How to pass ATX

November 2022

Top tax tutor Neil da Costa explains how his condensed notes could help you get through the ATX exam.

The ACCA Advanced Tax exam is the only closed book high-level exam on UK tax. Advanced Tax Condensed distils the vast technical material of the ACCA subject with the largest syllabus into about 150 brightly coloured mind maps.

The Kaplan study manual has 1,142 pages, while the exam kit has over 700 pages.
This requires the successful student to invest substantial study time in learning all the technical rules.

The vast majority of students are working full time so tend to sit the exam with vast knowledge gaps.

The complexity of the exam questions requires a high level of technical knowledge to unlock the scenarios and visualise the pathway through the question.

Advanced Tax Condensed provides the unique solution to this. It provides the perfect bridge between the study text and the exam kit. Using my 20 years’ experience gained from lecturing thousands of students at Kaplan, I have worked out simple techniques to explain complex topics and have incorporated these techniques into memory joggers.

One of the mind-mapping pioneers was Tony Buzan, who realised that memory works best with bright colours and diagrams. This is what I have incorporated into Advanced Tax Condensed.
What this means is not only do you quickly understand a topic, but the essential knowledge will be imprinted in your memory. Many of my students have found that the strong visuals (colour and diagrams) have made it easier to grasp the concepts as opposed to black-and-white print.

I discovered that the single key words used in original mind mapping do not work for tax due to the technical complexity of the subject matter and instead students found it much easier to memorise short phrases.

Memory works by creating neural pathways in the brain and by repeatedly reading Advanced Tax Condensed you will create a neural pathway allowing you to recall technical information under time-pressured exam conditions.

Being an NLP (neuro-linguistic programmer), I found there is a lot of scientific evidence to back up the concept that you can programme your brain to automatically choose the desired outcome. We can all work at developing good habits such as eating healthily, exercising, or getting enough sleep.

I have taken these concepts such as habit loops and incorporated them into Advanced Tax Condensed by ensuring that the information on a page can be easily understood in just a few minutes. I have also put in little tips called Neil’s Top Tips to emphasise the key points the examiner will be looking for. This makes the whole study process enjoyable and fun.

When your brain finds reading Advanced Tax Condensed pleasurable, it will signal your body to release dopamine, which will result in you studying for longer periods than expected.

One of the other obstacles to effective study is students find they are constantly distracted and unable to concentrate. Advanced Tax Condensed helps with this by allowing students to concentrate in short bursts such as 15 minutes which fits in well with other productivity techniques such as the well-known Pomodoro Method.

As an Advanced Tax Marker and an ACCA ‘Train The Trainer’, I realised that marks are awarded for key phrases.

If your answer contains these key phrases and you apply it to the scenario, you will score high marks. Many students write answers that are too generic. By learning these key phrases from Advanced Tax Condensed, you will give your answer the technical integrity you are looking for.

While Advanced Tax Condensed is tailored for the ACCA Advanced Tax exam it is also very useful for the ICAEW BPT exam where students get overwhelmed with the information, they need to take into the exam with them.

As it is colour coded and quick to copy, it forms the perfect reference document for referencing to an exam scenario in an efficient manner. The same principle applies to all the ATT and CTA direct tax exams which now offer online un-invigilated exams where you need to find the information you have forgotten ASAP.

You can buy AdvancedTax Condensed at

• Neil da Costa is a tax lecturer and author with Kaplan Financial