The ACA Advanced Level exams are usually the final hurdle between you and that ICAEW ACA Chartered Accountant status. You can literally almost reach it. With a pass mark of 50% for each exam still comes a lot of stress. Although you have already been through many exams, in most cases with no exemptions 12 times already, it does not get any easier. I am going to get straight to it and give you some last minute study tips for the weekend before your ACA Advanced Level exams.
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1) ACA Advanced Level Exams – Open Book
As you will know, all three ACA Advanced Level exams are open book. For these exams it means you can take in any materials in with you to the exam. By time the weekend before the ACA Advanced Level exams approaches, you should hopefully already have a pretty solid open book file as ideally you would have built your open book files as you went along. If not, you should really make use of this weekend before the exam to get something together and use this time wisely.
I would ensure all notes are ordered in a way that is easy to locate in the real exam. Try packing the notes away and unpacking as if you were about to start the exam to ensure it all flows together nicely. You need to make sure everything is tabbed up and you know exactly where everything is. Time is of the essence in these exams. If that involves pulling together a table of contents sheet, do it. You may even want to print off model answers from the Question Bank if possible of those you refer to often if you have not already.
If you are quite forgetful, ensure to put a checklist together of everything you need to take with you. Nerves can really get the better of us sometimes so you do not want to end up leaving anything behind if you sit in an exam centre. Remember, you would rather have too much with you even if it is under your desk, untouched and on standby than regretting leaving something behind.
For ACA Corporate Reporting (CR), the open book standards can be more helpful than you think. In my CR paper from August 2020 that I will always moan about, I do not think I would have recognised IFRS 8 if it was not for the table of contents in the standards book where I was able to identify this from and make the link. Additionally, a list of what to take in for SBM can be found here. For the ACA Case Study click here for exactly what information you should have pulled out from the Advanced Information (AI) as well as details of planning sheets.
2) Revisit Difficult Topics
I have always found with the ACA exams in particular that things start to click quite late/close to the exam. Admittedly, I think some topics (IFRS 9) never ended up clicking for me. However, if there is a time to revisit difficult topics and really try to get that last bit of understanding, the time is now. I am not suggesting you start cramming in every difficult topic but instead spend time to try to digest more than you perhaps have been able to before. Try to consolidate your understanding, especially for CR which flows nicely into SBM.
3) Recap Common Mistakes
Part of revisiting difficult topics involves recapping questions you have struggled with previously. Assuming it would have been a while since you last attempted the question, make answer plans or do quick calculations and see if you would do any better now. Hopefully you have incorporated these learning points into your open book. If not, it is not too late. You do not want to be tripped up twice!
4) New Questions/Mocks
Notice that I have suggested to recap wrong answers but I have not mentioned attempting full new questions/mocks yet. For ACA Advanced Level exams, this opinion may be controversial but I think the weekend before the exams may be cutting it too fine for this and you should tread lightly. This is because for CR and SBM in particular, even one question can take hours and be very draining. You do not want to risk burning out days before the exam.
My suggestion for CR and SBM is to instead practice parts of new questions that is likely to bring benefits. For CR, I would try sections of the questions you still struggle with rather than a whole question. For SBM, getting quicker at the number/performance analysis questions and understanding how to perform the tougher calculations that gain more marks could help. Overall though, even for Case Study, I would recommend planning your answers to questions/potential requirements.
Join my journey to receive ACA Case Study planning sheets within a few days. If your exam is literally next week, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive these sooner. A timing and structure sheet is also provided which I will come on to further on.
5) You Know More Than You Think
Hopefully after all of the above, you start to realise you actually know more than you think. However, all of the above tips could have actually achieved the opposite. You may be thinking your answers are quite far off, nothing is clicking and this is where the feeling of being overwhelmed kicks in.
Here are some gentle reminders that:
- SBM answers are much longer than what would be expected of a student to produce in the real exam. If you sat BST, you will know these types of exams can be subjective. Not all answers are in the back and you should get marks for anything sensible. Do not worry if you do not hit every point, you do not need to!
- Showing your calculations should hopefully get you method marks even if your answers are incorrect.
- It is impossible to know everything. CR especially is SO content heavy and this is exactly why these exams are completely open book.
- Mock exams with Kaplan for example are traditionally much harder than the real exam to scare you into revising more. Do not let these knock your confidence as you still have time to improve.
- It is 50% to pass so do not beat yourself up if you are not hitting every mark. I really did make an absolute mess of CR where I ended up missing out half of question two and still somehow scraped a pass.
- If you find a question horrendous, I am sure many others will too. I am convinced the exams are scaled but cannot confirm this for sure. Hopefully if they are this works in your favour with the real exam.
