Have you recently registered with ACCA and are now ready to study for the exams? You will want to ensure that you have a well thought-out plan for how you will organise and get the most out of your study time.
This is because ACCA only offers four exam sittings a year - March, June, September, and December.
In this article, we are going give you a quick overview of the ACCA exams, the factors you should consider when deciding which exam combination you should take and lastly, our own recommendations.
Overview of the Different Levels of ACCA Exams
We assume that you are at the stage where you are starting from scratch. It is important to have an idea of how the ACCA exams are structured and the different topics that you will encounter.
Applied Knowledge Exams
The ACCA Applied Knowledge exams are the introductory level of the ACCA qualification. The exams are computer-based and designed to help students like you understand the fundamentals of accounting. By completing this level, you will have a solid grasp of core accounting concepts that will help you pass your next level of examinations.
Applied Skills Exams
The Applied Skills exams will test your ability to apply the concepts and fundamentals in real-life situations. It will include multiple-choice questions and some more "subjective" written questions.
Strategic Professional Exams (Essentials)
These comprise part of the final (Strategic Professional) level of the ACCA exams. There are two compulsory papers, which are the SBR (Strategic Business Reporting) and SBL (Strategic Business Leader). The SBR paper will be focused on your competencies as a financial accountant and the SBL paper will be more focused on becoming a strategic business leader.This level is designed to help you develop your strategic thinking and leadership skills which are essential in becoming a professional accountant. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have special superpowers to pass this level - just an affinity for numbers and a willingness to learn!
Strategic Professional Exams (Options)
These exams form the options module of the Strategic Professional exams, which means that out of the four papers that are mentioned in the table below, you will be required to choose two that are aligned with your personal interests and career goals.
For example, if you are looking to specialise as an assurance professional, you might choose the Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA) and Advanced Financial Management (FM) papers.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Exam Combinations
Some students may be able to study full-time, while others have jobs or family responsibilities. Each person has unique circumstances, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. So each ACCA student will have their own “ideal combination” when it comes to choosing which exams to take on. In order to have a more individualized approach, here are some factors to consider:
The first point you should consider when choosing your combination of ACCA exams is which exam topics complement or overlap each other.
To give you an example, Financial Management (FA) and Management Accounting (MA) both have similar topics, such as cost and management accounting.
Well, if you've got lots of time, I think you can actually start by studying for two exams at the same time. I recommend that you do the Business and Technology exam in conjunction with the Management Accounting exam.
That would then leave you (assuming that you pass) with Financial Accounting as the final exam in this phase. As we saw with the actual pass rates above, these exams can be challenging, even at the Applied Knowledge level.
The reason why we suggest that the Financial Accounting should remain as your third option, and to do it by itself, is the Financial Accounting exam relates closely to the Financial Reporting (FR) exam at the Applied Skills level (which also feeds into SBR at the Strategic Professional level).
So in other words, if you don't understand the core knowledge of the Financial Accounting exam (maybe you scrape a pass), it's really going to hinder you going into the next round of exams.
If on the other hand, you are busy now, maybe you've got children, working commitments, and you just want to do one at a time, then we'd recommend you start off with Business and Technology, then go on to Management Accounting, and then finally finish with Financial Accounting.
Workload and Time Schedule
Again, it is very important to consider your work and family responsibilities when choosing exam combinations because this will help you avoid overloading yourself, and ensure that you can devote enough time to prepare for each examination that you take.
Exam Difficulty and Format
When it comes to determining the difficulty of the ACCA examinations, you can look for the passing rates of every exam so that you will have an idea of where other students excel and where they are having a hard time.
We recommend that you start taking up the ACCA exams that you think are easier for you so that you can just get it done and set it aside and be more focused on exams that are much more challenging.
For instance, let’s say that you already have a storing accounting foundation, and you can see in the table above that there are high pass rates for F1, F2, and F3, then you will likely pass relatively easily. So why not just take those exams first and get them out of the way? That way, you can gain good psychological momentum, and motivate yourself to tackle those more challenging exams with progress already under your belt!
Your Personal Learning Style
Every ACCA student has their own way of learning and absorbing information. Knowing what your own preferred learning style is can help you capitalise on your own strengths and weaknesses. This will lead to better comprehension and retention of information from different materials.
For example, if you are a visual learner and you enjoy diagrams and flowcharts, consider taking Financial Reporting (FR) and Performance Management (PM) together because both involve the visualisation of financial data and analysis of performance.
Meanwhile, if you are an auditory learner and are much better at listening and discussing, you might find it easier to take on Audit and Assurance (AA) and Advanced Financial Management (AFM) together because both rely on case study analysis and discussions to come up with appropriate solutions.
Our Recommended ACCA Exam Combinations
Here are our recommended ACCA exam combinations that overlap and share pre-requisite knowledge. By completing these exams together, you can save time, effort, and even money because you won’t need to study the same material twice. You will also benefit from the assumed knowledge you have gained from studying the first exam, which will enable you to learn the second one much easier:
Combination #1: LW and then TX
This is one of the best examples when we say that you can benefit from the assumed knowledge you have gained from your previous exam. LW will give you the foundational knowledge about the legal and regulatory aspects of a business which is essential when you study TX.
Combination #2: PM and then FM
PM will focus on management accounting techniques for decision-making and FM is about financial management concepts. Together, students will be able to use their knowledge of accounting management principles while making financial decision-making strategies.
For example, in PM, you will learn how to create a budget and with FM, you will need to analyse the created budget and find areas for cost reductions.
Combination #3: FR and then AA
Having the essential knowledge of financial reporting standards will help you with AA because you will already be able to understand the data in a financial statement easily. This is critical during auditing procedures. Think of it this way, understanding financial reporting standards is like having a roadmap before you go on an auditing journey.
Combination #4: SBR and AFM
AFM will be covering financial management techniques and alongside strategic business reporting, you will be able to analyse financial data at a more strategic professional level. For example, you will be able to understand the impact of financial decisions on the profitability of a company and be able to prepare financial reports to communicate the company’s performance.
Combination #5: AFM and APM
AFM and APM also go hand in hand. Together, they will enable you to apply financial management techniques to strategic performance evaluation, which means that you will be able to manage an organisation’s financial performance while making sound decisions that will enable them to maximise their profits. This will also help you set out goals and objectives that are aligned with your overall strategy.
Combination #6: AFM and ATX
By studying AFM alongside ATX, you will be able to apply financial management techniques to complex tax scenarios. Here’s an additional tip: It is best to take your taxation exams after the start of the new tax year, If you take them in March, the syllabus might have been changed already. The same goes for the PM exam, which changes during September.
So, there you have it! Choosing the best combinations of exams can really be crucial in achieving the ACCA qualification.
Make sure that you plan ahead and research the right combinations for you. We also advise you to talk to other experience ACCA members and consider professional help. But don’t forget the most important piece of advice - trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t!
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