How I did my first 2 stages of ICAEW


Here's a post I promised on how I passed the first 2 stages of ICAEW (though I'm not sure if this post is necessary as I think my juniors did even better). I'm sure most of you have asked your seniors about their situations, what should I do to pass the exam, how did you study, what is the technique, etc... So, in this post, I hope I can answer them for you. I'm definitely not here to brag (since I did not fair very well myself), but I hope that you can get some inspirations of how to face these papers. 

First and foremost, the most important tip is to listen to the lecturers. If the lecturers told you to focus on that chapter, do it; if they tell you to do the question bank. do it; if they tell you to play, go play. They are the ones that help hundreds of students to pass the papers and from the students they have learnt their mistakes, their carelessness and thus improvise their teaching to help future students. They helped us to accumulate the past experience from the previous students, whom we might not be able to meet to discuss passing exam strategy. Who to consult if not from the experience lecturers? 

CFAB stage

This is what lecturers and those who passed this stage called a baby stage. For one, the textbooks are thin and second is because it lays a foundation for the next stage. But, for those who are taking them, it is not easy. And I know.

Being said that, for me, there is really no technique to pass these papers besides munching the textbook or notes that the lecturers gave and do the question bank and past year papers. I mean, what can you do with multiple choice questions which only test what are on the textbooks? The answer is straightforward and if you understand what you have studied, this stage is not a problem for you. 

Should I read the textbook or the notes given by lecturers? If lecturers gave their notes, I used only that without using the textbook. Even though I said that CFAB textbooks are thin, but lecturers' notes are even thinner and easier to understand. Being the lazy one, I chose the fast and easy way. But, it doesn't mean that I didn't look at them at all. I used them if I don't understand what is in the notes, but rarely. If I remember correctly, only Accounting and Assurance have lecturer's notes.

ICAEW - Professional Stage 

Professional Stage is the next level. Lecturers warned us about the toughness of this course during CFAB but this time they wanted us to wake up and stop dreaming. Examinations are all written test and the toughness increase for the last 2 papers. 

I started a semester later than my batchmate. Thanks to that, I received tips and guidance from them for this stage. 

Their first advice was "Don't even bother to read the textbooks. There's no time for that, use it only when you don't understand certain things". I did not totally listen to them and proceeded with flipping the textbook. However, the thickness of the textbook and the pace of teaching proved that reading the textbook was a waste of time. So, I decided to try my friends' method. Use lecturer's notes and do the question bank. To be honest, I didn't think it works as the first progress test was a nightmare. I didn't understand a thing that was taught and kept worrying of whether what the lecturers gave were enough to cover the topics. 

But, here are how I studied for each subjects:

Financial Accounting & Reporting

Difficulty: 8/10
Questions attempted during final: 100%

The thickest textbook in this level and therefore you can just forget about opening it. 

Took down lecturer's note and did the homework that the lecturer gave (not all the time though). Repetitively practicing the sample questions in the lecture's note. 

Did a mix of questions in the question bank especially those emphasised by the lecturer. Most of the time I did not know what I was doing but did the part that I knew. The part that I didn't know how to do, I either attempted it or gave up and looked at the answers. 

Tax Compliance

Difficulty: 6/10
Questions attempted during final: 100%

The only subject that I find the textbook to be quite useful. I used both the lecturer's notes and referred to the textbook for sample questions and answers. Even though we could bring the Hardman's book (contain tax rates and tables), it is best to remember some of the most frequent tax rate by heart. It will save a lot of time during the test. You should be able to achieve it after doing lots of questions. 

Drilled on the question bank at the last minute. 

Audit and Assurance

Difficulty: 9/10
Questions attempted during final: 100%

You may use the textbook for reference but rarely. Not much lecturing as lecturer focuses on doing questions. 

As said by the lecturer, this paper is quite tough for those who do not have any experience in auditing, but as long as you box up the answers (categorise the answer into their respective category) and customise a little the answers according to the questions during examination, students can still pass it. Thus, the boxed up answers should be your "textbook" that you should refer to. So, even though I did not know what I was doing at first, but since the answers are quite repetitive and similar, a pass is still not a problem. 

This is the exam that could break your hand. Learn to write as fast as you could while thinking the next point at the same time. Do not stop until the exam end. 

Financial Management

Difficulty: 7/10
Questions attempted during final: 100%

Focused on lecturer's notes and repetitively practicing the questions in lecturer's notes. 

The answers to the questions in the examination too are quite constant. So picked the best sample answer and used that as a template. 

Business Strategy

Difficulty: 10/10
Questions attempted during final: 95%

This is supposed to be the most simple paper of all the exam papers according to the lecturers. This is because a huge part of the answers are based on logic and how you "bluff" your way out. However, unlike the previous paper where the answers are quite constant and repetitive, there is no definite answer for this paper. As long as your answers make sense, you may earn a point. You can even make assumptions.

A lot of external knowledge is needed. So, read up on how a fashion, technology, aviation, food or any industry become successful, how a certain industry operates, etc... You don't have to start with anything too "business". A simple read up on interesting facts about a certain company or a CEO can be helpful. 

The marking of this paper is quite tricky as it is based on impression marking. As long as you attempted all the questions, the marks is usually higher than those who perfectly answer a part of a question but did not attempt the latter of that question at all. 

For me, this paper is the first exam in which I think it is a real examination as it really tests what you learn in the class and how you apply what you have learnt to the situations given. 

Good job to those who created this paper!

Business Planning: Taxation

Difficulty: 9/10
Questions attempted during final: 100%

The only paper in this stage where you can bring in any reference books and notes into the examination hall. This might seem to be attractive, but it is a little bit tricky. This is because you might waste too much time to get the perfect answer thus losing time on the latter questions. Knowing when to move on is the most important thing. Therefore, it is advisable to tag your notes and know what you have tagged by heart. Focus on tagging one reference book. I suggest: question bank. But it can be quite risky as you must know what to remove and change instead of blindly copying the answers. 

Although this paper involve about 65% of skills, the answers can be quite repetitive. 

In conclusion
The most important point in passing this level is to do the part that you know and give up on the part that you don't know how to do. Don't waste time dwelling in the part that you do not know as the latter part might be much easier to do than you think. This is especially true for Business Strategy paper and Business Planning: Taxation as the examiners do not want a complete answer. Know when to stop even though you know the complete answer as earning a mark exceeding the maximum mark allocated does not give you any benefit. Therefore, time yourself for every past year papers you do. 

Also, it is perfectly okay if you did not calculate correctly or give the wrong suggestion, you might still earn marks in the latter part as the former part that is marked wrong will not be marked wrong the second time. 

Lastly, do not give up attempting the question during the examination if you have the time. Try your best to answer them no matter what. You don't want to retake the examinations and continue the nightmare, do you?

Difficulty: Difficulty of understanding the subject and answering the questions in the examination.
Questions attempted during final: Did I try all the questions in the examination (this exclude completing them)

I hope my experience could help you in finding a better way to study for your exam. The most important thing is find the way that suits your study style, instead of blindly following your friend study style which might not suit you. 

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the lecturers and friends that have taught me, helped me and from time-to-time gave us warning and reminder that there's not much time left, so that I could pass the papers. 

Thank you very much!

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