Besides being asked how difficult the ACA exams are, I would rank this as the second most common question I am asked. There are many different ways to sit the ACA examinations. I have touched on this in my earlier blog posts in terms of the order of exams, which sittings are available for which exam or the number of exams you can sit during one exam window/at once. Having completed the first 12 ACA exams in just one year of starting the ACA qualification I thought I would share my thoughts and experience. In this blog I will really try to drill down to answer how intense it is to sit three ACA Professional Level exams at a time.

Overall Intensity of Sitting Three ACA Professional Level Exams Together

I am not going to downplay or sugar coat this answer. Sitting three exams in one Professional Level sitting window is very intense. The intensity will vary from person to person too depending on several factors.

factors sitting three ACA professional level exams
  1. Educational background – as someone with no prior accounting experience, there was a lot to learn. Professional Level regardless is a huge step up from Certificate Level. If you for some reason are eligible for an exemption/CPL but do not take it, assuming you can still remember the content, the intensity would reduce.
  2. Workload – Keep reading as I will discuss this further below. However, workload does make a big difference and how you balance your time between working and studying.
  3. Other commitments – if for some reason you cannot study on certain days/evenings/weekends, this will be much harder for you.
  4. Work experience – One of the Professional Level exams is Audit and Assurance. If you work in audit, you would find this exam less challenging than someone who does not. The same applies for a graduate who works in tax and the tax exams for example if they cover these taxes in their role.

My Timeline of Three ACA Professional Level Exams

Below I have shown a timeline of my Professional Level exam sittings starting from the day I first started learning the content to the day of the exams. Any weekdays between these dates that have not been accounted for was where I was back at work, auditing.

Note: the college dates were arranged by Kaplan (who I would highly recommend) and my employer. I did not have any input into the number of exams at once or the order of the exams. Additionally, as I new joiner I was auditing predominantly Public Sector clients. For this reason, I was able to study and sit my first three Professional Level ACA exams during the ‘core’ busy season (January-March).

Briefly touching on the point around order of exams, for ACA Professional Level exams it does not matter too much. The content does not overlap except for Tax Compliance (TC) and Business Planning: Taxation (BPT). In this instance I would recommend sitting TC first. As I sat BPT I cannot comment on the other variations of this exam.

FAR, AA and TC Timeline

January 7, 2019

Technical Knowledge

11 days of college to start learning the content for the first three ACA Professional Level exams

January 7, 2019
January 30, 2019

Applied Workshop

8 days of college to start applying the content to exam style questions and sit progress tests

From this point it is a good idea to start attempting the ICAEW Question Bank

January 30, 2019
February 11, 2019

Annual Leave

For the two weeks prior to examination preparation, I booked annual leave to revise

February 11, 2019
February 25, 2019

Examination Preparation

These two weeks involve non-stop question practise and sitting mock exams

February 25, 2019
March 11, 2019

March 2019 Exam Sitting

11th March 2019:
AM – Audit and Assurance
PM – Financial Accounting and Reporting IFRS

12th March 2019:
AM – Tax Compliance

March 11, 2019

FM, BPT and BST Timeline

June 10, 2019

Technical Knowledge

8 days of college to start learning the content for the second three ACA Professional Level exams

June 10, 2019
July 8, 2019

Applied Workshop

7 days of college to start applying the content to exam style questions and sit progress tests

From this point it is a good idea to start attempting the ICAEW Question Bank

July 8, 2019
August 12, 2019

Annual Leave

For the two weeks prior to examination preparation, I booked annual leave to revise

August 12, 2019
August 26, 2019

Examination Preparation

These two weeks involve non-stop question practise and sitting mock exams

August 26, 2019
September 10, 2019

September 2019 Exam Sitting

10th September 2019:
AM – Business Planning: Taxation

11th September 2019:
AM- Business Strategy and Technology
PM – Financial Management

September 10, 2019

Timeline Key Points

The key points that you should takeaway from the above timelines are the following:

  1. I first started learning content months before the exam sittings themselves.
  2. Take note of the actual three ACA Professional Level exams that I sat together (FAR/AA/TC and FM/BPT/BST). I will discuss this further in the next section below.
  3. You may have observed that for both sittings I booked annual leave for two weeks to revise prior to the exams. 2019 was not a fun year in terms of annual leave but I am glad I took the leave as it helped me pass first time. It did also really break the year up so it felt more like a studying and work split, rather than too much juggling.
  4. With the first three ACA Professional Level exams I did not have much audit work due to the timing of college and annual leave before the March 2019 sitting. However, I did work and study much more for the second set.

Three ACA Exams at Once

Sitting three Professional Level exams at once is heavy, especially because the each exam covers so much content. I did not have a choice about which exams I sat together or the intensity of this. Both these aspects were decided by my employer. In a way this made it easier as I simply got on with it. However, I know others have the choice about their exam intensity, whereby it is up to the student how many ACA exams they sit at a time and which ACA exams.

What I can say to help this decision is that AA and BST are lighter exams. These are the two ACA Professional Level exams that do not require as much revision and practise as the others. This is because these exams in a way do incorporate a fair bit of common sense (not usually my strong point). You may think I have this opinion of AA as I work in audit. Although I do work in audit, at the time of sitting the AA exam I had barely done much audit work due to the intensity of my ACA exam schedule. Therefore, I would like to think my opinion is valid on this one.

Sitting three ACA Professional Level exams at once was more manageable because of sitting AA in the first and BST in the second sitting. These are exams that I feel could be sat with other exams and be manageable. It does of course depend on the several factors I mentioned above.

Not that I was able to do this but sitting TC and BPT at the same time could also have it’s advantages too. Learning the tax rules and calculations at once could be quite helpful.

Things to Consider

If you do have the choice, you should assess whether you are willing to put in the work and really commit to the exams. Like I said, it is hard work and you need to prepare, otherwise prepare to fail. You should weight up the several factors discussed above to help make your decision.

In terms of workload, if you have a lot of work on which includes working evenings and weekends then it may not be best to have such an intense exam schedule. However, hopefully your employer supports you and gives you the time you need to revise to ensure you can pass the exams. What I mean by this is that they actually allow you to leave on time and do not make you overwork during your exam season leading up to the exams.

Additionally, although educational background and work experience are factors to consider, I did not have the advantage with either and was still more than fine in the end. If you have the determination and faith that you can do it then go for it.

3 professional exams at a time

Another important aspect to consider is how well you are at shaking off a bad exam. If you think you really struggle with this, then seeing my three exam bookings together in the timelines above may make you realise this perhaps is not for you. You do not want one feeling of a bad exam impacting the others after.

If you too do not have the choice, then good luck! It will be a huge amount of work required in a fairly short space of time. In the end though, it was do-able but it definitely did require efficient time management and planning. See my blog on 5 best ways to minimise exam stress to see how I went about planning for this.

Benefits: if you can/do put in the hard work then you should be fine and can reap the benefits. For example, getting the exams out of the way quicker. It also means you do not have to constantly balance working and studying. There are times you will have a break from ACA exams until the next set come along.

Working and Studying

In terms of working and studying and assessing whether I actually needed to book two weeks of annual leave, join my journey. I will be writing a separate blog on this shortly. This will cover the ACA as a whole rather than only the three Professional Level exams. In the meantime, I hope this helped!

As well as joining my journey you can also join this LinkedIn ACA support group I have created!

join jags journey