Six-monthly reviews are a key part of your ACA training, so it’s important to get the most out of them. We asked Senior Training and CPD Manager Nicola Mower for her top tips.
1 Recognise their value
It’s easy to focus on exams, but remember that the workplace requirements are a fundamental part of ACA training. “What I always say to students is that this is not an academic qualification, it’s a professional one,” says Nicola Mower, Senior Training and CPD Manager at ICAEW. “That’s why it’s respected out there in the field: when somebody sees the letters ACA after a name, not only do they know that person has passed some really tough technical exams, but they can also be confident that person has the core foundation of real experience, professional skill and ethical awareness to really bring value to a business.”
As well as monitoring progress on the way to qualification, the six-monthly reviews are a helpful way of breaking down a big goal into manageable milestones. Think of each six-month period as a distinct phase with its own objectives, advises Nicola. “It should be structured development throughout, which increases in complexity,” she says. “The reason the reviews are every six months is because we’ve got to start with the simpler stuff before we can move on. If you tried to do it all at the end, it’s not only a mountain to climb, but you have missed the journey – the opportunity to build on your skills and to apply your ethics training along the way.”
The milestone table shows how the three years of training break down into six-month periods. You can also download a blank version to complete yourself.
2 Be prepared
Each six-monthly review should cover the four sections of your training file: work experience, professional development skills (for those following the ICAEW professional development ladders), ethics and exams, plus audit qualification days where relevant. “You should be coming to the review with your ethics scenario notes and your skills examples ready,” says Nicola. “You need notes on three ethics scenarios, and I would say seven or eight, maybe even nine, professional development ladder examples for each six-month review. Try to approach the skills on a linear basis, with one or two from each ladder.”
One of the mistakes students make, she adds, is not keeping track of examples when they happen, or thinking that they need to wait for a better one: “I always say if you’re doing something new that you haven’t done before, you’re very likely achieving another skill in the ladders. If you’ve just finished a new project or a new client, think about it while it’s fresh in your mind,” she says. “A lot of students think ICAEW wants the best example and that they should wait to do something better down the line, but it’s not about that. We want an example that shows competence, and that’s it. If you’ve done it, you’ve done it; recognise your achievement and move on.”
Ethics is another important aspect of the review that often gets overlooked. “You should be coming with three of the ICAEW Ethics in Practice scenarios prepared, and your QPRT or counsellor should pick one of those for discussion,” explains Nicola. “A lot of students don’t appreciate that they’ve got to prepare the scenarios in advance and be ready to talk about them – that is actually the most valuable part of the ethics training; it’s the application of ethics and talking to somebody experienced who has been there. You might have done the modules and passed the test online, but you can never “pass” ethics. The application phase is absolutely crucial and is where the real learning takes place.”
3 Take responsibility
It is your responsibility to book in your six-monthly review meetings with your QPRT, counsellor or principal, and set the agenda – it is not up to your employer to tell you what is expected of you or what will be covered. “It’s quite different to what you might expect from a typical appraisal process – the QPRT or counsellor has signed up to support you, but the qualification has evolved since they trained, plus they have their own workload to manage,” explains Nicola. This is your qualification and only you can drive it forward. “You should be proactive and download the milestone table, complete it, put the meetings in the diary and put an agenda in each meeting.” An hour should be long enough; book a meeting room if necessary (and possible, given any restrictions), and think about who should be there (you may want to consider inviting your line manager along too). “Having that plan in place is absolutely key and is also likely to really impress your employer,” adds Nicola.
For students who find the prospect of arranging a meeting and setting an agenda with a senior colleague daunting, she suggests the following format:
ACA Review Meeting – Student name
As part of my ACA training, I am required to have my ICAEW online training file reviewed by you at least every six months.
