From the above title, you may be intrigued to know what I am talking about exactly. In 2021 there has been the roll out of new ICAEW exam software which is continuing to evolve. As an ICAEW exam qualified student, myself and others were offered the exciting opportunity in May 2021 to trial this new software in an exam environment. The exam of interest was the ACA Case Study, ahead of the July 2021 sitting. I therefore had to take part in exam preparation, sit the exam at an exam centre (some may call me crazy) and provide feedback on the software afterwards. Therefore, in this blog I will be sharing my impressions and experience with the new ICAEW exam software.
Disclaimer: I will not be disclosing details of the ACA Case Study exam that I sat but it was not a real future exam.
Previous ICAEW Exam Software
Before I get into the details of my experience and findings, I feel that it is important for you to understand the software I was familiar with. For reference, I will call this the “old software“. I sat the ACA Case Study exam in November 2020. This ICAEW exam software had not changed during my ACA Professional Level exams to ACA Advanced Level so it was essentially all that I knew. There was also no ICAEW Digital Bookshelf and resources were all hardcopies. Sorry to those of you who are not happy with this change as not to rub it in but I definitely prefer a hardcopy!
As you can see from the above image of the old ICAEW exam software, at a first glance it looks like Microsoft Excel. However, in actual fact it was much more limited in terms of formulae, functionality, formatting, etc. All exams had to be sat in this software, even those where the answers are majority wordy. For example, Business Planning: Taxation. In order to write sentences, as can be seen in row 7 above, you would have to click the icon to extend the row.
Regarding the ACA Case Study, please see the image below to get a full picture of the old software.
In my tips for the ACA Case Study exam, several of these are relevant to this old software. For example, in this old ICAEW exam software, there were separate tabs for different parts of the question. This meant the executive summary was on a separate tab to each requirement. You could not copy and paste directly into a different tab which made it difficult to write the executive summary. In order to get around this, I had to paste the answers for my requirements into a comment on the Exhibit page so I could then access it on tab 1 for the executive summary.
Another example of where this software was not ideal was for Requirement 1. This can be seen above where you would be asked to compare two financial periods to analyse the movement in financial performance. In this software, I had to manually input each formula to calculate the differences and percentage changes in every cell, one by one. In Excel you could drag a formula down to speed this up.
Additionally, for appendix 1 where you would put together the numbers in a table to see the movement and percentage change, it was in the same tab as the writing to analyse this. This meant I would have to scroll back and forth to see the above numbers. To get around this I would write/copy across all the calculated numbers from Requirement 1 onto a printed out, blank table I had pre-prepared. This is so I did not have to keep scrolling upwards and downwards between my appendix table at the top of the software and the written narrative underneath.
As you read on and see the new software, you will find the above issues have been rectified. As per the ICAEW Case Study Made Easy blog, it is still worth joining my journey. This is because I will provide you with very useful planning sheets as well as help with structure and timing! The pre-populated table (R1) is still a great idea even if you do not need to write out the most recent figures. This is because it gives you a template you can copy out into the exam with PY figures.
First Impression of the New ICAEW Exam Software
If you have not yet had a chance to look at the new software, I will show you some images below. Heads up, there have been MASSIVE changes. If you are due to sit your ACA Advanced Level exams on the new ICAEW exam software in July 2021, I would suggest you start practising on this as soon as possible. You can access it from the ICAEW website here.
Before I was due to sit the trial ACA Case Study exam in this new ICAEW exam software, I was able to access it beforehand. I made some notes on my reaction and first impressions when I first saw it and this includes “what on earth??? HUGE change”.
If you compare this to the old software that I was used to and grew to love, you will understand why my mouth dropped. I think what is great about this new ICAEW exam software is that it is quite easy to understand how to use it. The Word Processing area clearly states that it is the only area that will be marked and the Spreadsheet area will not. Therefore, you must copy this across.
When reviewing the software, I was questioning how this would work in relation to the ACA Case Study exam. Here are my thoughts and findings after spending some time to play around with the new software:
- The initial concern I had based on the above image was that there would be a lot of scrolling required to see the Word Processing area as the box was much smaller now. However, you can expand and minimise areas to suit you by simply dragging them by the three dot icon, which is actually very helpful.
- It is nice there’s a calculator available but I would prefer to use my own physical calculator.
- There is still the sticky notes/comments feature which could be helpful for the Executive Summary as with the old software.
- I was intrigued to know how the software would work for the different tabbed answers to each requirement. This did not appear to be very clear.
- It felt as though it was easier to see the exhibits and requirements in this new software.
- The Spreadsheet area seems as though there is much more functionality. However, I was hopeful that it would copy across to the Word Processing area easily without getting distorted.
- There is also an accessibility feature where you can change the colour of the software. The white screen above could be changed to blue, which could help those who are dyslexic. This can be seen in the blog post image.
