The Audit and Assurance (AA) exam in my opinion is one of the ‘lighter’ exams that is not as content heavy as the other exams. I am therefore not entirely sure if this advice will be as helpful as the other Professional Level blogs. This is largely down to the fact ACA AA is somewhat harder to pinpoint to all the steps you need to take to pass but I will try to cover all bases here. I do not think you need to practice all of the ICAEW AA Question Bank questions before the exam to pass but some practice will definitely help. With this approach, I scored 75 in my ACA AA March 2019 exam.
Note: Although I work in external audit, at the time of sitting this exam I had little audit experience. I was therefore at no extra advantage to others who did not work in audit. However, if you are fortunate enough to have relevant audit experience when you do sit the exam make sure to make use of it! Running through an audit file, looking at the risks and actually understanding the procedures to address these risks could help.
Table of Contents
- What is the ACA AA Exam Actually Like?
- Data Analytics in ACA AA
- ACA AA Short-Form Questions Approach and Tips
- Longer Questions in the ACA AA Exam Approach and Tips
- Auditing Standards – Permitted Texts
- ACA AA Timing
- ICAEW Exam Software
- How to Pass ACA Audit and Assurance (AA) Summary
What is the ACA AA Exam Actually Like?
According to the ICAEW syllabus, the aim of ACA Audit and Assurance (AA) is to “develop your understanding of the critical aspects of managing an assurance engagement (including audit engagements): acceptance, planning, managing, concluding and reporting”. I do think this exam does a great job at covering all these different aspects to the syllabus.
To start off with the basics as covered in the 15 ACA Exams Breakdown – Part 2, below are the key points you should be aware of before sitting this essay-type exam:
|Duration||2.5 hours as are the majority of other Professional Level exams|
|Pre-Requisite||Mainly Certificate Level Assurance – note that I found the only additional Assurance content was on due diligence|
|Key Examinable Areas||There are three key examinable areas in ACA AA: |
1) Legal and other professional regulations, ethics, accepting and managing
engagements and current issues (35%)
2) Planning and performing engagements (40%)
3) Concluding and reporting on engagements (25%)
Further details from ICAEW can be found here
|Exam Structure||The exam is split into six short-form questions totalling 20 marks (on a mixture of the key examinable areas) and three longer questions. The marks vary from exam to exam for these longer questions|
|Open Book||Permitted texts only – used well, this auditing standards book can be extremely helpful!|
|Pass Rate||As per https://jagsjourney.blog/2021/01/21/icaew-aca-exam-difficulty/#professional-level-icaew-pass-rates c.80%|
As always, it is worth checking if you qualify for any credits for prior learning/exemptions. You can find out more here. However, ACA AA does help you prepare for Advanced Level Corporate Reporting (CR) exam. That being said, I did rank ACA AA to be one of the easier Professional Level exams and I do not think missing this exam would have impacted my success in the Advanced Level exams. If you do not learn the content for AA, you will for CR anyway.
Data Analytics in ACA AA
In 2021, ICAEW first incorporated data analytics into their exams (ACA AA and CR) to reflect the more advanced approaches Chartered Accountants are using to interrogate client data. ICAEW states “in the Audit and Assurance and Corporate Reporting exams, students will be provided with a dataset including thousands of transactions. They will be expected to use their data analytic skills to interrogate the data and identify areas of concern or items which warrant further investigation“.
Given my exam was a while back in 2019, I am not able to share my own experience or give tips for what worked for me regarding this data analytics aspect of the exam as I did not have it. However, through the ACA Professional Level Telegram group (essentially WhatsApp without phone numbers), I have been able to hear feedback from others. A common theme is that a lot of time can be wasted here for what is not usually more than say 15 marks (you can pass without it). I will come on to timing further on but it is essential to not get caught up here as good timing is key to passing ACA exams.
Although I do not know too much about this area, from my experience working in external audit, concerns or further investigation will be required where there are outliers in data. This is also the case where account balances are not in line with expectations. Keep this kind of ‘questioning mind’ hat on when approaching this part of the question. It does actually seem as though with practice, you could do well here. Speaking of practice, ICAEW offers question practice that can be found here (Elephant example). I would strongly recommend having a go before the real exam.
ACA AA Short-Form Questions Approach and Tips
As stated in the introduction of this blog, ACA AA probably does not need every question to be attempted to pass comfortably. That being said, for the short questions I would definitely recommend attempting some of these or at least reading through as many as you can to get a feel for the types of questions that come up and how to answer these. You may start to find that you may start to get the hang of these and hopefully can secure more marks here to make it easier to achieve that 55%.
The open book can usually help with these short-form questions too as I will explain further on. This can be time consuming so refer to it where you need to. To help with timing, ICAEW actually allows answering these short-form questions in bullet points.
- Do not waste time using full sentences
- Hit the point
- Move on
If you need further reassurance, this statement has been taken from the front sheet of a past ACA AA exam: “Answer Question 1, consisting of six short-form questions, in note form only. Complete sentences are not required”.
Longer Questions in the ACA AA Exam Approach and Tips
I genuinely think these longer questions just require some practice to get the hang of. In terms of the content, I do not think going over and over this will help but instead jump into question practice. When answering these questions, really think through your answers and make sure what you write is logical and linked to the scenario in question. The key with doing well in this exam is making sure to really read the question and tailor your answer. Generic points you have memorised may not cut it but at least you will not be negatively marked so write anything sensible.
