In this guide we will introduce the Certificate Level exams, the professional skills assessed, how to study for an Certificate Level exam, challenges and how to prepare.
The Certificate Level is at the very start of the ACA qualification and will introduce you to the fundamentals of accountancy, finance, and business. The knowledge and skills you will develop at this level will kick start your career and will provide a base of knowledge that you will build on as you move on to the Professional and Advanced Level exams during your training
There are six exams at the Certificate Level :
- Business, Technology and Finance
- Management Information
- Principles of Taxation
All subjects at this level are assessed by a 1.5 hour computer-based exam. The exams can be sat in any order and, at a time that is convenient for you. You will receive your results for an exam the day after sitting it. All exams have a pass mark of 55% and you have a maximum of four attempts for each.
Students should use their own calculator in the exam.
These exams will give you a foundation that you will develop further as you move onto the ACA Professional and Advanced Level. Exams at the Certificate Level are more knowledge than skills-based, but some skills are tested within an objective testing or simple scenario format.
Each exam explained
One of the first exams you are likely to sit, here you will learn the fundamentals of accounting that will follow through the rest of your qualification, and career. You will start by asking the question ‘why’? Why do we need accounting in businesses? The crucial concepts of accruals and double entry bookkeeping are covered, as well as the creation of single company accounts.
The exam comprises of one scenario-based question, worth 40% of the marks, and 24 shorter questions for the remaining 60%. The shorter questions could be multiple-choice, multi-part multiple-choice or multiple-response.
During this module, you will learn about the concept, process, and need for assurance – what is it, and why is it so important in the finance world. It is likely you will be involved in assurance at some point in your career – either as the assurance provider or as the responsible party, so this module will prepare you well. You will be examined via a 1.5-hour computer-based exam, consisting of 50 multiple-choice, or multi-part multiple-choice or multiple-response questions.
Business, Technology and Finance:
The reason a business is created is set down in a mission statement. This directs managers on what they are trying to accomplish, which they then aim to achieve by developing appropriate strategies. This exam explores how to determine if these strategies are appropriate, the finance needed to fund these strategies and the regulatory framework in which decisions are made.
The 1.5-hour computer-based exam consists of 50 questions worth two marks each. These will be either multiple-choice or multiple-response questions and will require knowledge to be applied to a business scenario. It is vital to understand why, rather than just learn the definitions.
Law is the term given to the rules governing a society. The Law exam introduces the main laws affecting those working in business. These include civil law (the creation and impact of legal obligations), company law (rules concerning different types of business entity), criminal law (different criminal acts that can be committed by businesses) and employment law. The exam is made up of 50 questions, each worth two marks, that are either multiple-choice or multi-part multiple-choice.
Management Information looks at the provision of information within an organisation to allow that business to be run effectively. The main topics covered are costing and pricing, budgeting, and forecasting, performance management, management decision making and ethics.
The exam will contain one scenario-based question, worth 20% marks. This will cover a single syllabus area: either costing and pricing; budgeting and forecasting; performance management; or management decision making. The remaining 80% of the marks are from 32 multiple-choice, multi-part multiple-choice or multiple-response questions
Principles of Taxation:
This exam introduces some of the main taxes levied in the UK. These are income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, corporation tax and value added tax. Through studying for this exam, you will also gain a grounding in taxation principles, and the administration of tax.
The exam consists of 42 questions. Two are 10-mark scenario-based questions; one on income tax and NICs and one on corporation tax. The remaining 40 questions are worth two marks each and cover the rest of the syllabus in line with weighting and are multiple choice, multi-part multiple choice, multiple-response, or numeric entry questions.
Questions are based on the rates and allowances from a particular Finance Act, it is essential that you study the correct finance act for the year you are taking your exam in. The tax rates and allowances are provided in tax tables, along with administration rules. The tax tables can be found at the front of your ICAEW question bank.
What to expect when sitting an exam
There are a number of different question styles in exams at this level. These are as follows:
- Multiple-choice questions – here you will be asked to select one correct answer from three or four potential options.
- Multiple-response – you will be asked to select two or more correct options from those available.
- Multi-part multiple-response – here the question is split into two parts and you must select one correct answer from two options in each section.
- Numerical entry – these questions require you to type your answer into a box.
- Scenario-based – in these questions you are given a short scenario providing information to allow you to enter figures into a proforma template. These question styles are used only in Accounting, Management Information and Principles of Taxation.
Preparing for the exam
When starting studies for a subject the first thing you should do is download the syllabus and study guide from the exam resources web area. This will give you an idea of what you should expect to know by the end of your studies. If there is an errata sheet for the subject, you should download this at this point.
Your ICAEW workbook will give you a framework for your learning and put the ideas gained in context. To help with your learning complete all questions and exercises contained in the workbook. This will consolidate the concepts covered as you work through.
You should then move onto the exam preparation phase of your studies using your ICAEW question bank . The questions here are grouped into chapters that match the workbook. This means you can complete the questions after completing the relevant workbook chapter or do all of these at the end. As well as testing your knowledge, the question bank will also give you exposure to the different question styles in the exam.
Attempt questions in batches under the correct time allocation as discussed previously. Do not look at the answers until you have finished the batch of questions but when you do so read the explanations carefully, referring back to the workbook where needed to ensure full understanding.
Do not neglect any areas of the syllabus, they are all examinable. You should attempt every question in the question bank at least once, but ideally twice.
Finally, you should complete the sample exam, which can be found under the exam resources section for each exam on our website. This has been put together to indicate the mix of syllabus areas and question styles that you can expect to see in the exam, and will also give you experience of the look and feel of the exam software. You should approach this as you would the real exam, attempting all questions in the time available.
What to look out for in the exam
There is no substitute for question practise and after working through the learning materials for the subject you should focus on question practise to ensure you are fully prepared. Having said this, the following tips will help you achieve the best possible result:
- Timing is everything. In the exam, you have 1.5 hours to complete 100 marks worth of questions. This means roughly 0.9 minutes per mark. Try to avoid getting stuck in tricky questions. Have a go then move on.
- Multiple-choice does not mean multiple guess. You must study the syllabus in full so you do not have to resort to guess work.
- In numerical questions, use the wipeable booklets and your calculator to do calculations. Under exam pressure, it is very easy to make silly mistakes – by writing things down you are less likely to do this.
- Read the question requirement carefully. If you rush you are more likely to misinterpret what it is you are being asked for.
- For scenario-based questions, practise the proformas to ensure you are comfortable with which numbers go where.
- In numerical entry questions check the number you have entered. A common mistake is entering too many zeros in an answer.
- When answering multiple-choice questions, it is likely that alternative answer options will be common mistakes made by students. Read all options carefully before making your decision.
- Do not leave any answer empty. If you are unsure on the answer to a question come back to it, but if you are still struggling, try to ensure you put something down.
If you put the work in and take on board the tips and advice given here, there is no reason why you should not see success in the exams. Good luck!