We should not need any more than an hour and I will be bringing the following to the meeting for review:
- My practical work experience days with my supporting calculation
- Written examples demonstrating 1-2 skills from each professional development ladder
- Notes on three ICAEW Ethics in Practice scenarios (to discuss one of your choice)
- My audit qualification days and detail of clients and work performed (you will need to add this feedback yourself as I do not have access)
For reference, I attach the milestones document showing what I have committed to achieve in each six-monthly period. This review will cover period one of six.
I will have my file up to date a week in advance of the review. If you would like to look at my file before the meeting, you can access it here: https://my.icaew.com/trainingfile/employer
Please let me know if I can provide you with anything else that will help the review process.
Thank you for your continued support.
4 Stay focused
While reviewing progress in exams is one of the four sections of the training file, the six-monthly review may not always be the best place to discuss them. “Although exams do need covering if there’s progress there, sometimes it might be better to talk about them in a separate forum,” says Nicola. “It can be such an emotional thing that it can detract from other aspects, so don’t let it take over the meeting – if you’ve only got an hour with your QPRT or counsellor, it’s very easy to lose half of it talking about exams.”
Similarly, the review meeting is not the place for raising issues such as office politics or a problem with a particular project or client. “Unless it actually relates to the skills and your overall development, try to have a separate meeting to discuss it,” says Nicola. “This time is for you and your personal development and career, so you should be strict with the agenda and the time. It goes both ways as well – try not to let the QPRT or counsellor use the meeting time for their own agenda.”
For those in apprenticeship agreements, bear in mind that the ACA six-monthly review is separate from the knowledge, skills and behaviours review with your training provider – you will need to complete both separately. “What we’re finding is that a lot of students are doing the knowledge, skills and behaviours with the tuition provider and thinking that covers the six-month ACA review, but they’re two separate things,” says Nicola. “There might be overlap: you might be able to use some of the examples from your training file for the tuition provider, or you might use something that came up in conversation with your tuition provider in the skills, but the feedback in your review has to come from the QPRT or counsellor at your employer.”
5 Update your file ‘live’
It’s much easier to update your training file during the meeting, so make sure you take your laptop or tablet with you. As your QPRT or counsellor gives their feedback, you should summarise it and ask them to approve it. “If technology is playing ball, it’s just efficient to do it there and then,” says Nicola. “If you just have a general overall conversation and then go off and try to add feedback in later, that’s where it tends to fall down.” So go through each section in turn, type in what your QPRT or counsellor is saying, and then check with them that it reflects what they’ve said before you save it.
Bear in mind, too, that this is a formal document that will ultimately be reviewed by ICAEW before you qualify. “Remember that you are documenting it so that somebody who doesn’t know you can read it and understand it, and the context behind what you’ve written,” says Nicola. “Make sure you use full names, and summarise your employer feedback properly – you can rephrase it, but don’t just reduce it down to ‘agreed’.”
For instance, an example of delivering tasks under pressure (step 4 of the Teamwork ladder) might read:
“A client asked for an additional report within a short timeframe. My role was to present analysis of their revenue streams for a particular section of this report. I met with my line manager to ensure I understood the key requirements and set aside time for the tasks by moving non-essential meetings.”
And the feedback from your employer:
“Uzma has shown she is able to work under pressure. This example highlights her proactivity in gathering essential information for her tasks before proceeding so that she avoids unnecessary confusion or delay.”
6 Have a plan coming out
“As well as having a plan going in, have a plan coming out,” advises Nicola. Make sure you’re clear what your areas of focus are for the following six months, and get the next calendar invitation and agenda in the diary. If you haven’t had a chance to update your training file during the meeting, do it as soon as practically possible afterwards while it’s all still fresh in your mind. “And remember that your employer doesn’t have write access to update it – you’re the person who has to do it.
“Get to know your training file – it’s a really good tool,” she adds. “It can direct and help you, but if you don’t use it properly, you won’t reap the full benefits. It is nice when you see progress, and the little professional development chevrons in the file that show how you’re building up in each area. And if you’re ever struggling with motivation, take a look back and see just how far you’ve come.”