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How to be successful at Professional Level

Author: ICAEW Student Insights

Published: 15 Feb 2023

Whether you are sitting an exam for the first time or it’s one you have previously attempted, at the ACA Professional Level it’s important to understand the rules of the game and how to win. Ginny Bradwell, Education and HR Director at First Intuition, talks through top tips on how to be successful for the Professional Level exams.

Know the game

To be successful you’ve firstly got to know the game that you are playing.  The syllabus documents  are a great place to start to understand topic weightings, skills and question types. If you’re revisiting an exam that you previously sat under a different syllabus, start by reviewing the latest syllabus so you can see what may have changed. The mark plans are also really helpful to get a view into the mind of the examiner.  What things are they seeing as common pieces of feedback? Are there any key formatting areas to review?

Get match fit

Passing any Professional Level exam requires both technical knowledge and exam technique.  Think of it like a football team, you need both attackers and defenders. Without knowledge you’re playing without a defence but without technique you won’t score. Your preparation therefore needs to be a balance of these things. Tempting though it may be to read and rewrite your revision notes, you are only working on one half of your game. Question practice is the way to make the difference, ideally under exam timed conditions using the ICAEW online exam practice software.

As part of your preparation, work on your question practice. Can you break questions down to provide structure? Can you summarise information provided to you in scenario questions and can you develop points to demonstrate application and understanding? The question bank is your go to here, working your way through this to hone your skill.

Play the game

By now with your studying you are ready to go, to show the examiner that you have got all the skills needed to pass. On exam day, start with the requirement to focus your mind on the particular skills necessary. What verbs are used here?  Evaluate is a very different skill to list or describe for example. 
Timing is also important you need to ensure you’re attempting all of the exam with time to copy any spreadsheet workings back into your answer for marking.  
As you are reading through questions, do so in an active way. Consider what the key issues are, how it relates to other information in the scenario and most importantly the ‘so what’ question.  What does that mean in this context so that you can give a tailored response to the problem.

For the win

Aim for short and concise mini paragraphs, clients don’t pay for waffle and markers don’t reward it.  It’s a good skill to look back over one paragraph of a question you have attempted on your studies and see how many unnecessary words you have. Given most people type around 40 words a minute, if you can remove 5 words in a paragraph and a full question is around 25 paragraphs you can quickly win back 3 minutes per question.  If time management is an issue for you, I’m sure you’d really appreciate that additional time back!
If you are someone who struggles to develop the points that you make, there are some methods that you can practice.  The simplest is the ‘what, why and so what?’ practice.  What’s happened here in the question, why did it happen and what does that mean for the individual or the organisation.

Play to the whistle

With 5 minutes left on the clock finish the point that you are making and then make sure that all workings in the spreadsheet area have been copied across. Nothing screams poor time management than a half-finished sentence at the end of an answer. Remember, examiners cannot see the spreadsheet area and it is not marked, so transferring everything across is essential.

Post-match analysis

Straight after a match is not the time for an in depth review of team performance and the same is true with your exams. When you’ve finished all the exams that you are attempting in that sitting, you may want to take a few moments to jot down your thoughts. How was it? Did you manage your time? What did you think about the exam?  When results come out it can be harder to remember.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that colleagues, managers and your tutors have all been there and are here to cheer you on. There are also many resources available to support you further but on the day, practice wins over luck every time.

Discover the Professional Level exam resources

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