As mentioned in ‘All Important ACA: What? Why? How to Qualify?’, there are 15 ACA exams. These 15 exams can be broken down into three levels:
- Certificate Level – six exams
- Professional Level – six exams
- Advanced Level – three exams
This blog post focuses on the ACA Certificate Level exams. In order to make this as informative as possible, I will provide all of the information I would have found useful before I started studying for these ACA Certificate Level exams. For every single exam in turn I will explain what it is about, provide the exam timings and the exam structure.
Table of Contents
- ACA Exams Attempts
- Credits for Prior Learning (CPL)/Exemptions for ACA Exams
- ACA Certificate Level Exams (55% pass mark)
- ACA Certificate Level Exams Wrap Up
I will discuss these ACA Certificate Level exams in the order I sat them. However, the ACA exams can actually be sat in any order with the exception of the Advanced Level Case Study (exam 15). This exam has to be sat last and in the final year of your training agreement. Although all others can be sat in any order, it makes sense to follow the levels outlined below. This is because the ACA Certificate Level exams are essentially a pre-requisite for the Professional ACA exams and so on. That being said, it is up to your employer and I have heard of instances where a Certificate exam was sat after Professional.
In addition to this, ACA Certificate Level exams are not limited to certain exam dates sittings. This means you and your employer have flexibility arranging your exam dates throughout the year. You can even sit two on the same day (AM and PM). If you fail, you can arrange a resit immediately which is handy but hopefully not needed!
ACA Exams Attempts
Each ACA exam has a maximum of four attempts as per ICAEW regulations except Advanced Stage Level exams. These have unlimited attempts and a lower pass mark as will be shown in Part 3. Although ICAEW permits four attempts, employers can be more strict and could even limit this to two. This means the employer could terminate your contract due to failing an exam twice or for hard failing. Hard failing is scoring below a certain benchmark such as 45%. If you put in the hours, you should be fine so do not worry!
Note: An exam must be attempted at least within a three year period. If not, the student is removed from the student register and must re-register. This is highly unlikely but I thought I would share this information anyway. However, ICAEW states there is no overall time bar.
Credits for Prior Learning (CPL)/Exemptions for ACA Exams
It is also worth mentioning that I did not get any credits for prior learning (CPL)/exemptions for any of the ACA exams. CPL is only available for ACA Certificate and Professional level exams, not Advanced. My BSc Economics and Mathematics (Industrial) degree did not qualify for any exemptions but in a way I was glad. This is because even if I did qualify, I would only vaguely remember the content by this point. Additionally, if I was granted an exemption for a Certificate Level exam or Professional exam for example but not for an Advanced exam, I would find the exams later on much more difficult given the assumed knowledge.
However, it is always worth checking on the ICAEW website and taking the exemption if you feel you can still do well with it. It is an easy win in a way so worth looking into. The content from a pre-requisite exam will always be recapped anyway.
ACA Certificate Level Exams (55% pass mark)
All six ACA Certificate Level exams are 1.5 hours long. These are all electronic, multiple choice exam questions. Although 1.5 hours is the permitted duration, like with other exams you can apply to ICAEW for access arrangements. I personally did not find these exams to be too time pressured as it was but it is easy to get caught up in AC and MI, see below.
The six exams do differ in structure which I will outline below. See here for more from ICAEW but I will also provide my own takeaway.
1) Accounting (AC)
As predicted with the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACA), the first Certificate Level exam I sat was accounting. This examines the basics of accounting but for me with no experience of accounting, it was literally a new language. Debits, credits, accruals, there was a lot to learn.
60% of the exam is 24 multiple choice questions where some can have multi answers. The remaining 40% is a scenario based question where you have to prepare single company financial statements. This can either be a statement of profit or loss, a statement of financial position or a statement of cash flows. You will be given a trial balance and a template with a pro-forma is provided to slot numbers into. I remember everyone in my intake dreading getting the cash flow!
2) Assurance (AS)
This exam is mainly based around the core ethical principles. As an ICAEW student, ethics has a significance importance in your studies and career. Ethics is said to be an overarching requirement for the professional accountant. From an exam perspective, it is very important as all the Professional exams include at least a 5% ethics mark allocation. The Advanced exams also include ethics marks. This exam content also helps with the Ethics Learning Programme. For reference, this is a step of becoming ACA qualified as outlined in my first blog. It is definitely worth getting to grips with this ethical content as it will help you later on!
