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Student Insights

My ACA Journey: Professional Level exams

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Jun 2022

ICAEW student ACA exams young woman

Almost a year into her training journey, ACA student and audit trainee Ashwini Poopalasingham tells us how she’s finding the step up to Professional Level.

I sat my first Professional Level exams – Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Audit and Assurance – in June. Going in, I didn’t know quite what to expect, as I’d heard different stories from people who had done them before, but it definitely felt like a step up from Certificate Level. We had two weeks at college in April to learn the content and, particularly with Financial Accounting and Reporting, it felt like we were thrown in at the deep end, as it was things we hadn’t really encountered before. The funny thing now, though, is that I’m seeing it all at work.

I had a month of studying between the tuition and the exams, and that was quite tough because it was right in the middle of a busy season at work. It was hard to balance – sometimes I was too tired to study after working long hours, but I felt I had to do at least some revision every day. I ended up getting up early, especially on the days I was working from home, to get a good amount done before starting work, so that messed up my sleeping patterns a bit! I found it difficult to relax at times, too – there was always a niggle in the back of my mind that I should be revising.

In the last month before the exams, I felt like things were starting to click and the revision was going well. We had three or four more days of college tuition a couple of weeks beforehand, and that was really useful, just to have that refresher. I have good support around me as well – if there’s something I don’t understand, I can easily ask a friend or a tutor. I also discovered that my tuition provider has an online forum that’s monitored 24/7 – you can just type in a question and they’ll answer it for you. I wish I’d known about that earlier because it would have helped a lot, but I’ll definitely be making use of it next time! It’s so useful for those little things you might need reminding of just before the exam.

The revision sessions were mainly just endless question practice. It was over the Jubilee bank holiday weekend, and I couldn’t get into college, so I did them online from home. That was actually really good because it meant I could just work through the questions the tutors set alongside my own revision, and concentrate on the areas I found more difficult. As well as the questions from my tuition provider, I used the ICAEW question bank and looked at past exams – that was really useful in terms of exam technique and understanding how I could expect the questions to be phrased.

ICAEW student ACA exams young woman London

The day before the exams, I felt prepared – but also exhausted! So I was definitely ready for the chance to relax afterwards. I sat both exams on the same day, with a couple of hours’ break for some fresh air and last-minute revision between them. Finding the exam centre ended up being quite stressful – I hadn’t been there before, and didn’t realise it was part of a bigger building – but luckily I’d given myself plenty of time.

There was some added stress during the Audit and Assurance exam, too – I had an issue halfway through, and I had to get an invigilator to stop the time and move me to a different computer. Both exams felt quite time-pressured compared to the Certificate Level, especially with added elements like having to type the pro formas for the accounts – luckily I’m quite a fast typer. You have to be really careful doing your workings out, making sure you’ve got the right information and then pasting it in properly. I felt my technique was good, though – I’m quite disciplined, and practising questions under exam conditions really helped.

Despite the challenges, I came out feeling like both exams had gone OK. So now it’s just a case of waiting for the results in mid-July. That obviously feels quite different to the Certificate Level too, where you get your results the next day, but I’m doing my best to keep busy and put it to the back of my mind. I’m sure the week before the results come out I’ll be really nervous, but I try to tell myself that what’s done is done. You can never know exactly how it’s gone, though: with Principles of Taxation at Certificate Level, I wasn’t very confident because there were a few questions I didn’t know the answers to – and I ended up getting 78%!

Before the exams, it was a very busy time in the office, but it’s calmed down now after the year end – I wish it could be the other way around! A lot of my current tasks can be quite mechanical, but I see the more analytical work that the assistant managers and managers do, and that seems really interesting. So getting to their level is something I definitely aspire to. I’m making the most of things being a bit quieter at the moment, though – I had some time off after the exams, and I’ve caught up with friends and enjoyed a quiz night at work. It’s strange having all this free time all of a sudden. But I’ll definitely enjoy it before my next college tuition in September, and the Tax Compliance and Financial Management exams in December. We only sit exams every six months, but I’m sure they will come around quickly.

Read more about Ashwini's journey so far, with My ACA journey, The first exams and The learning curve.

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