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How ACA training works

In a fast moving, data-driven and globally connected environment your business should be choosing the ACA training and qualification, as it is one of the most advanced learning and professional development programs available.

It has integrated components which give your staff the breadth and depth of technical knowledge across accountancy, finance and business, and the professional skills and practical experience needed to become effective and agile business partners in your organisation.

Each component of the ACA training is designed for the future-looking finance professional. Students put theory into practice and can understand and apply what they learn to their day-to-day work. 

Available as both an apprenticeship (in England only) or a standard training programme, the ACA’s modular learning and exams can be completed online or in the classroom, alongside diverse work experience across your finance function. 

ACA qualification

15 accountancy, business and finance exams

The ACA builds trusted business advisors: 80% of FTSE 100 companies have ACA members on their board. The exams are designed to test the commercial, forward-looking mindset and fit with your trainees’ practical experience, so they constantly progress through the qualification. 

Technology, such as data analytics, blockchain and cyber security, is also embedded throughout the exams to help students drive efficiency, security and innovation in your business.

The 15 exams over three levels can be taken in any order, except for the Case Study which must be attempted last. See what is covered in each exam:

Certificate Level

These six exams introduce students to the fundamentals of accountancy, finance and business. They each have a 1.5-hour assessment which can be sat at any time. Students may be eligible for credit for some exams if they have studied accounting, finance, law or business at degree level, or through another professional qualification.

Passing these exams entitles students to the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB) – an internationally-recognised certificate that sets students well on their way to chartered accountancy or to becoming an ICAEW Business and Finance Professional (BFP).

Professional Level

The next six exams build on the fundamentals and test students’ understanding and ability to use technical knowledge in real-life scenarios. Each module has a 2.5-3-hour exam. These exams are flexible and can be taken in any order to fit in with a student’s day-to-day work.

Alternative exams for the Business Planning module are available which means that students can gain subject and sector-specific knowledge while studying for the ACA. There are three to choose from - Business Planning: Taxation, Business Planning: Banking and Business Planning: Insurance.

Alternative financial reporting exams are also available for the Professional Level Financial Accounting and Reporting module so students can study the financial reporting framework most beneficial to their workplace, either UK GAAP or IFRS.

Advanced Level

The Corporate Reporting and Strategic Business Management exams test students’ understanding and strategic decision making at a senior level. They present real-life scenarios, with increased complexity and implications from the Professional Level modules.

The Case Study tests all the knowledge, skills and experience gained so far. It presents a complex business issue which challenges students’ ability to problem solve, identify the ethical implications and provide an effective solution.

Exam example showcasing key skills

Professional development

ICAEW Chartered Accountants are widely known for their professionalism. They know how to spot and communicate risks and their commercial implications and provide interventions. They also know how to use professional scepticism to build business trust and utilise technology to deconstruct data and aid decision-making.

The professional development framework is made up of seven skills areas (also known as ladders). Each ladder contains six to eight steps, and each step represents a skill. Your students will work their way through the ladders during their training agreement; where they start and how fast they progress is flexible and managed by you. 

The seven ladders are:

  1. Adding value
  2. Communication
  3. Decision making
  4. Ethics and professionalism 
  5. Problem Solving
  6. Teamwork
  7. Technical competence

In order to progress, students are required to demonstrate each skill by providing an example from their practical work experience. They record this within their online training file and their progress is discussed every six months.

Many authorised training employers have their own career progression and appraisal systems which can be accredited. Students will record their professional development via an online training file throughout their ACA training. The content of the file will be specific to your organisation’s professional development accreditation status.

There are two types of accreditations available:

  1. Employer uses 100% ICAEW scheme.
  2. Employer has professional development accreditation.

Your ICAEW training manager will be able to discuss the options with you and advise which path is best for you and your students. Whichever path your students are on, they will be able to access the professional development resources on the student area of our website.

Ethics and professional scepticism

Ethics is more than just knowing the rules around confidentiality, integrity, objectivity and independence. It is about identifying ethical dilemmas, understanding the implications and behaving appropriately. 

We integrate ethics throughout the ACA qualification to develop students’ ethical capabilities – so they will always know how to make the right decision. This includes sustainability and climate change issues to ensure your business is on a sustainable path with ethical and green decision-making at the core. 

Students will develop their ethical capabilities in three ways and must complete all three elements before you can complete the final sign-off at the end of the training agreement period.