Audit Risks and Procedures
Every exam will tend to ask you to justify the key audit risks or to identify the key risk yourself. Here you should think about materiality, judgements and estimates, complexity of the balance, effectiveness of internal controls, etc. Pull this information out from the scenario. You will then most likely be asked to describe procedures to address these risks. Do not think these need to be random procedures that you need to think of but actually think through what would help. Linking these will help you secure one mark instead of half marks.
I will take this opportunity to give you a bad example and a good example so you can hopefully see the difference.
Bad example: Valuation of land and buildings is key audit risk because there may be an overstatement which means assets could be overstated and the valuation was incorrect. Procedures to address this would be to recalculate the value to ensure it has been calculated correctly. Board minutes should also be inspected and discuss with management.
Good example: Valuation of land and buildings is a key audit risk as the carrying value could be overstated due to a material revaluation of £x in the year. The valuations are judgemental estimates and are complex, there is a risk the valuers may not be experienced and the valuation basis may be incorrect. Procedures to address this include agreeing the valuations to the valuers’ report, assess the valuers’ competence, consider the reasonableness of the basis of the assumptions and whether to use an auditor’s expert.
ISA 500 from the permitted text which I will discuss below can help prompt you for procedures. For example, setting out the main audit procedures which include inspection, observation, confirmation, recalculation, reperformance, analytical procedures and enquiry. Common verbs used in procedures are verify, recalculate, assess, challenge, inspect, obtain, etc. Using these words can help you gain marks but only if you are specific and link to the scenario!
Answering Longer Questions
ACA AA is an essay-type written exam and the examiner will ideally want to see a paper that is easy to mark. Make your layout clear. Where you are making a new point, start a new line. Make use of headings. Look at past paper mark schemes for an idea of how to do this and hopefully this works in your favour.
Auditing Standards – Permitted Texts
During my exam, I made use of the auditing standards book especially for the short-form questions. There is actually so much useful information that is in there that should not be overlooked although be careful as this can be a time trap. What this permitted text really helps with is also ethics. Ethics in ACA AA should be easy marks so make sure to get these! FRC Ethical Standards and more are included in the open book. Again, timing is key and you do not want to waste time trying to find what you need so familiarise yourself beforehand.
When I sat the exam in 2019 (I am starting to sound ancient by this point), we had physical books. This auditing standards book was literally a brick. The plus side is that you do not need to lug it around with you now that ICAEW have gone digital. The downside is that you cannot highlight and tab this up. I have heard via Bibliu, the digital platform that can be accessed here, in the real exam you will get a blank copy. However, you should be able to search for what you are looking for in Bibliu that should help save time. It of course helps if you know what you are looking for is there.
I would therefore suggest being aware of the areas that could help you in the exam and utilise this book as an extension of your knowledge. Try not to rely on it as it can waste time, especially if the search function does not work well. For example, ISA 705 modifications to the audit opinion is a useful one. It can actually help with the longer questions too such as ISA 570 A16 going concern procedures. I will in due course (most likely 2022) be releasing a highlighting guide for ACA AA so join my journey to be notified of this. In the meantime, I would simply recommend familiarising yourself with what is in the open book and what is not.
ACA AA Timing
With the majority of ACA exams, there will be the time pressure that comes with it. There are 1.5 minutes per mark (150 minutes/100 marks) in this exam. It is critical to your success in this exam that you do stick to this timing. If you get through the whole paper you have a much better shot at passing. It is very easy to get caught up these questions and trying to perfect your answers. You are now also at risk of running over with the data analytics as mentioned above. However, you need to know when to stop and move on.
This is how I would go about timing:
On the first page of the exam, it states the number of marks for each question. Multiply each of these by 1.5. Then convert these to real timings you can stick to. See this example below where I have assumed the timer still counts down as it did during my exams.
You can of course attempt the exam questions in any order. For me personally, I preferred building my confidence knowing I could secure some marks in the short-form questions and then moved onto the longer. If you do think you really are at risk of running over with data analytics, perhaps answer this last. The front page of the exam will tell you which question(s) this is in so you can quickly figure out your order.
ICAEW Exam Software
I would always recommend practicing questions in the ICAEW exam software. This software is always changing. I was involved with the software testing and have really seen the evolution of this. For ACA AA, it would have been more straightforward with mainly essay style answers. However, with the data analytics aspect you definitely will need to practice and take a look beforehand to avoid wasting time in the real exam. The ICAEW user guide can be found here and you can download the blank exam practice software here.
Remember: Only your answer in the word processing area will be marked. You must copy over any data from the spreadsheet area to the word processing area for marking. The examiner will not be able to expand rows or columns where content is not visible.
How to Pass ACA Audit and Assurance (AA) Summary
To summarise, although AA may be seen as a lighter exam definitely do not neglect AA. The pass rate is 80% which still means 1 in 5 are likely to fail. My bet is on those who underestimate this exam and do little work as they are too focused on the other Professional exams they are sitting too. By spending a solid few days on ACA AA, reading answers for the different parts of the question and of course attempting some yourself, you should be able to get that 55%. If you do have more time then practise some questions to time. You do not need to produce answers as good as the model answers to pass.
Final tip: Don’t forget you will probably always get half a mark or so for stating to inspect the board minutes or contact the ICAEW helpline!