How Hard is ACCA? A Realistic Guide to the Qualification

VIVA guides you through the main challenges and pitfalls of the ACCA qualification.

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If we’re going to examine how hard ACCA is - a potentially stress-inducing exercise - I think it's prudent to start with a terrible accounting joke to lighten the mood. Here it goes...

Why are accountants always so calm, composed and methodical? Because they have strong internal controls! 

I'm very sorry. Let's move on.

The accounting profession has rapidly evolved in this data-driven age. Globalisation and technology call for fast-paced and forward-thinking accountants who can respond to ever-changing challenges in the marketplace.

Choosing the right qualification to equip you to do that is essential. But you also want to know that you can manage the requirements and graduate successfully.

To study ACCA, you need the relevant information that will help you make that decision. So we’ve done some of that work for you. 

What does an ACCA-qualified accountant do?

As a Chartered Certified Accountant, you will acquire the following capacities: [1]

  • developing and maintaining financial and accounting systems
  • financial forecasting
  • auditing financial records
  • investigating financial anomalies

There are several internationally recognised services that you will then be able to offer. This includes consulting on business and personal taxation, insolvency, and corporate management.

This high-profile qualification can be found in large corporations and successful private practices worldwide. Your conduct as an ACCA member will need to be of the highest level of integrity, as the information you provide will be used to make important business decisions. 

What does ACCA mean?

Let's get the basics clear first. ACCA stands for Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. ACCA is a global membership body that facilitates ACCA qualifications.

Entry Requirements 

Perhaps the factor that needs to be considered carefully is whether you enjoy challenges. Because there's no getting around it: ACCA is challenging.

In terms of the basic entry requirements, those include: proficiency in English, and completed schooling (requirements for each country can be found on the ACCA website). If you do not meet the minimum requirements, you can apply for foundation-level awards.

Structure of the ACCA qualification 

To receive the ACCA qualification, ACCA students complete 13 exams, an ethics and professional skills module, and acquire three years of practical accounting experience.

- Credits for previous qualifications

If you have previous accounting qualifications, you may be eligible for exemption from some of the Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills exams. Application for exemption can be made in writing to ACCA Global. You will need to provide proof of previous qualifications for verification.

- Modules offered

The ACCA syllabus is comprised of three levels. Each level is more challenging and provides deeper knowledge and experience. 

The Applied Knowledge level includes the following modules:

As you can see, at this level, Management Accounting (MA) presents the biggest challenge based on average pass rates. Once you have completed these modules, you can move on to the Applied Skills level.

The Applied Skills level is comprised of the following modules:

For this level, the Performance Management (PM) module and the Audit and Assurance (AA) module are the hardest to navigate through. The PM and FM modules require lots of practice using mock exams.  

Once you have passed these exams, you progress onto the Strategic Professional level. This level has Essential Modules and Optional Modules. 

Strategic Professional - Essential Modules:

(Both papers in this group are compulsory)

Before you sit for these exams, it is highly recommended that you complete the Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM). The ACCA has discovered that students who do this module first are 25% more likely to pass the SBL exam. 

It is also advisable to complete all Applied Skills exams before attempting this level since the core competencies to answer questions lie in those modules.

Strategic Professional - Optional Modules:

(This group has four papers, from which you must pick and pass two)

Looking at these pass rates may get you a bit stressed.  But don’t be deterred so quickly! 

There are excellent online tuition providers out there who can help with free and paid study resources. For example, VIVA Financial Tuition is an award-winning online tuition provider that is rolling out comprehensive ACCA courses throughout 2023. Be sure to sign up to VIVA's mailing list to receive notification about early bird offers and more. Sign up here and get your free 64-page ACCA Subject by Subject Pass Guide!

Source: Pexels

- A little word of advice

Tutors of ACCA subjects write on forums to be mindful of how you approach the Strategic Professional level if you have only achieved the minimum pass rate of 50% on the previous level.

You will need to prepare thoroughly for the SBR and SBL exams. These two exams are based on real-life examples and you will be required to apply the knowledge gained on the applied skills level by analysing information using the correct methods. This will not be possible if you do not grasp the theory well from the Applied Skills level. 

- Exam sittings

There are four opportunities a year to sit for an exam. Quarterly exams take place in March, June, September, and December, giving students a chance to pass their ACCA exams several times throughout the year.

The flexibility of this exam structure makes allowance for full-time work, part-time work, personal responsibilities and other commitments.

A typical exam schedule is provided below for the March 2023 exam dates:

Monday, Mar 6th

  • AA (Audit and Assurance)
  • AAA (Advanced Audit and Assurance)

Tuesday, Mar 7th

  • TX (Taxation)
  • ATX (Advanced Taxation) UK, ZAF
  • (Strategic Business Leader) SBL

Wednesday, Mar 8th

  • PM (Performance Management)
  • APM (Advanced Performance Management)
  • Advanced Taxation (ATX) CYP, HKG, IRL, MLA, MYS, SGP

Thursday, Mar 9th

  • FR (Financial Reporting)
  • SBR (Strategic Business Reporting)

Friday, Mar 10th

  • FM (Financial Management)
  • AFM (Advanced Financial Management)
  • Corporate and Business Law (LW)

- How many exams do you need to pass?

