The Professional Synoptic is another notorious AAT Level 4 exam with a dismal pass rate, currently sitting at only 56.7%. This is a huge improvement from its first release when it was a mere 41.2%. Although 56.7% is low, it is still superior to the dreaded MDCL exam, which is currently 52.5% (see my previous article February 2019 issue). There is still a concerning number of students on their fourth and fifth attempts for both these exams. Is this because the exams are too difficult, or is it that students are just simply not prepared or ready?
Many students pass this exam first time, so the problem must reside in the preparation and readiness of those who don’t. Many students have not successfully completed the core units before taking this exam, or rush to fit in with ‘synoptic windows’, which can have a serious impact on results. Preparation is key with all exams but, as with MDCL, this exam is tough because there is so much content to remember and it is also mostly written.
However, in this article I will show you a tactical approach to this exam, which could quite possibly secure you a pass. So make sure you attempt the tasks in the following order:
Task 1 is worth 20 marks
• Easy multiple-choice questions based on your knowledge from Level 2 and 3, eg. control accounts reconciliations, ethics and learning outcomes 1 and 2 from the ASYC unit.
• Spend a maximum of 10-15 minutes on this task. Task 5 is worth 20 marks • Relatively easy ratio calculations (computer marked) and interpretation (computer or human marked) from FSLC.
• Look at the numbers. What has increased or decreased? What may have caused this?
• Spend 15-20 minutes on this task. We can now start to see why this order is important. This exam is three hours and worth 100 marks. So far, we could easily achieve 36-40% in the first 30 minutes of the exam – in only two tasks! Task 3 is worth 15 marks
• Slightly more difficult than the previous one but still relatively straightforward. This task will require you to identify weaknesses.
• Read the question first, then read the information provided to save time.
• Answer the question asked. No marks are awarded for identifying weaknesses on the sales process when the question requires weaknesses in the payroll systems or risk of fraud.
• Use the marks available as a guide on how many points to make.
• Spend 25-30 minutes on this task. We could easily achieve 12-15 marks on this task, meaning we could potentially gain 48-55% in just over the first hour of this exam. Task 6 is worth 15 marks
• This question suitably follows on from Task 3.
• This question requires you to analyse the scenario and may require you to identify weaknesses and make recommendations, Cost Benefit or SWOT analysis. Do not be confused by a blank grid in an answer box, this is for your workings of a Cost Benefit Analysis.
• Spend approximately 30-40 minutes on this task. By this stage we could have possibly achieved a further 12-15 marks, giving a total of 60-70 marks in less than two hours, with the remaining two tasks being those that students find the most difficult. When you come to Task 2 and 4, complete the one you are more confident with first to gain maximum marks in the time remaining. You should spend 35-40 minutes each on these last two tasks. Task 4 is worth 15 marks
• This task covers decision making techniques covered in MDCL (e.g. relevant costing, limiting factors, contribution, make or buy, standard costing, product discontinuance, shut down or target costing). Task 2 is worth 15 marks • This task covers budgeting and budgetary reports from MABU, costing techniques and standard costing from MDCL and maybe elements of ASYC.
• Remember to answer the question being asked. You can see that by using this method, we have used the time efficiently from the start of the exam to gain as many marks as possible in the shortest amount of time because the performance and concentration of many students will start to deteriorate after two hours. My final piece of advice would be to always refer to the information in scenario, use names, assume the examiner knows nothing and remember to include enough detail to gain the full marks available.
• Jennifer Nyland is an AAT Level 4 tutor at Training Link.