ACA examsBefore starting at the NAO, I always wondered what the structure of the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) course would be like. I thought it would be useful for you to find out about the key stages in becoming a qualified accountant.

As with many Accountancy firms, the NAO has an internal exam policy in place. There’s been a recent change to the NAO’s exam policy, so that throughout your training agreement you’ll have a total of six ‘credits’ (meaning you can resit up to six papers throughout the 15 exams).

The ACA course in a nutshell

  • The first six exams you will sit are your certificate level exams, which are completed between September and December in your first year. These are computer based exams, which are mostly multiple choice. Results are received the next morning (usually around 5am).
  • The next six are professional level exams which are sat between September and December of your second year.
  • The advanced stage exams are sat in your third year, usually in November. Both professional and advanced level are written exams, with the results available about five weeks afterwards.

Your first year: Certificate level

The first exams you sit are the Accounting and Assurance exams. College starts in the second week after you join and you’ll be there for two weeks before sitting the exams. These exams are very challenging, and are definitely not to be underestimated – you must make sure you put plenty of work in from day one.

College starts again in about a month’s time, where you will study Tax, and Law as a home study module. About a month after this you will be back in college to study Management Information, and Business and Finance as home study.

Three out of six of these certificate papers have to be passed first time. Any unused ‘credits’ are then carried forward to equal the total of six. By mid-December you will have completed the certificate level stage of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountancy in England and Wales) ACA route.

Your second year: Professional level

Professional level tuition starts the following spring, where you will go to college for Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Audit and Assurance modules. Tuition for the third module, Tax Compliance, is in July and mock exams are a couple of weeks later. You will start the revision phase of the study for the three exams in mid-August, and will be in college for three weeks before sitting the three exams in the September sitting.

After these exams, you will usually have just over a week back in work before you will start the tuition for the next three modules you will sit in December. These modules are Business Planning Tax, Business Strategy, and Financial Management. Three weeks will be spent in college for tuition, then there will be around four weeks back at work. After this, the revision phase starts and there are three weeks in college before the exams. After these six exams, you will then be part-qualified.

Your third year: Advanced stage

College starts back again in July/August time for the taught phase for the final three exams of the ACA: Corporate Reporting, Strategic Business Management, and the Case Study. These are your advance stage exams, which will be sat in November. Taught phase is around three weeks, and revision phase is three weeks from mid-October. Once these exams are all completed, you will be exam qualified.

Some final words of wisdom

The NAO gives about 2-3 days of paid study leave per exam sitting (e.g. 2-3 days for the September professional level exams), in addition to paid time off from work to attend college. However, it is expected that a lot of studying will be done outside of college and work. One of the benefits of the NAO is that they do not expect you to go into work on the evenings when you’re in college, or on the weekends after college either – the focus is purely on studying which definitely helps.

The main message I would say is that the exams are very difficult – by now you will have been through many exams but these will be some of the hardest you will have faced yet. Generally, NAO trainees continually score above the average ICAEW marks on all of their ACA exams. Hopefully this helps to clarify the structure of the training you will undergo with the NAO, which is the same between the Newcastle and London offices.

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