6) Timing Is Key
Through speaking to tutors previously, I have heard the main reason for students failing ACA Advanced Level exams is timing. I know this is a given for Case Study as you will be failed for missing out requirements. I will go back on what I said above in point 4) and advise you to sit a full Case Study mock exam if you have not tried the ACA Case Study to time yet. This is crucial to passing. Remember my timing sheets are available should you need it.
Recently students have asked for Case Study if you should read all the requirements and exhibits first and then answer the question. I personally would read each part of the requirement and the relevant requirements in turn. This is because I find the first approach can involve an overload of information. You will not need a later exhibit for a requirement unless specifically stated so reading all part initially and then having to reread later on could waste precious time. However, you will only know what works for you if you have practiced.
For CR and SBM, these are both 2.1 minutes per mark. SBM timing tips can be found here. You may be thinking you are a pro at this now and trust me, I was with you. In all other ACA exams I had my timing pretty much under control. However, CR is one and only ACA exam that threw me with timings and as a result was the one of few exams I really did nearly fail. Click here to find out where I went wrong and how to avoid this. I do also want to mention there is the CR newly introduced AI part to question 1. Do not lose sight of timings getting consumed in the detail here.
7) ICAEW Software Practice
I have touched on many areas to focus on so far. You may be thinking this is a lot for one weekend so I am going to give you one last practical point, exam software practice. The ICAEW exam software seems to be continuously evolving. You do not want to be stressed out on the exam day where you are having to take time to figure out what is even going on and how to physically answer the question. Check out the ICAEW software resources here. Spend at least 20 minutes familiarising yourself with the software if you have not had a chance to yet.
In May 2021, I was actually involved with ACA Case Study software testing. Click here for my take on what I thought.
8) Know What Works For You
This point may seem generic but it is true, know what works for you. It has been the weekend before an exam for you many times before now. This is not the time to start second guessing yourself or to make any drastic changes unless you have implemented these over time. You must have done something right to have gotten this far so keep that confidence! I am not one to recommend cramming, especially for these ACA Advanced Level exams as they are much longer and require good sleep and concentration, but only you know what works for you.
To give an example, I know I cannot stomach food before an exam. Before CR I took the brave leap to have a bigger breakfast and threw up. This was obviously not ideal and it just goes to show I should have known what works for me and stuck to it.
9) Rest And Know When To Stop
Given the above where I have mentioned these exams being much longer and requiring good sleep and concentration, give yourself enough time to rest. You really should allow some time to unwind in the evening. Going off on a slight tangent here but get fresh air throughout the day, exercise if you need to and make sure to keep your fluids up. Do whatever helps you to be on top form for the week of your exams. It is the last hurdle!
Notice in the subheading I have said know when to stop. This is actually a very important point here because you have most likely been studying for months already. If you genuinely feel as though you are as ready as you can be, do not feel bad about calling it a day. You really do sometimes get to that point where nothing else goes in. You could either take this time to read through notes or you really could take that well deserved break before restarting tomorrow or leaving it completely.
When the exams are just around the corner, you really can feel pressured into not being able to stop. What used to help me is by doing things that would still make me feel productive such as something as small as washing my hair or meal prepping. Taking time to pack and unpack your open book file could work here. Do not feel guilty though if you do choose to have an evening off. Listen to your body with this one as mental health is key to getting through these last few exams. You may even feel better for it.
For ACA Case Study, I have outlined the recommended amount of preparation required to pass here. If you have done pretty much everything in this blog, there is probably not much more you can do. The wait is painful but it is equally as important to be on top form for exam day. Let your hard work pay off.
10) Talk To Others In The Same Boat
Although these exams can sometimes make you feel as though you are on your own, you are not. There are many others who are in the same position as you. I have always found moaning to others, sharing my thoughts and working through questions with others can help relieve stress. If you do need a support group, this ACA Advanced Level Telegram group may help. This is essentially WhatsApp without phone numbers. There are over a hundred of students in this group who have either got their ACA Advanced Level exams coming or have completed the exams and can help.
11) So What?
The final part of this blog I will leave you with is the “so what?”. Let’s think about the worst case scenario here of failing. You have worked so hard to get here and are rewarded (if I can even call it that) with unlimited resits. At this point, it is unlikely your firm will let you go for a fail. Although the wait between ACA Advanced Level exam sittings can be frustrating, you will still get there in the end. It happens to the best of us. Stay calm and congratulations for reaching this huge milestone where you are able to even sit the ACA Advanced Level exams – take a moment to be proud of your achievements!
Good luck – you have got this.