You have to pass 13 modules in the ACCA qualification. All the exams have a pass mark of 50%. There is no limit on the number of times you may sit for an examination, so if you fail, you can always book another exam.

The most difficult ACCA exam

The ACCA exam which tends to present the most challenges to students is Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA).  

However, at the Applied Skills level, Audit and Assurance (AA) is in some ways more difficult for students because the concepts are so novel, and there is a lot of new material and terminology and processes to learn. 

The key topics examined in AA provide the foundational audit knowledge. Becoming familiar with these concepts can take some time, but a good pass rate at this level will provide the technical knowledge required to succeed in AAA.

Auditing is very practical in nature because it is about gathering information, analysing it and making a very important decision: are the presented financial statements free from misinformation?

The three questions in the AAA exam are all scenario-based. Students must understand the specific circumstances of the client presented, select audit procedures to reflect this understanding and correctly interpret the results obtained.  

Some of the aspects covered in AAA include:

  • Money laundering, professional liability and practice management and tendering
  • How to audit group financials
  • Business risk - this forms part of a 50-mark case study question
  • Due diligence and forensic audit
  • Current issues and developments globally
  • The audit of performance information in the public sector
  • UK and Irish exams include auditing aspects of insolvency

Furthermore, 20% of the marks allocated are for demonstration of professional skills. Audit, assurance and financial reporting regulations will be key to determining applied knowledge.

AAA focuses on application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. A clear and defined opinion that is supported by a well-reasoned argument is what examiners are looking for.

It is a mistake to think that the same skills applied for AA will be sufficient for AAA, as the latter takes students into real-world situations where they have to use all the tools at their disposal to evaluate and make an objective decision.

Many students want to know whether the Taxation (TX) exam is difficult. The answer to that question is no. Although the exam is lengthy and you must remember the taxation laws, the tax period and the tax calculations - there is nothing inherently difficult about the subject matter.

The tricky aspect of the exam is the timing. Rules, standards and rates change in June yearly. You have one year to write all tax-related exams and pass them before everything changes for the new tax year.

Taking the Taxation exam in March is risky.  If you fail, you must understand all the new changes before the June examination. It is therefore not advisable to schedule your Taxation exam like this if possible.

Further reading: The Best Order to do ACCA Exams In

Source: Pexels

How long will it take me to complete the ACCA qualification?

The qualification can take anywhere from 2-10 years to complete depending on your time, previous qualifications and experience, exemptions for certain modules, and work experience.  

It is different for every student, but if you study full-time and are committed to writing exams every quarter, you can feasibly finish in two years.  

On average, you are looking at 900 hours of study over three years.  

At what level is the ACCA qualification ranked?

The ACCA qualification is ranked at the Master's level, a postgraduate degree at NFQ Level 9 (Ireland) and Level 7 (UK).  

Importance of a support network

One area rarely examined is the kind of student support an ACCA student will need to pass successfully. Networking with other students is invaluable to a successful study formula. 

A learning partner that facilitates forums for students to gather and discuss the content of difficult exams and do mock assessments is key to passing your exams. 

VIVA Financial Tuition has supported more than 10,000 students in this way. They are committed to navigating the course with students, creating vibrant online student communities, and have highly qualified tutors on their team to support every step of the way.

The most successful student is one that can manage their time, their commitments and their stress levels adequately. To work for years on a qualification can be taxing on a student’s professional, social and personal life. It takes a commitment that most students did not anticipate before beginning their studies.

A realistic view of what it will take to finish the qualification will help your mindset as you encounter inevitable obstacles and struggles along the way. Obstacles should be anticipated and accepted as part of life rather than expected to be avoided. In fact, learning how to work through them will become an important skill in itself!

ACCA membership

Once you’ve completed the professional exams, the EPSM module and three years of practical experience, you are eligible to become an ACCA member.

Membership provides you with a network of opportunities to further your career and study towards additional qualifications at partner universities.

Membership fees are paid annually in January.

How are ACCA and ACA different from one another?

Both qualifications are internationally reputed and lead to opportunities in finance and management. The qualifications differ in the following ways: [2]



ACCA is not necessarily more difficult than any other professional qualification. The key is the mindset that you adopt towards it. A qualification is a pathway towards a fulfilling career, not an obstacle to get through.  

A good start is to view ACCA as the method for gaining valuable skills and experiences. Chartered Certified Accountants are in demand globally because they are prepared for the operational and strategic aspects of the accounting profession.

Choose a tuition provider that will give you high-quality on-demand tutorials, lecture notes and comprehensive coverage with highly-skilled tutors. VIVA Financial Tuition is geared to meeting precisely these needs and their high pass rates are a testament to that fact.

It takes a good deal of commitment and insight into your own motivations to stick with a long-term qualification, but it is achievable. Many other ACCA students will testify to this fact. Top companies worldwide seek out ACCA-qualified students.

So go out and be audit you can be!  Get it? I'll stop now.

Source: Pexels




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