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My ACA journey – the learning curve

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Mar 2022

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For audit trainee and ACA student Ashwini Poopalasingham, studying for and sitting her third Certificate Level exam turns out to be a far more positive experience.

I sat my third Certificate Level exam, Law, a couple of weeks ago – and I passed. Going into it, I definitely felt I’d learned from my past mistakes, particularly the experience of sitting the first two exams in October. Law was a self-study module for me, so I had three days’ study leave from work, and I used the weekend leading up to it to give myself a bit of a head start, which I think really helped. Once the study leave started, I dedicated my time to it fully and made sure I understood everything.

My final year of university was all online, so the prospect of self-study didn’t faze me. In a way I actually preferred it, as I could create my own structure and work through it logically: once I’d learned each chapter, I did the questions related to that chapter. I’ll admit my routine may have slipped slightly though – obviously with college you have to be there at a certain time, whereas my study days at home didn’t start until 9.30 or 10am! But I was still disciplined, and did six or seven hours each day.

By the end of the study leave, I made sure I knew everything, then it was just a case of practising in the run-up to the exam. That was one of the differences this time around – with the Accounting exam in particular, I felt like I was having to relearn stuff again. That’s not ideal, especially in busy season – you’re just going to tire yourself out. With the maths-based modules, the revision is more about practising the calculations, whereas with topics like Assurance and Law, there are a lot of facts to remember. So I wanted to make sure I had learned all the key facts by the end of the study leave.

Because there were so many facts to remember, particularly with one of the topics, a colleague and I exchanged notes and shared our knowledge to make sure we understood it all properly, which really helped. I also wrote anything I found confusing on a whiteboard so that I could always see it when I was revising. As soon as I was back in the office it was really busy, so there was no time for revision during the day, but my managers let me work from home so that I didn’t have to commute and could use that time once my work day was finished.

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I definitely felt more confident going into the Law exam. Luckily it was on a Monday, so I had the weekend to prepare. On the Sunday, I didn’t want to overwork myself, so I took a few breaks and made sure I had time to relax. In the evening, I went through the question bank once or twice more, then had an early night. I wanted to get up early to give myself plenty of time to get to the exam centre – it was the same one I went to for the Assurance exam, but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was, so I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get lost (luckily that didn’t happen)!

Once I got into the exam, it started well – the first few questions were on topics I was fairly confident on. You get a random mix of questions in the exam, and luckily for me, it was topics I was quite strong on. There was one in particular I didn’t want to come up, and I think there was only one question on that, so I was very relieved! I came out of the exam happy, and I think that’s a good sign – there was none of the uncertainty I felt when I sat the Assurance exam the first time around. 

It feels like it’s all happening really quickly – I’ve sat three of my Certificate Level exams now, and I have exemptions for two others, so I’ve only got Principles of Taxation left to go, which I’m taking at the end of March. Then it will be onto the Professional Level, with the first exams in June. I’m a bit nervous about the step up from Certificate to Professional Level, but I do feel that by then my coping mechanism will be even better, and I’m already much more confident in my approach to balancing work and studying.

Work has been busy over the past few months, and I’ve had to dedicate some of my weekends to helping out on previous clients. This week, for example, I’ve moved onto a new project but I’m still helping with the last one, so I’m having to try and balance my time. But I think it’s quite expected at this time of year that there will be some delays and crossover. 

One of the things I’m really enjoying is being given a bit more responsibility. With the project I was on for the past two weeks, my manager asked me to organise calls with the client on my own to get the answers to some queries. At first I was really nervous, but it went fine! I enjoy the client communication aspect, whether that’s on Zoom calls or just via email, especially getting to know them a little bit. It’s actual human interaction, rather than just looking at numbers on a spreadsheet!

It sounds clichéd, but it’s the people that make the job for me. My buddy is great – I feel like I can talk to her about anything – and I’ve made some really good friends among my fellow trainees. They’re all lovely people. I’m free now for a few weeks until my next study leave, so I’m making the most of having some time to socialise and have fun. Then it will be time to focus on the next exam!

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

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