The Theory of Constraints Applied to Studying

The Theory of Constraints addresses the issue that, in any process, there is a step that has a lower capacity than the others. No matter how many units are produced in the other steps, the process is always limited by the step with the lowest capacity. Therefore, when planning a process it is important to make certain that the slowest step will be able to produce quickly enough to meet the production schedule.

I can also apply this concept to my classes. Every class will have one student who is the weakest. As the teacher, I need to identify and work individually with that student, after which there will then be a different weakest student. I need to keep identifying the weakest students and working with them until the weakest student in the class is going to pass the exam. If the weakest student will pass the exam, then the group pass rate will be 100%, which is always my goal.

This same idea can also be applied to preparing for an exam outside of a class. When you are studying, you need to work so that you know 70% of your weakest topic. If there is a topic you don’t know at least 70% of, go back and study it again, until there is another weakest topic. Then study that topic. When you know at least 70% of every topic, and some topics at 80% or more, you are ready to pass your exam.

Remember that you do not need to know everything about every topic that is covered on the exam; knowing everything is simply unrealistic. But, what you need to do is make certain that your understanding of your weaker topics is enough to allow you to pass. Furthermore, it is not possible for every topic on the syllabus to be tested. This means that you can occasionally take a small topic and just accept that you will not know it. Of course, you can’t say that about 25% of the exam topics and still expect to pass.

When you have a topic that is difficult for you, try to identify the main and/or basic elements of that topic. Looking at the past exam questions will help you see what has been tested in the past. Make certain that you are able to get the basic questions correct, even if some of the advanced elements are unclear to you.

For exams that have essays or problems on them, it is critical that you know at least enough to get some points on each problem. You never want to get a 0 on an essay or problem, even if it is only 5% of the exam. Every point counts, so even getting a couple of points out of five on one problem could be the difference between passing and failing the exam. Even for complicated topics, you can usually get partial credit for showing a basic understanding of the concepts or process being tested.

If you have used a similar method in your studies, please feel free share your strategies in the comments. I hope that you will be able to use the Theory of Constraints and similar strategies to help you prepare to pass your exams!

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

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