Many people join the NAO unsure of how the ACA (Associate Chartered Accountant) course is structured. It therefore may be useful for potential applicants to know more about how the course is structured, before they apply.
As with many accountancy firms, the NAO has an internal exam policy in place. A recent change at the NAO now means that you have six credits for the duration of the course (this means that you can re-sit up to six of the fifteen exams.
The ACA in a nutshell
- The first six exams you sit are the certificate level exams. These are completed between September and December of your first year. They are computer based, which are mostly multiple choice. You receive the results the following day.
- The following six are professional level, which you sit between September and December of your second year.
- In your final year, you sit the advanced stage exams, usually in November. Both these, and the professional level exams are written exams, and you don’t receive results until around five weeks later.
First Year: Certificate Level
The first exams that you sit are the Accounting and Assurance exams. College starts in the second week after you join, and you will spend two weeks there before sitting the exams. These exams can be very challenging, meaning you have to put plenty of work in from the start.
College starts again around a month later, where you study Tax and Law as a home study module. Around a month later, you begin studying Management Information, and Business and Finance, again as home study.
Three out of these six exams must be passed first time. Any unused credits are then carried forward into your second year. By mid-December, you will have completed the certificate level stage of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountancy in England and Wales) ACA route.
Second Year: Professional Level
Second year tuition starts the following spring, where you will go to college for Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Audit and Assurance modules. Tuition for the third module, Tax and Compliance, takes place in July, with mock exams a couple of weeks later. You begin the revision phase for your three exams in mid-August, and have three weeks of college before you sit them in September.
After these exams, you have around a week until tuition starts for the next three modules, which you sit in December. These modules are: Business Planning Tax, Business Strategy and Financial Management. You spend three weeks in college for tuition, then around four weeks back at work, before returning for three weeks of revision in college. After you complete these exams, you will be part-qualified.
Third Year: Advanced Stage
College starts back in June/ August, ready for the final teaching phase of the ACA. The modules are: Corporate Reporting, Strategic Business Management and the Case Study. You sit these exams in November, having had three weeks of teaching and three weeks of revision. Once you have completed these exams, you will be exam qualified.
The NAO gives around 2-3 days paid study leave per exam sitting, in addition to paid time off work whilst you are at college. However, it is still expected that a lot of study is done outside of college and work hours. A bonus of the NAO is that you don’t have to go into work in the evenings or weekends after college, your focus can be wholly on studying.
It is important to understand that the exams are difficult, and although you will have sit many exams up to this stage, these may well be some of your most difficult yet. However, generally NAO trainees score above average marks for all of their exams, so don’t be too worried!