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A tough education - the first ICAEW examinations

A student writing in July 1882 declared his ambition to add the magic letters ACA to his name, but expressed himself quite frightened by the startling list of subjects that a prospective member was required to cover. It was no wonder, when a candidate for the preliminary examination was expected to have a good knowledge of everything from ancient mythology to animal physiology.

Strange but true

A hefty list of recommended reading was provided for the first ICAEW examinations, ranging from Virgil's Aeneid to Ringwood's Principles of Bankruptcy, but not a single work on accounting!

These tests may seem obscure now, but were intended to ensure that candidates had a good general knowledge in a time before the educational systems in the country had became sufficiently well established. Only a small number of candidates attempted the first preliminary examination and just five were successful.

It was not just the preliminary examination that caused consternation. Some of the tricky legal questions facing students in the final paper prompted one successful candidate to call into question the severity of the first ICAEW examinations, adding that many solicitors would not dare answer these questions without careful deliberation. The Accountant picked up on the mood and used an editorial in 1883 to call for questions that wouldn't require taking counsel's opinion!

How would you have fared in the first preliminary examination?

  • What is the difference between Lime and Chalk? Describe carefully how Carbonate Dioxide may be prepared, and give its qualities.
  • How can Nitrous Oxide be distinguished from Oxygen? Equal volumes of Nitrous Oxide and of Hydrogen are mixed and exploded, what are the products and their relative volumes?
  • Enumerate the more important waste products of the body, and state how they are excreted.
  • Give an account of the principle Religious Acts that were passed in the reign of Charles II.
  • What were the circumstances that led to the Constitutions of Clarendon?
  • Draw a map of India and mark in it the mountain ranges, and the course of the Kistna, the Nerbudda, and the Jumna.
  • Translate into German – I shall become old. Under these circumstances, my sons became very angry. We have an uncle who is very rich. The pupils whose exercises I have praised are very industrious. Have you seen the man whose sons we sent away yesterday from our house? Since his illness the poor man has eaten nothing but bread and soup.

All of these questions appeared in the first preliminary examination in July 1882. To take a look at more questions from the early preliminary examinations, see our page of Example questions set for the Preliminary Examination in 1882-1886

Find out more

The ICAEW Library & Information Service maintains a comprehensive collection of examination papers, syllabi and pass lists from 1882 to the present day. To find out more about the material we hold, take a look at our Knowledge Guide to Examination Papers.