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Student insights

Getting a head start

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Sep 2023

group meeting office coworkers colleagues shaking hands new starters ICAEW Students

New to the ACA? Read our top tips to help you navigate the first months of your journey.

As an ACA student, you’ll likely be juggling your studies with full-time work for the first time. So, how do you ensure you’re getting off to the best start? We asked Emily Joyce, senior client relationship manager at ICAEW, for tips and advice. Emily supports the top 20 accountancy firms with everything ACA-training related.

Register as a student

Until you are fully registered, you won’t be able to access all the ICAEW resources and systems. Get this done straight away and fill in all of the sections. “Sometimes students stop at the point of adding their personal details,” says Emily. “Make sure you select the correct registration option and, if you are entering a training agreement, add your employer number, training agreement length and start date.” There’s a handy registration guide to take you through the process step by step. 

Apply for access arrangements and credit for prior learning

Once you have registered, you can apply for credit for prior learning (CPL) if your employer lets you, and access arrangements if required. “Access arrangements are really important to get sorted straight away,” Emily stresses. “If students need additional support in their exams – for example they have dyslexia and need additional time, or they’re diabetic and need to check their blood sugars during an exam – whatever the situation is, get the application in with the needed supporting medical evidence asap.” 

For ACA Certificate Level exams, send all the relevant supporting documentation and allow 21 working days before the exam date. Make sure to not book your exams until your access arrangements have been confirmed. For ACA Professional and Advanced Level exams, leave it no later than the closing date of the respective exam session. If you are applying for CPL, check the directory to see what you are eligible for to avoid being charged for a declined application.

Don’t stop asking questions

“This is brand new to you,” says Emily. “There are no silly questions. We don’t want our students to feel anxious or pressured because there’s something they are unsure of.” The induction period is a great time to get answers. A lot of inductions are held online, so you can put your hand up or pop your question in the chat box. “But wherever we have the opportunity, we much prefer to do the sessions face to face,” says Emily. “It’s much easier to see when students might benefit from some extra reassurance.” There is also a FAQ for new students on the ICAEW website.

Find a work-life balance that works for you

The ACA qualification is demanding and fast-paced, so good time management and accurate record-keeping is essential. “Keep on track with all the work your tuition provider has set,” says Emily. Log your work experience diligently (on a timesheet or Excel document, whichever suits your employer), including the work carried out, how long it took and when you did it.

It may feel as though your workload doesn’t allow time for any extra-curricular activities, but students can take the opportunity to get involved with their local student society. Making connections through joining events with your peers will give you the opportunity to socialise alongside your studies.

Prepare for your exams

It will seem like no time at all before your first exam rolls around. If you are an independent student, Emily advises setting your exam dates and working towards your goal, rather than revising and then booking your exams once you think you’re ready. Most employers will be really clear about when they expect you to take your exams. According to data from tuition provider BPP, if you work through all of the study steps your tuition provider sets you, the chance of passing your exam goes up by 13% at Certificate Level, and 17% at Professional Level. Familiarise yourself with the exam software and access exam resources and past exams to be fully prepared. 

Are you on track?

Your first six-monthly review is a time to take stock if you’re in a training agreement. This is when you start to log your work experience, as well as your progression in terms of professional development and ethics and professional scepticism. Visit our training file guide and watch the videos on how to record your achievements. “Don’t put off the uncomfortable or hard tasks,” Emily advises. “You will feel so much better when you know you have cleared those challenges.” The student roadmaps available on the ‘getting started’ pages (see below) showcase a typical student journey, so you can keep track of your studies.

Make the most of ICAEW resources

ICAEW is always on hand for support and advice. Across the ICAEW website, you’ll find useful resources to help you throughout your journey to the ACA. Here are just a few that can help you adjust to your new schedule:

  • Get top tips on Getting Started as an ACA student, including registration, applying for credit for prior learning, and booking exams.
  • For exam guides, interviews and articles on life as an ACA student and beyond, browse Student Insights.
  • The Student Support team is there for all ACA students. Speak to our chatbot Mia or an ICAEW advisor via a live webchat. You can also telephone or email.
  • The occupational charity caba provides amazing support and advice to ACA students for any physical, mental, legal or career challenges you may be facing.
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