Why students fail AA

April 2023

Brigita Petrova has some sage advice on how to pass an exam that some students seem to

Always “as expected”, always “not too bad”, yet always bottom of the list for Skills level pass rates. Here is why and how you can come out successful in your next attempt.

Reason for failureHow to win
Thinking AA is a “theory” paper, due to only 30% objective testing (OT) marks, as opposed to 60% in most Skills papers.Prepare for a “written” but “practical” paper, where most (around 70%) of the marks in the whole exam come from application of core knowledge.
Spending too much time trying to learn the knowledge, doing very little question practice and often starting it too late.Learn well the core knowledge needed (tutor written condensed notes work well) but spend more time on doing past exam questions and don’t wait till revision starts to attack them.
Focusing on Section A type of questions due to being familiar and comfortable with this type of practice from other subjects. Having some good ideas re Section B questions but not trying to put them down in writing.Given the split of written to OT marks is 70:30, ensure you split your question practice at least in the same proportion. Maybe even try 80:20, if writing has always been too challenging in other subjects
and you often left those marks out in the past.
Not understanding the subject matter, attempting to memorize loads of tests and sample answers. The exam result of this is often a big mess and having to re-sit multiple times.Ensure you understand the audit process with its main stages, think about the meaning of what you learn and the purpose of the procedures you do. Once you understand something, it is much easier to remember and explain it, and what is critical to AA – to apply it in context. You don’t need an audit background, but if struggling with understanding, then having a good audit tutor helps a lot!
Not understanding the question requirements and going off-tangent, providing
the right answer but to the wrong question. For example, in a question asking the
following: ‘Explain the steps the auditor should take to confirm the accuracy of the
purchases and payables flowcharts and systems notes currently held on file.’ The
number of students providing substantive procedures on purchases/payables is
usually much higher than those applying it to the company’s internal controls.
Do not rush when reading requirements. Think carefully about what is actually being asked as opposed to what you wish/expect to be asked. Pay attention to the verbs used and don’t provide a list
of a few words per point, when you are required to explain something.
Not explaining otherwise good points, resulting in scoring only half of the marks on
offer. Most requirements ask to ‘explain’/‘identify and explain’ etc. and yet many
students do the ‘identify’ but not the ‘explain’ bit.
Think about the “what” and the “why” in your answer. For example, in a requirement asking to
‘identify and explain N deficiencies in the client’s internal control system’, so… ‘identify’ needs you
to say what their control weakness is (taken straight from the scenario) and ‘explain’ needs you to say
why this is a weakness (your understanding of how this could harm the company).
Trying to explain ‘why’ but being vague or not going far enough. E.g. ‘Orders for
unavailable items might be accepted and subsequently cancelled’ is not good
enough, as it does not show the potential harm for the company. Or saying ‘The
auditor will check documentation to confirm if development cost is correct in the FS’ does not make it clear what documentation and how exactly it will be checked,
neither does it make clear what the correct treatment of the cost should be.
Be precise and specific. The deficiency explanation works if you go a tiny bit further, saying something
like ‘orders for unavailable items might be accepted and subsequently cancelled, leading to upset
customers and lost goodwill’. The test on development cost could say ‘Obtain a breakdown of the
development cost and inspect some invoices, to assess the nature of the expenditure and confirm
whether any of them relate to research and should be expensed’.
Poor time management, spending too long on the OT section and not having enough
time for the 70 marks in the written part of the exam.
At home, practise under time pressure (one mark = two minutes), especially during revision. In the
exam, watch the clock and always go for the easy marks first!