ABPI Exam? 5 sure-fire steps to conquering overwhelm

Last Updated on August 5, 2021 by Dr M

Watch face showing the time
Time – is there ever enough?

The single most difficult question I’m often asked about the ABPI exam by candidates is: –

How long will it take me to study?

Truth is – I can’t answer that directly for them. Or, for you. 

Instead, when we get into it, I turn the question around by asking: how much time do you have available? Then, we can have a conversation about next steps in study planning.

Backwards planning
We all know that when it comes to answering – “how much time do you have?”- you need to work backwards. If you’ve already enrolled for your exam, what’s the deadline? Working back from that cut off point tells you exactly how much time you’ve got to prepare for the exam. This is my least favoured option when planning, but in the real world, it’s the most common situation exam candidates find themselves in.

Forwards planning
If you haven’t yet signed up for your exam, you’re forward planning.

So, where to start?

  1. Scan your ABPI learning materials (for mandatory/optional topics) to estimate how long it’ll take you to read, highlight and organise (i.e. to prepare mind maps, flashcards, etc.) ( As a guide: it usually takes me two to three days to get my head around preparing a mind map based on information in a Unit.)
  2. Next, make a study plan. Dig out a calendar, or use one online, work out what needs to be done by when – that’s the big picture view. But, you need to go deeper, to break this project down. Yes, it’s a project. Your project.
  3. So, as with any project, break it down into its respective components (i.e. tasks), to get an idea of what you’re dealing with.
  4. Work out the timelines associated with each task or goal. In effect, these are your deadlines.
  5. Manage your tasks with a tool like Trello to stay organised and on track. With Trello, it’s as simple as naming your board (e.g. my study plan), then set up three columns: to do; doing and done. You then add your cards to your to-do column, moving them across as you progress with each of your tasks. Go set up a free account NOW.  Or, if you simply need to keep track of your tasks on the go, then use an app like Todoist that rewards you for keeping on top of your to-do list.

I hope you agree these are straightforward steps to start your study plan. But, perhaps at the back of your mind, you’re still struggling with the difference between the amount of time you have, and the amount of time you need. Sound like you? There can be many reasons for this, some of it, out of your hands. Perhaps your company is focused on getting you past your probationary phase before exam registration comes up for discussion?

Quite a few of my tutees have changed jobs two or three times in their first year, either through redundancy, or because they work for contract sales companies, and they’ve been switched to a different client.

So, because the clock is ticking, perhaps like them, you feel overwhelmed when you finally get around to planning or registering for the exam.

Please – don’t waste your precious time feeding the overwhelm monster. Make a start. You’ll feel better for it.

Or, perhaps you’re not worried and feel that you’ve plenty of time, after all, the exam is just multiple choice questions. How hard can it be? (It’s a mistake to think like this, but that’s a story for another day.)

So, let’s get to the nitty gritty – how long do you think it takes to study for the ABPI exam?

Although I didn’t promise to tell you, let me give you an idea of how long it might take you.

In my experience, exam candidates spend anything from 3 to 12 months preparing.  The ABPI gives medical reps 12 months to sit the exam from the point they join the industry. You then have a further 12 months to pass all your papers (i.e. in the compulsory Units, and in your specialist Units, if you’re taking the Diploma.)

According to the FAQs on their exam website, the ABPI estimates that it takes 300 study hours for Units 1 to 4, and another 150 hours for 3 optional units (for non-science graduates). That roughly translates into 6 months of studying for a minimum of 2 hours daily, 7 days a week, which is pretty intense.

So, if you find yourself time pressured (who doesn’t?), you need good revision techniques.

I recommend mind mapping. Wholeheartedly.

I’ve used it for years and was overjoyed when various software programmes and apps became available. This is the tool I use for meetings, training, and when learning about medicinal products for Medical Information clients. I even used it in my PhD research (not to mention my viva, summarizing from an 80,000-word thesis down to 2 pages). My point is, mind mapping is a well-established, tried and tested technique that helps you with revision, recall and understanding.

What’s your favourite revision technique?

Meanwhile, remember the 5 sure-fire steps to conquering the overwhelm monster. More often than not, we do actually have PLENTY of time. We just don’t use it wisely. Why? Because we fail to plan. Which, of course, means we’re planning to fail. Don’t let that be you. You succeed with the right attitude, tips and tools. Learn more about them here.



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