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Elements of the ACA

The ACA qualification has four essential elements: exams, technical work experience, initial professional development and structured training in ethics. Students cannot qualify without completing and passing all four elements.

Along with these four elements, ICAEW requires students to have:

  • an ACA training agreement; and 
  • six-monthly reviews throughout their training.

Students studying in some countries or those with previous professional qualifications or previous work experience may be eligible for full or part credits at some of these elements. This includes (but is not limited to) AAT, ACCA, CIMA, CICPA and more.

ACA examinations

The ACA qualification has two stages of exams: Professional Stage and Advanced Stage. The exam structure and subjects are shown below. Exams can be done in any order, although the Case Study cannot be attempted until a student is in their final year of training.

 Professional Stage and Advanced Stage exam structure and subjects

Credits (or exemptions) may be available to students with other academic or professional qualifications.

Tuition for the ACA exams is offered via a selection of methods (dependent on geographical location):

  • classroom - day-release, evenings, weekends or block-release
  • distance-learning
  • online - live lecture webinars, online interactive sessions
  • blended learning (which involves a combination of any of the above).

All ICAEW tutors have met our 'partner in learning' criteria and we meet and discuss regularly with our tutors around the world to ensure the continual high standards and successful pass rates.

Initial professional development

Initial professional development (IPD) is the development of professional skills throughout training. It ensures students develop the added value skills that help set them apart as a chartered accountant. IPD focuses on five key skill areas:

  • ethics and professionalism;
  • personal effectiveness;
  • technical and functional expertise;
  • business awareness; and
  • professional judgement.

Students develop these skills through on-the-job learning such as discussions with more senior staff, shadowing, mentoring, webinars, events and in-house training.

Employers can use their own organisations’ professional development scheme where it is accredited by ICAEW or students can follow ICAEW’s IPD scheme.

Six-monthly reviews

ICAEW requires you and your students to meet at least twice a year to discuss their progress and development.

Structured training in ethics

The ACA qualification is unique in requiring sustained and comprehensive ethics learning throughout the full length of a student's training. The structured training in ethics (STE) programme is an online training and assessment package based on interactive case studies, scenarios and self-test questions. There are three stages to the STE programme which must be completed throughout a student’s training.

Technical work experience

Technical work experience is practical on-the-job training in ‘real’ work of a financial, business and/or commercial nature. Most students are required to complete a minimum of 450 days of technical work experience during their approved length of training. This is usually achievable under a typical three year training agreement.

Students with previous work experience or some other professional qualifications may be eligible for 12 months credit for prior work experience and would be required to do 300 days instead. Previous experience must relate to at least one of the following six technical categories: Accounting, Audit or Assurance, Taxation, Financial Management, Insolvency, Information Technology. 

Technical work experience can be in just one area but a variety of work experience allows students to gain breadth as well as depth of understanding. Audit experience is not needed to gain the ACA (although audit is covered in the exams).

Training agreement

Your organisation will need to issue each student with an ACA training agreement (also called a training contract). This is a signed formal written two-way agreement between a student and their employer (separate from an employment contract).

The ACA training agreement explains the support that you will provide to your student(s) and the standards of performance that you (and ICAEW) require from your student(s). It can vary in length from three to five years, although some students with other professional qualifications may be eligible for a two year training agreement.

The training agreement helps produce students who are focused on passing their exams and are committed to applying and developing their knowledge and skills in the workplace.

Become an authorised employer

If you are interested in training ACA students, please find out more about becoming an authorised training employer (ATE).

Alternatively, you can contact us by email at training@icaew.com or by telephone +44 (0)1908 248 038.