemes

For as long as I can remember, our media has been hunting down and naming and shaming certain figureheads in the country for their financial wrongdoing. Not so long ago it was the politicians’ expenses scandal, then bankers bonuses and now, in what seems to be a bit of a surprise, it’s Jimmy Carr.

I’m sure we can all appreciate that Jimmy Carr is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are huge numbers of high-net worth individuals who operate aggressive tax saving schemes. However, this leads us to an interesting point as taxpayers and, in particular for me, a tax adviser: when does tax-efficiency become tax-immorality?

What Jimmy Carr and Co. have done is not illegal, but using the tax aggressive scheme has given him a poor public image, something which could well impact his earnings as a comedian.

This raises a new problem for the publicly-lit tax-savvy as there is now a required balance between saving on the tax bill and maintaining a good public image.

The British media and public have proved to have very clear cut views on this. Whilst some tax avoidance planning is acceptable, lowering your tax bill to 1% is front page news and immoral.

The controversial question which sits in the back of my mind is this: is it Jimmy Carr’s fault? If he has a legal outlet by which he can lower his tax bill, can we blame him for not taking it? Or it is the fault of our legislators who have allowed such a loophole to exist? How would we act in his position?

There certainly seems to be a bitter taste amongst the British people in relation to residency also. As an F1 fan, I can tell you that seven of the 12 teams in F1 are based in Britain. However, despite having three British-born F1 drivers, none of them are resident in the UK – all three are in Monaco. Do the British taxpayers not mind tax avoidance provided the individuals don’t benefit from tax revenue?

This leads me to another point which I find particularly interesting about UK tax and my job on the whole. Tax advice isn’t about crunching numbers, it’s not about saving ‘x’ or ‘y’, it?s about finding a solution which works, as well as providing a personal solution which suits out clients.

I see this recent development as another point for the tax advisor to focus on when advising clients, but what isn’t clear to me is how far the tax-efficient should go before they are regarded as tax-immoral. It’s a difficult balancing act and one which will continue to add the human element to what is often regarded as a black and white job.

As always I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the recent press on Jimmy Carr and other aggressive tax avoiders. Are they right to avoid their taxes or is a new wave of morality biting through our cash-strapped Treasury?