What's the Best Way to Study for the CAE?

By: Katy Matthews, CAE

How do you study? Everyone learns differently, so it's up to you to know what the best study pattern is for you.

In my first semester in college, I took Physiology 101. It ended up being the best decision I ever made in my time there. In the first few weeks of class, the professor lectured on how the brain takes in and retains new information. At the time, I was struggling in my classes. After the lecture, I realized that I was studying in ways that hindered my brain from learning.

I was studying with the television and music on, and my friends were in the room while I was sitting on my bed, "studying." This environment was preventing my brain from taking in new information. What I needed was one quiet space, clear of distraction, where the only thing I did was study.

I cleared off my desk, turned off all electronics, and kicked my friends out of my room. I made a rule that the only place I studied was at my desk with the television and radio off.  I joined study groups in all of my classes. The results? My grades went up!

Many years later I found myself sitting at the CAE Kickoff course, panicking. How was I supposed to retain all this material while working full time and fulfilling my family obligations? While listening to the CAE faculty encouraging the course participants to form study groups, I remembered my physiology class. What was my current optimal situation to study for this exam? Where do I do my best thinking? What time does that occur? How did I study in school for important exams a decade ago, and how could I apply that to my current life?

  • I joined a study group.
  • I got up early to read when it was quiet.
  • I made my own flash cards.
  • I found every practice test I could find and took them over and over again.
  • I talked about the material with members of my study group during the week.
  • I assigned myself homework to keep up with all the domains.
  • I made study guides over and over again until I knew it all.

I studied at my work desk (off hours), I bought hundreds of flash cards, and I used the CAE SharePoint site for practice tests and study guides. I spoke with members of my study group by phone or email whenever I had a question. I was diligent about following my calendar of assignments and never procrastinated. I created study guides for each domain until I knew the material.

Of all those things, the most important thing I did was join the study group. We taught each other the topics, encouraged those starting to feel down, and kept each other on track. I felt accountable to them as well as myself. If I did not do my assignment, I was letting 11 other people down. In the end, we were a 100 percent CAE study group. We all passed.

Katy Matthews, MA, CAE, is the Washington office administrator at the American Academy of Pediatrics in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

Katy Matthews, CAE