The Assurance exam has 50 questions worth two marks each. The questions are multiple choice but this could include choosing more than one answer for a question. In all honesty, these questions can be quite tricky with slight differences in answers. This is why question practice is key.
3) Principles of Taxation (PTX)
The contents of this exam can be gathered by the name. This exam is good for forming a basic understanding of taxes. It includes how to calculate income tax, national insurance contributions (NICs), corporation tax, capital gains tax (CGT) and VAT. It also covers learning the administration side of tax i.e. when to file a self-assessment return. Honestly, this exam is pretty useful in a general sense. You better believe I started looking at my pay slip in a different light after this exam. I started checking my PAYE code and all sorts.
80% of the exam is 40 multiple choice questions that can require selecting more than one answer or entering in a number. The final two scenario based questions, worth 10% each will cover income tax and NIC, and corporation tax.
What is quite nice about this exam is that a help sheet is provided. This includes some admin details such as submission dates, payment dates and penalties as well as tax rates and PAYE codes. There is a lot to remember so there is some help here. I remember one of my multiple choice questions the answer I could pull straight from this sheet – dream.
That does not mean you do not have to revise of course as there a lot more to learn. Not all the administrative dates are provided but a good chunk are. Make sure you know which are provided and which you need to memorise! There is also the actual application of these tax rates which these sheets won’t help with.
4) Management Information (MI)
Unless you have studied this in university, this content will be quite new to you as it was to me. This content is around budgeting and I also remember needing to be able to calculate contribution costs which I found complicated at the time. Other content includes apportioning overheads, costing, the breakeven point and mark-up and margin. There is quite a lot to learn for this exam and I definitely found it to be the most difficult of all ACA Certificate Level exams, ranking above some Professional too.
This exam has 33 questions. The majority of the paper (80%/32 marks) as the others are multiple choice questions where some can be multiple answers. The final 20% is a scenario based question and in this exam, there are many different topics that can come up. Given this , it may feel as though more preparation is required.
My final question was a calculation of variances. I only remembered right at the end to insert zeros into blank boxes otherwise I would not have got the marks. I guess that is a useful tip if you are studying for this exam, do not forget to insert zeros.
Yes, you did read that correctly, law. This surprised me as I would not have thought an ACA student would have to study this. However, this content is more around corporate law and legal agreements. It was actually quite interesting and I enjoyed studying this. I can’t say the same for others though. The most relevant part to becoming a Chartered Accountant is probably the understanding of fraud, money laundering and bribery.
The Law exam has 50 questions worth two marks each. The questions are multiple choice but this could include choosing more than one answer for a question.
This exam is probably the most difficult in the sense that you really need to pay attention to the detail. Even if there is only one right answer in the question, the answers seem very similar and sometimes a few seem correct. Again, this is one to get plenty of question practice for.
6) Business, Technology and Finance (BTF)
It is clear from the name this exam will have a lot of content covering a range of topics. I found this exam to have a lot of different models that were needed to be understood and memorised.
The BTF exam has 50 questions worth two marks each. The questions are multiple choice but this could include choosing more than one answer for a question.
These exam questions are more black and white in terms of right or wrong. If you have revised the content well enough, you should be fairly confident for this exam.
ACA Certificate Level Exams Wrap Up
With these ACA Certificate Level exams, from my experience you will most likely feel as though you have failed but then you will surprise yourself. It is definitely hard to tell unless you had a nice paper (my PTX was lovely). As mentioned, if you would like to see how I ranked these exams in terms of ACA difficulty from hardest ACA exam to easiest, click here.
The results for the ACA Certificate Level exams will come in within 24 hours – calling this an anxious wait would be an understatement. You will also have different questions to others so it makes it hard to discuss after too (probably for the best).
If you would like even more information you can access the syllabus of these exams here from ICAEW. Page 16 onwards covers these ACA Certificate Level exams in detail. These ACA Certificate Level exams all build the foundations for the Professional exams, except Law which does not really appear again. I have provided tips how to pass Certificate Level here.
To avoid an extremely long blog post and information overload, I will stop here. Don’t worry, I will be posting Part 2 Professional Level in due course so make sure you subscribe and join my journey!