The Certificate Level/ICAEW CFAB Accounting exam can be a bit of a shock to the system. Here the examiners share an overview and advice.
Balancing a new job with your first set of exams can be stressful, and there’s every chance the Accounting exam is unlike anything you’ve seen before. When you spend your first day reading about “T-accounts” and “DEADCLIC”, you may feel like you’re trying to learn a science and a new language at the same time. This can be daunting, but with the right strategy you can get your ICAEW CFAB or ACA journey off to the best possible start.
Get to grips with the fundamentals
Your first priority is to make sure that you understand the essentials. This means that you need to get into a position where you are comfortable with debits and credits.
This can take time, and it’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a non-negotiable. So how do you do this? Unfortunately, there isn’t any magic shortcut, the only solution is persistence and repetition.
Every single time you’re making an accounting entry, get into the mindset of asking yourself “Which accounts are being affected here? Where is the debit, and where is the credit?” and things will click into place before you know it.
Get your question practice in early
A typical (and tempting) mistake is to spend too long trying to revise by rereading and rewriting the theory.
Yes, you need a base level of knowledge to properly attempt questions, but once you have that, you need to be bold and let question practice drive your revision. It’s common to hear “I didn’t really know what the question was asking” or “I couldn’t find the information in the question.” The exam questions are a step up from the theory – they’re meant to be, but throwing yourself into these questions as early as you possible will accelerate the revision process.
The question practice will help you identify what you do know, what you don’t know, and where to target. It will also test and improve your understanding of double-entry. It will acclimatise you to the language the examiners use, and most importantly, it’s much easier to sit down and practice questions for an evening than it is to sit down and read about accounting theory.
Prioritise the long form question
“I just gambled on it being a cash flow. It wasn’t”. These were the unfortunate words a colleague said to me after we had just finished our exam. Whichever of the long form questions you prefer, you can bet that the other one is going to come up! The long form question is notoriously tricky, not to mention it makes up 40% of the exam. This means you need to plan accordingly. Before you start attempting any of these questions, make sure you know what your step-by-step approach is going to be for either type of question. Write this down, and know it off-by-heart.
Once you start practicing the long form questions, take as long as you need. Use this time to hone the techniques that you’ve learned. Be disciplined, we’re always tempted to look at the answer half-way through, but there are only a finite number of practice long form questions available, so you need to make the most of them. Once you’ve done your absolute best, debrief anything you didn’t get and invest the time in understanding what you got wrong and why. Stick to your technique, and slowly build up to that exam pace.
Know your exam strategy
The day of the exam will always be stressful - you need to minimise the potential for any unpleasant surprises. The best way to do this is to know exactly how you’re going to tackle the exam, and commit to that plan. Question 1 of the exam is the long form question, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it first. I always recommend to students to save the LFQ for the end. With the long form question, students can have a brilliant answer that doesn’t quite balance, and spend far too long trying to make this “perfect”, losing confidence and compromising the rest of the exam in the process.
Whatever your strategy, make sure you know what works for you and stick to it. This includes being extremely strict with your timings. If you’re struggling, take a guess, flag the question and move on.
Be fair to yourself
Don’t expect immediate perfection. The Accounting exam can be tough, and the pass mark of 55% reflects this. It takes time and repetition but with enough persistence it will click into place, so don’t be disheartened if you’re finding things difficult early on.
Write yourself a strong, but realistic revision plan incorporating the tips outlined above, and you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of success.
Remember to practice questions to time and within the exam software. You can access the practice software and other exam resources at icaew.com/examresources.