Trial ACA Case Study Exam Experience and Feedback
As you may have gathered from the list above, I did have some questions regarding how this exam would go and was quite apprehensive. Before I share my detailed findings I would like to give an overall summary. I thought this new software was brilliant and I genuinely mean that. As per the old software and the limitations, it meant I had to find ways around it. However, this new software does not require the steps I outlined earlier and it honestly saved time. I finished the exam with 15 minutes to spare which is great for the very time pressured Case Study!
Here is why I thought it was so great:
- Having the one Word Processing area with the ability to see the Spreadsheet area at the same time is genius for Case Study. You can see your appendix and narrative at once so you do not need to waste time writing it out. Please bear in mind that the exam centre usually has bigger screens than those when sitting remotely so it worked very nicely.
- I also love that Excel allows you to drag down a formula because this also saves a lot of time and the “$” symbol works in this.
- If you were wondering, there are not separate tabs for each requirement. All answers are to be written in the one Word Processing area so this means you can still see what you have written when writing the Executive Summary. I did not need the sticky notes/comments feature after all.
- It was also very easy to copy across from the Spreadsheet area to Word and there was no distorting of any kind. I used the keyboard shortcuts (“ctrl + c” and “ctrl + v”) rather than right clicking which I have heard may have issues.
- Being able to adjust the general layout was just as easy as with the practise software. I love that you can expand Excel or Word as it suits you as well as accessing the exam exhibits at the same time.
On the other hand, I did also jot a few points down during the exam to keep track of any minor issues that I did experience with the new exam delivery software. This is why I did not rate the functionality of the Spreadsheet area the highest. These issues include:
- The cut and paste function only works if you are pasting directly into blank cells. If you try to paste over cells with writing in, it will delete parts and not paste the whole selection. You can get around this by cutting and pasting elsewhere first so the desired paste area is blank and then pasting.
- The automatic decimal places for percentages is 2dp but in Case Study 1dp would be better.
- Where a number in a cell is formula driven, Excel would not allow me to alter the decimal places of the answer.
- The software did not allow me to copy and paste writing from the exhibits into the Excel area. For example, where I wanted to copy an expense category. It did allow this in the Word area though which was useful.
- Initially I thought you could not copy and paste a formula driven answer. “#VALUE” would appear. However, the paste special function did work and was an easy way to get around this.
- There were a few instances where format painter did not always work on numbers.
The above points were all very minor and in the grand scheme of things, I definitely saved more time with the new ICAEW exam software than wasted time. I did think during the exam it would have been useful if the Spreadsheet area had more tabs but again, this was very minor. As I mentioned above, the new exam delivery software is a huge improvement even with these minor issues.
ICAEW Digital Bookshelf and Data Analytics Software
If you are looking for details of Bibliu, the ICAEW digital bookshelf or the new data analytics software, unfortunately you will not find details of these in this article. This is because they are not used in the ACA Case Study exam so I did not access these. You can take in any materials you would like into this exam, including the Advanced Information (AI). It is completely open book. The data analytics software is also not examined in this exam.
With that being said, I am keen to put out a blog on this in the near future. If you are an ACA student who has real exam experience with any of these, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you and collaborate so we can help others on this area together. I will definitely be posting a blog on this so join the journey to stay tuned!
Interesting ACA Case Study Facts
As I had to sit an ACA Case Study exam again, there was also a facilitation day beforehand. This was of course not as detailed as when I studying for the exam in college in 2020 because we are students who have already passed. Therefore, this amount of detail was not required and we were trusted to be able to prepare for parts of the exam ourselves. Additionally, the purpose is to test the new ICAEW exam software and so our marks in this exam did not matter.
That being said, the lovely facilitator still did make some interesting points that I thought I would share:
- To prepare for the Case Study and pull together the AI, those responsible actually go out to companies to understand their business. They are of course bound by confidentiality but it is interesting and perhaps obvious actually considering how detailed the AI is.
- The Ethics points are usually found in the article of the exam. This means the areas raised can vary in formality and different sources can be used.
- As actually stated in the AI, management accounts are used rather than published accounts. This is so there are no disclosure/compliance issues raised.
- In the AI, they deliberately provide three years of management accounts to give the student lots of scope for how to analyse movements.
Software Testing Opportunity
This new ICAEW exam software testing opportunity is one that I am very glad I got involved with. If you are given the chance to take part in the future, I would encourage you to do so. Through this, I was able to provide valuable feedback and if there were any major issues, these would have been discovered during this sitting rather than the real exam in July. For example, there were issues with the log in process and screens went off during the exam. The test centre would rather this happen for us so they can learn from it beforehand than to students in exams where it really matters.
Note: due to the screens going off, our exams were paused and we had to log in again. Fortunately, the software does automatically save as you go along so that was reassuring as I did not need to redo anything!
If you are due to sit the ACA Case Study exam shortly, good luck and I hope this blog helped! Other blogs on the ACA Case Study include the Case Study Made Easy, Mastering the Marking Key and How much Preparation is Needed?