How to Audit (Part 15): Exams
Date:11 DALSE (Days After the Last Sodding Exam).
I feel strange. After finishing all the ICAEW exams I do not feel ecstatically happy, but oddly disorientated. My skin is not used to so much sunlight. I am re-learning how to cope with free time. One day, I may be able to have some fun again, but such drastic change does not happen quickly.
Qualification requires taking 15 exams over a three-year training contract. They have been long, tiring and emotionally crippling. I am in a strong shock of complete relief. Three years is a long time to aim towards a single goal. You dare not think about life after qualification because the route is so fraught. 15 exams is 15 chances to fail and get fired. The consequence is work in a different spreadsheet-less profession.
So I have reached my intended destination without thinking about how I would feel. It is like hopping on a random plane at Heathrow and arriving quite bemused at Baghdad/Manchester*. Eventually, I will feel satisfied and proud. Qualification is a fantastic achievement. The following is an overview of the last three years
The 15 exams are split over 3 stages, as demonstrated by this ICAEW chart (link):
1) Knowledge Stage
The Knowledge Stage is 6 multiple-choice papers that give a background understanding. The accounting and audit papers are taken as soon as you start the training contract. The accounting paper is terrifying. Understanding double entry is like riding a bike – at some point it becomes easy and natural. You hope that point is before the end of the exam.
The other exams are more straightforward. The material is not hard and the syllabus is manageable in size. This means that it is learnt to exhaustion for no reason. There are (literally) no prizes for first place.
The oddest part of the Knowledge Stage is the ICAEW’s insistence that students use an awful calculator for the exams. The buttons have the responsiveness of a slough. An abacus would be more useful.
2) Application Stage
The 6 Application Stage papers make the knowledge stage look as easy as taking a Facebook break. They are taken about 9 into the training contract. You are introduced to the accountant’s bible – the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards).
These are 3.5 hour written papers. 55% is the pass mark. 1.5 minutes per mark becomes a golden rule because most failures are down to bad time-keeping.
Wobbly tables are a threat but the invigilators will provide free cardboard. You must use a ICAEW mandated pen (black ball-point), however, you can use any calculator/abacus (hurrah!).
The material is harder and learning the whole syllabus is close to unfeasible. The tax paper is especially horrid. As before there is no point revising everything to death, but there are prizes for first place – link.
3) Advanced Stage
The Advance Stage consists of the two Technical Integration (TI) papers and the Case Study. Helpfully, the pass mark is reduced to 50%.
The TI papers combines the knowledge in the application stage plus harder technical material. The tax material is especially horrid. The TI papers supersede all other exams ever taken for difficulty and time pressure. The learning of the whole syllabus is measured tortoise lifespans. Again, revising everything is impossible, however, it feels necessary in order to pass.
The TI papers (and the Case Study) are open book, so you can take anything and everything into the exam hall. To do so requires a trolley case. Unfortunately, the time required to look through it during the exam will probably result in failing.
At 4 hours, the Case Study is the longest paper. However, it is more straightforward than TI. The aim is to write a report about a company. The report uses information publish by the ICAEW before the exam and some new material during the exam. There is no technical material to learn. A few days of preparation is sufficient. The hardest aspect is demonstrating the required report writing skills during the exam. Preparing the material to death actually increases the chance of failing.
I won’t miss the exams, but I did enjoy college and I will miss that. The class of 2011 has journeyed through much hardship. It has cost much: in pens and paper; in evenings and weekends; and in stress and cholesterol. But for the cost, I do believe that the journey was very worthwhile.
This whole article assumes that I have passed before knowing the results. They come out in the Financial Times on 02 September 2011. There is a good chance to be an arrogant and vainglorious idiot.
*Apologies to the people of Baghdad for the Mancunian association.