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Student insights

My ACA Journey: practising resilience

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Jun 2023

Ashwini Poopalasingham ACA student young asian woman ICAEW Students

Having faced her biggest exam challenge yet, Ashwini Poopalasingham shares what she’s learned about looking after herself – and the importance of having a strong support network.

I sat my final two Professional Level exams, Business Planning: Taxation and Business Strategy and Technology, at the start of June. It was the toughest challenge I’ve faced yet. Business Planning: Taxation has a reputation for being one of the hardest exams, and I can see why. I felt like my revision had gone well and I passed my mock, but the exam itself was something else! I found myself panicking: time pressure was definitely a factor, and I found the wording of the longest question difficult to interpret.

In the end, I just tried to get something down. I’d rather write something than nothing, as that way I’ll hopefully get some marks, which could mean the difference between passing and failing. Realistically, though, I’m expecting to have to resit it. Business Strategy and Technology went better. I found the content quite easy to learn, but it’s hard to know if I’ve got the answers quite right and written enough. 

I felt awful when I came out of the Business Planning exam, but it helped to talk to my colleagues and hear that they’d found it tough too. I then only had two days back in the office before going on holiday to Canada for two weeks – but it was the perfect way to forget about the exam stress and focus my mind on something else. Talking to other people really makes a difference – I had a catch-up with my mentor when I got back to work and that helped to get things off my chest, too. Now it’s just a waiting game. If I do need to resit either or both exams, I’ll do that in December, and my first two Advanced Level exams will be pushed back to next year. That would be a silver lining to failing – taking some time to enjoy the summer rather than starting college for Advanced Level in August.

I found it hard to stay motivated during my revision this time, especially as the weather was so nice outside. It also coincided with one of the busiest periods I’ve ever had at work. It depends what project you’re on, but there are peaks and troughs throughout the year – I remember finding the balance of work and studying difficult last June when I sat the first two Professional Level exams, whereas the December sitting was a bit easier because work was quieter.

Ashwini Poopalasingham ACA student young asian woman ICAEW Students

Responsibilities and networks

I also have more responsibility now that I’m in a more senior role. Some of the sections of the files I’m working on are new to me, so that’s been a learning curve, and with the changes to auditing standards, we have to exercise more professional scepticism in the testing and procedures we perform. I’ve also been working with juniors and reviewing their work, which is an added responsibility. It’s nice to be gaining more experience and developing new skills helping the juniors, but at the same time it’s added pressure as I want to make sure I’m giving them the right guidance.

It’s so important to look after yourself and protect your mental health when things are busy and stressful. I try to be disciplined in timetabling revision and setting boundaries: if I’m in the office I leave on time, whenever possible, to get home to study. If I’m working from home, I tend to get up an hour or so earlier to do some revision before logging on, and log off again promptly in the evenings so I can continue studying afterwards. Finding that balance is the key.

The other thing I’ve learned is not to just shut yourself away and stop doing the things you enjoy. Having things in the diary to look forward to helps keep you motivated. One of the mistakes I made with the Tax Compliance and Financial Management exams at the end of last year was to shut myself down and not do anything. I passed both with high marks, which is great, but at the same time I feel I could have gone out and done things with my friends and family and still passed well.

I try to look after myself in other small ways, too. I love doing face masks to relax, and I also like getting things ready – if I’m going out for dinner, say, then I’ll get my clothes, jewellery and make-up all laid out. I do find my sleep suffers when I’ve got a lot on – I find it hard to switch off thinking about what I’ve got to do the next day. I’m lucky that I still live at home with my parents and my sister, so I don’t have to worry about other responsibilities – and they feed me well! When I need support, they’re always there. I had a panic attack when I was revising and it was so good to have them there to say, ‘Switch off your computer, get some sleep.’ Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else.

Having a good support circle around you and being able to ask for help when you need it are vital. During my revision period, I spoke to both my mentor and my training officer about feeling really overwhelmed and they reassured me. You have to let people know, and there are always compromises you can make if you need to. My advice is to find someone you can speak honestly to. It doesn’t have to be one person, it can be a group of people, but I think it’s so healthy to let things out. If you can, talk to your intake or other people you know in the same position. It may not seem like it, but chances are they’re feeling exactly the same.


Learn more about building your personal resilience. Plus, ACA students can access mental health support from Caba

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