On top of the world

Meet the Cambridgeshire student who came first in the world out of thousands of SBL students.

Accountancy student Andy Hall, from Cambridgeshire, was first in the world in the recent ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam.

Now based in London and working for accountants and business advisors BDO, Hall said that accountancy appealed to him because of his interest in business which comes in large part from his entrepreneur father.

“Of course, the skills learned during the course of my studies should help me become a competent accountant, but I believe they will also help me in the wider world of business,” he said.

The four-hour examination tested professional accounting skills through analysis, discussion and commercial awareness using a case study about a chocolate manufacturing company.

Hall found the exam “tough but achievable, so long as you get your head down and work hard”. He added: “If you are able to allow yourself enough time to study, then I’ve found that it’ll give you the best chance of passing. Of course, this is always easier said than done when having to work full time. I also believe that practising exam style questions is key. It’s certainly less of a shock on the day if you have half an idea of what you will be faced with.”

He said exam technique is helpful especially during the more advanced exams. “There were quite a few videos on the ACCA website that purely focused on exam technique which are definitely worth a watch,” he said.

As for the importance of work-life balance, Hall said: “I think hitting the sweet spot between work, study and life is really important. Locking yourself away to study non-stop didn’t work for me. Allowing for a sensible amount of downtime helps lift your morale and reduces the risk of burning out.”

So how did he relax in those brief moments of free time? “I restored a classic Mini a few years ago, so especially in the summer months it was nice to go for a drive in the evenings to chill out. I also enjoy playing drums and guitar, so making a bit of a racket after a long day of revision was also a great way to unwind, albeit at the expense of my neighbours!”

For someone starting out now, Andy would advise looking at the bigger picture when at work. “I think it’s important to try and understand why you are doing a certain task and how it relates to the wider business. I found this especially helpful when I first started, as some of the jobs given to me were seemingly simple. I also believe that when you first start out, there is no such thing as bad experience, so try and get as much exposure as possible. At least, you can start to identify what you find interesting, and what you don’t.

“I’m very grateful for the help and guidance my tutor, Iryna McDonald at Kaplan, gave me. All the tutors at Kaplan have been more than willing to help whenever I have asked for it.”

Hall works in the London office of BDO. He provides support to high-growth SMEs with their monthly management reports, VAT compliance and year-end financial reporting as part of BDODrive.

He feels fortunate to have been allowed to attend classes during week days. “Nevertheless, you still have to find time to revise, and that means at the weekend or in the evenings after work. It can definitely be a test of stamina and willpower! However, I’m confident it’ll be worth it in the end.”