Qualification for today

Change is the new normal, and since we relaunched ACCA’s qualification in 2018 there’s certainly been a lot of change to ensure the skills we are testing in the qualification are aligned to the needs of employers, and we are now seeing a lot of progress and positivity. To ensure PQ readers are performing as well as they should in their ACCA exams, I wanted to offer a few timely reminders for future success and share some of our latest updates that will ensure the skills you are developing keep you in demand.

ACCA’s new Strategic Professional exams had their third sitting in March, producing a set of good results, including those for Strategic Business Leader and Strategic Business Reporting. Many congratulations to all the students who have passed these exams, especially those students in many different parts of the world who have achieved excellent prize-winning marks.

Results for Strategic Business Reporting were the highest since launch. What’s really gratifying about this is the way students have approached this exam with advice and guidance now being taken on board.

ACCA’s Catherine Edwards wrote an article for PQ recently, explaining how markers reported that they felt students were approaching Strategic Business Reporting just like the former P2. In Strategic Business Reporting, students have to analyse the data and present their findings to stakeholders and we’re now seeing more students doing just this.

And even more pleasingly, we’re seeing strong evidence that students are starting to understand how to refer to the conceptual framework in their answers. There was another great article in PQ by Tom Clendon, a tutor with Avado, who explained the use of this very clearly and students will be expected to apply this framework in every exam (PQ, April ’19).

The power of practice

Our main advice for Strategic Professional exams is twofold: time management and practise, practise, practise!

With time management, we see evidence in all exams at Strategic Professional that students are spending too long on the first question and although they are often answering it really well, responses to subsequent questions are written in bullet points. At this level, trying to convey their answers in bullet points is unlikely to score marks, and so time management is essential to show the marker what you are capable of throughout the exam.

Successful students tell us they prepare by practising full exams to time, also focusing on answering the question as set and responding to the stakeholder’s needs as appropriate. It really does help and we think this is super practical advice.

Evidence of helpful practice can also be seen in the results for the Applied Skills exams and how students are using the spreadsheets, for example. Here, practice can help you develop shortcuts that you can use in the exams to save time and let you focus on your response. And remember, in our spreadsheet questions the marker sees what’s in and behind every cell, not just the answer, so you will get marks for workings.

Rehearse all your questions on a computer. If you are with an approved learning provider, they should set your homework questions on computer. Or if you are using our approved content material, use the Constructed Response Workspace. The more practice you do, the more familiar you will become with the exam tools to help you in the exam.

Digital, ethical and successful

Launched in October 2017, our groundbreaking Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM) is designed to support your exam success. It provides you with the full spectrum of advanced ethical and professional skills employers need from accountants.

We’ve recently introduced two new units into the module. The first specifically outlines to students how to use the learnings from EPSM to succeed in Strategic Professional exams. And the second unique innovation is a new interactive unit on data analytics covering big data, different methodologies for data analytics such as robotics, AI, and machine learning, and the associated ethical and security issues.

It also covers the legal implications of using and storing data, and explains how data analysis can be presented and communicated, allowing people to make good business decisions. Importantly the unit also includes scepticism in data analytics, one of the key professional skills required of any finance professional.

This means that data results should never be taken at face value and that ‘too-good-to-be-true’ results need to be explored in detail before any decisions are made. Uniquely, as part of this module, students have to undertake a practical exercise to carry out data analysis, using statistical techniques, and make recommendations based on that analysis.

Connected to emerging technology

Of course, as well as getting students to practise data analysis in the EPSM, the ACCA qualification has digital content embedded throughout the exams; starting with Accountant in Business all the way through to the Strategic Professional exams. Subjects such as big data, Fintech, cybersecurity, audit data analytics and more are covered to ensure the relevance of the qualification.

With the profession going through rapid change, we’ll ensure we’re giving you – our students – the knowledge and skills needed for the workplace today and the future. Our syllabus is updated each and every year to ensure that you have the awareness and skills needed for your careers, understanding what it means to be a professional accountant in the digital world.

• Judith Bennett is the ACCA’s director of professional qualifications