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In this guide we introduce some tips for success to help you master the Principles of Taxation exam.

If you have not studied tax before, the syllabus may seem a little daunting. Remember that this subject is designed to be your first introduction to tax. With some focused study and taking the tips that follow on board you should be in the best position to do well in the exam.

Study advice

One issue you may struggle with is looking for logic in what you are learning. Tax is not always logical. Learn the rules and the exceptions to the rules and do not waste time trying to figure out why a particular rule exists.

The best way to learn tax is by practising questions. Do not spend time rewriting the notes in your own words. Instead, confirm your understanding by practising the questions. Once you are happy with those questions you can then move on. You will learn the rules through question practise.

Remember you are provided with the tax tables through a link in your exam. When working through the learning materials make sure you can access these tables via the front of the question bank, it is important to become accustomed to working with this information.

Revision advice

When you move onto the revision phase, question practise becomes even more important.  The question bank will be vital here as it is made up of questions that are exam standard on each area of the syllabus.

When doing question practise:

  • Try to write down your workings. You are allowed a wipeable booklet in the exam, so having your workings down whilst practising allows you to understand where you went wrong.
  • Do not turn to the answer until you have attempted the question. You will learn more by making mistakes than simply reading the answer. For example, if you forget to time-apportion a figure now, you are less likely to do this in the real exam.
  • When reviewing the answer, ensure you don’t just look to see if you were wrong or right, but that you understand why you were wrong or right. Compare your workings to those provided in the feedback to see if you can understand where you went wrong.
  • Identify areas of weakness and focus on those by revisiting questions in the syllabus areas where you have been getting a large number of questions wrong.

After completing all the questions in the question bank, work on your exam technique. You could use the sample exam provided by ICAEW, or a mock provided by your training provider.

Completing a practise exam in the available time will allow you to think about:

  • Sticking to time allocation 
  • Attempting easier questions first then coming back to complete the harder ones.
  • Ensuring you have answered all questions in the 1.5 hours available.

On the day of your exam

Before the exam, ensure you have everything you need including your calculator and identification.

Ensure you are comfortable and have everything you need. You are entitled to use a wipeable booklet so get this set up next to your computer and ensure the pen works.

Ensure you answer all the questions. If you have time, go through at the end, and check all your answers.

If you are struggling with a question, try leaving it until the end and answering the easier questions first. It might make more sense when you read it again, plus you don’t want to run out of time on the harder questions and not be able to attempt the easier questions!

Common mistakes

The areas below are mistakes commonly made by students. Try to look out for these when practising questions and in the real exam.

  • Not time-apportioning. Most calculations are performed for a tax year. If something changes during the year, consider whether you need to time apportion.
  • Not rounding. You must use whole numbers in the exam, rounding using general mathematical rounding rules unless you are told otherwise, or learn a specific rule
  • Not answering both parts of a multi-part question. To get the marks for these you must answer both parts correctly.
  • Not studying administration. Although this is not a very exciting area of the syllabus it is commonly tested and you must study this. A lot of this information is provided in the tables so make sure you are happy with what is in there, and when you need to learn.
  • Spending too long on one question – if you’re not sure move on!

Final thoughts

To be successful in the exam you need a mixture of knowledge and exam technique. There is no substitute for learning the rules, but at the same time your chance of success is greatly improved by working on your time allocation and interpretation of the question requirement.