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Student Insights

My ACA Journey: the halfway point

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Mar 2023

Ashwini Poopalasingham young woman ICAEW student ACA

Now 18 months into her training agreement, Ashwini Poopalasingham has completed 10 of her 15 exams and the Ethics Learning Programme, and is well on her way to qualifying.

In January, I found out that I’d passed two more of my Professional Level exams – Tax Compliance and Financial Management – which I sat in December. I’m now halfway through my three-year training agreement, and I’ve completed 10 of the 15 ACA exams, which I can’t quite believe. It’s gone so quickly.

Going into those two exams, I felt much more prepared. When I sat Financial Accounting and Reporting last June, I remember walking out thinking I’d failed, and I only just scraped a pass. I didn’t want to risk that happening again! So, this time I made sure I was more organised, and structured my revision better. I got familiar with all the learning materials early on, annotating my study notes with acronyms that would help me remember things. That really helped – and I got a much higher score because of it.

You hear lots of stories about which exams are the hardest, but I try not to let it influence my studies. Friends at other firms told me they found Tax Compliance and Financial Management difficult, but I just took my time and approached them in my own way. I did find tax challenging, as it’s not something I deal with every day and there are lots of rates and rules to remember, but Financial Management clicked a bit more easily, probably because I’d already studied some of it as part of my degree. Sometimes I think it just comes down to how your brain works!

The importance of ethics

I particularly like the ethics questions in exams, as I find them a bit more straightforward to answer. And I was lucky in the Tax Compliance exam, as the ethics question was on something I’d been reading about just that morning! Ethics has been embedded throughout our learning from the start, and it’s really important – we’re dealing with clients’ private information, so confidentiality and professionalism are essential. It’s about protecting the reputation of chartered accountants, too.

I’ve now completed the Ethics Learning Programme, too, which has six online modules to work through. That’s really helpful as you can fit them around work and exams – I did the first two modules, but then waited until my exams were out of the way in the summer to tackle the rest. It’s interesting to see the kinds of scenarios you might face, and they feel very topical and relevant. One of the Ethics in Practice discussions in my second six-monthly review was around sustainability disclosures, which is something I hadn’t thought about before.

I’ve just had my third six-monthly review, and I feel like I’m getting the hang of the ethics discussions now – I can reference the ethical principles better and be more specific in my answers. The discussions are a useful way of learning – my manager is great at questioning my mind and getting me to think differently about a situation. The Professional Level exams have helped too – you have to specify the principle you’re talking about, and I can see the difference that has made in my answers.

Ashwini Poopalasingham young woman ICAEW student ACA

Looking further ahead

The start of the year is always a busy time at work, and there have been some long hours recently. Luckily I’m not trying to revise at the same time – my next exams are in June, so study leave doesn’t start until the end of March. Although work has been tough, my firm are really good at recognising our efforts, and they treat us to socials and end of month drinks. You feel like your hard work is being appreciated.

I’m involved in a variety of projects at the moment. Some are clients I worked with last year, so I already have a good idea of what they’re about, and there are a few new ones too, so it’s quite exciting. I’ve also been going out on site a lot more, which is great. It makes such a difference to be able to discuss systems and processes face to face. I really like the teams I’ve been working with – that’s definitely my favourite aspect of the job so far, being part of a team and liaising with clients. The late-night revision is probably my least favourite bit! But I’m lucky to have a supportive cohort of fellow trainees at work, as well as friends at college and other firms to share the experience with.

I’ll be sitting my final two Professional Level exams, Business Planning and Business Strategy and Technology, in June. Assuming they go well, I’ll be part-qualified in July. I don’t know where the time has gone! Then I’m due to sit two of the Advanced Level exams in November and the final Case Study next summer. Looking back over the past 18 months, passing my Professional Level exams first time has been my proudest achievement. When you’re in the middle of a long couple of months of studying and revision, it can be hard to stay motivated. I’m so glad that I’ve managed to grit my teeth and stay strong!

Find out more about the Ethics Learning Programme. And access exam guides on Audit and Assurance, Financial Management and Tax Compliance and Business Strategy and Technology, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Business Planning.

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