1. Learn

Ethics is examined in context within all 15 exams of the ACA qualification. There is also an online learning programme based on the ICAEW Code of Ethics that ensures students understand the ICAEW ethical framework, are able to identify ethical principles relating to a scenario, and can advise on appropriate ways of addressing an ethical threat. The programme includes six modules and an assessment which tests the student's ethical progress. The assessment is 60 minutes long, includes 30 multiple choice questions and students must achieve a minimum of 70%.

Students registered from 01 July 2020 will access the new Ethics Learning Programme:

2. Practise

A series of webinars, Practising Ethics, is available for students to watch after completing each module of the Ethics Learning Programme. Webinars have been designed to help develop ethics and professional scepticism skills and to facilitate ethical discussions within the workplace.

3. Apply

Having learnt the basic ethical requirements within each ACA module and the Ethics Learning Programme, and practised them in the webinars, students can then apply these skills and principles in practice. This is done within their daily practical work experience and also within the ethical elements included in some of the steps in the professional development ladders.

Practical work experience

During the training agreement period, your student should accumulate and show evidence of at least 450 days of practical work experience. Practical work experience is undertaking real-life work of a financial, business and/or commercial nature.

You will therefore need to ensure that your student undertakes practical and progressive work experience in at least one of the following six technical categories:

  • accounting
  • taxation
  • financial management
  • insolvency
  • information technology
  • audit or assurance (audit is not compulsory).

Students record their work experience using an online training file, rather than paper-based records. This enables you to easily track your students’ progress.

ACA training agreement

The training agreement is a key part of ACA training as it ensures that all ACA students receive the highest quality and standard of training possible. This two-way agreement between you and your students outlines the support you will provide and what you expect from them. 

As part of the agreement, you will need to agree a period of approved training with your student, which allows them to complete the required 450 days of practical work experience. The number of practical work experience days may depend on your student’s background, for example:

  • a graduate would typically achieve this within a three-year period of approved training.
  • school leavers (with A-levels or equivalent) are often given a longer period of approved training, typically five years.
  • individuals from some professional bodies or with professional qualifications such as the AAT, or the Higher Apprenticeship in Assurance/Audit or Tax may be entitled to a two-year training agreement and 300 days of practical work experience.

As an authorised training employer, you can control the length of a student’s approved training. This can be a minimum of two years (if appropriate as above) or a maximum of five years (unless the student is training under a strategic degree or other programme offered in partnership with an ICAEW Partner in Learning). 

It is important that you encourage and monitor development throughout the training agreement, not only to ensure that your student receives the training required to qualify as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, but to encourage your student to remain with your organisation once qualified.

Sample training agreement

We have produced a sample or proforma training agreement to help you. This can be adapted to reflect your organisation’s own training policies.

Employment contract

In most countries, employment law requires your organisation to provide your employees with an employment contract. This is entirely separate from the ACA training agreement. Refer to your human resources specialist or your employment law solicitor for guidance on producing an employment contract. You can also access general information for the UK on the ACAS website.

Online training file

An online training file is issued to students when they register. They will use this to record and maintain professional development, ethics, practical work experience and audit experience (where relevant). It is the students’ responsibility to update their records online after each six-monthly review. The system also allows employers to manage the review process by accessing students’ records online.

Review process - single sign-off

A key requirement of ACA training is that you must meet with each student at least every six months throughout their ACA training to discuss and review their progress. We only require a single sign-off at the end of a student’s training agreement to sign off their practical work experience, professional development, ethics, and to confirm that they are fit and proper to be admitted to ICAEW membership.

Employers can choose to sign off practical work experience records online every six months if they prefer. Students will need to confirm that their file is accurate and honestly presented after each six-monthly review, when they record their practical work experience. Each six-month period is then locked and stored within the online training file.

Costs for employers

It is common, but not compulsory, for an employer to pay some or all of the fees on behalf of their students. Fees relating to ACA training include student registration, tuition, exam registration, credit for prior learning and learning materials. Some fees are payable to ICAEW and some are payable directly to your chosen tuition provider. The ACA training agreement that you have signed with your student will provide specific details of what is and isn’t included in your students' study package and what is and what isn’t paid for with regards to study leave and associated study costs.


Levy and non-levy paying employers in England can find out more about the funding available for the Level 4 and Level 7 apprenticeships.