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Student Insights

Our new exam software is here

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 05 Feb 2021

Exam software head

March sees the launch of our new Professional and Advanced Level exam software. Students who took part in live trials in December tell us what they think.

“I wish I could have done all my exams with the new software”

Rebecca Gosden works for forensic accounting firm FTI Consulting. She is due to sit her final ACA exams in July.

“I sat my Audit and Assurance and Tax Compliance Professional Level exams in December using the new software. I’d sat both exams in the previous year using the old system, so I was probably a good person to ask in terms of being able to compare the two. When ICAEW asked if I’d like to trial the new software, I didn’t hesitate, because I found the old system so clunky!

“Although it did what it needed to, you really had to learn how to use it beforehand. Our tutors always advised us to practise, practise, practise – because if you didn’t know how to use it properly, the examiners couldn’t read your answers. It was simple things like being able to type into a spreadsheet cell – once you got to the end of the cell, the text didn’t wrap around and you couldn’t see what you’d written. That’s why practising beforehand was so important: you had to get everything set up first – your cells expanded and your columns lined up – before you started answering any questions.

“I downloaded the practice software, but as soon as I looked at it I could see that I didn’t need to work my way around it in the same way. Everything was familiar – the word processing bit, the spreadsheet bit, the questions – it all felt much more intuitive.

“I probably didn’t make full use of the functionality and features, I was much more excited by the fact that I could just type without worrying about expanding the cells! I liked the ease of formatting, being able to bold my headings and use bullet points, as well as being able to make a new worksheet for a new part of the question in the spreadsheet software. You just have to remember to copy and paste from the spreadsheet area into the word processing area. Once you remember that, it’s all much easier.

“It definitely saves time too. Things like being able to use the sum function and sum a large number of values – that wasn’t something you could do in the old software, you had to add cells one at a time – or insert a row and the formulae below adjusting automatically make such a difference.

“I’m really happy with the new software. I just wish they’d brought it in a year or two ago so that I could have done all my exams with it!”

“I wanted to get actively involved in improving it”

Audit assistant Julia Pope is halfway through a three-year graduate scheme at Mazars. She also sat the Professional Level Audit and Assurance and Tax Compliance exams in December.

“A couple of friends at work were invited to take part in the exam software trial, so I got in touch with ICAEW to see if I could do it too. The old system wasn’t great, but I thought that rather than just moan about it, I could get actively involved in improving it.

“The main issue with the old system was that it didn’t behave like traditional spreadsheet software particularly well. In a lot of the exams you have to write explanations, it’s not just about your workings, so you were constantly merging cells to make enough space or having to create new lines. And if you did add new lines all your formatting disappeared. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was just clunky.

“The new system is miles better. It acts exactly like word processing software, then you add in your calculations from the spreadsheet area when you need them. That’s the way the exams function – most of them are explanations with the odd bit of calculation here and there. During the trial, I didn’t come across any issues; the formatting was nice to work with. It was just very easy and user-friendly – intuitive.

“The March Professional Level exams in the UK will be by remote invigilation from home, so we’ll see how that goes. There’s no other way to do it – we can’t be going into exam centres next month – so I felt it coming. But I was really appreciative that ICAEW announced it early so I’ve got time to prepare. And I’m glad that I’m already familiar with the new software!”

New exam software: need to know

Since we launched our previous exam platform five years ago, technology has moved on leaps and bounds. The new software, which students have helped design, refine and trial, introduces a range of features and functionality that enable students to demonstrate their professional skills – and us to assess those skills – more effectively than ever before.

A familiar environment: the new software is designed to be as intuitive as possible, reflecting the types of programs and packages that students will already be familiar with from their work and previous education. It includes fully functional word processing and spreadsheet software, along with tools such as a spell checker, calculator, notepad, highlighter and clock.

“The improved functionality of the new exam software makes it very user friendly; students familiar with standard word processing and spreadsheet software should adapt seamlessly to answering questions in this space,” says Helen Verity, Head of ICAEW Programmes at BPP.

Improved accessibility: new accessibility settings allow you to adjust the zoom and colour contrast of the screen to make it easier to read. The size of the word processing, spreadsheet, question and resource areas can also be adjusted to your preferences.

Software integration: new data analytics software will be integrated into the Professional Level Audit and Assurance and Advanced Level Corporate Reporting exams, allowing you to manipulate and analyse ‘real’ client data for your answers. Other software integrations, such as taxation and accounting, may follow.

“With the introduction of data analytics software to the ACA exams, and therefore more practical questions that mirror the workplace environment, ICAEW is ensuring students have the skills they need to fulfil the evolving role of the accountant in practice and business,” says Helen.

Digital bookshelf: the new exam software also integrates with the ICAEW Bookshelf, enabling you to access personal annotated copies of your digital Learning Materials within open-book exams and easily search for the content you need. Digital copies of relevant permitted texts can also be accessed within other exams.

Remote invigilation: All exams are now available via remote invigilation. It means that, from now on, you can choose where to sit your exams, whether at an exam centre or from a personal location such as home or work.

Find out more and download the practice software here.