Facing your first exam: everything you need to know

Facing your first exam can be daunting – but it doesn’t need to be. Here’s everything you need to know to help you prepare.


Many studies show that the most effective preparation starts with one question, “why am I studying this?” Motivations differ, and once you understand the “why”, the work becomes easier to manage. Congratulate yourself on a regular basis, make sure you have a positive message inside your head. It may need changing from “I can’t pass” to “I can pass” and “I am going to pass”. Repeat this message regularly.

Key tip: Change your attitude to “I can”, and remember why you are studying.


Once you have this clear motivation, move on to “how”. Combine methods of studying – simply reading a book is a very passive process and little is learnt. Be an active student – practice questions, e-learning from AAT, explain a concept to an imaginary friend. If my dog could talk, his accounting knowledge would be exceptional!

You have study methods, now you need to combine them into a realistic study plan. At the start of each unit, work through your time scales and start studying early. Study plans should be flexible and fit around your life. Remember that nothing worth having comes easy – you need to commit to the learning – now we are back to your motivation. Consider using online study planners, there are some very good free models available.

AAT assessments are computer-based, make sure that you have practiced this and are aware of how the screens will look. AAT has plenty of practice assessments available, these should be a critical part of your revision strategy.

Key tip: Make a study plan and combine different study methods. Practice!


Every training centre will have different procedures for assessment booking, your tutor will support you to ensure that the booking process is smooth. There are things you can do to help. Make sure that your student membership is paid, and information is current, for example, a name change. Tell your training provider your AAT number.

Key tip: Keep your contact information up-to-date and ask your tutor for support.

Assessment day

Make sure you know where you are expected to be and when. Often assessments are in different locations – consider parking, traffic, etc. Think about your mobile phone, and your smartwatch. You need to take photo identification (with the correct name on it) with you to the assessment.

Key tip: Plan ahead to make sure you are in the right place at the right time.

Strategy for achieving

Make sure you arrive well rested after a good night’s sleep. Strategy before the assessment is personal. Consider a coffee and chat with friends, or sit quietly with revision notes for some reflective time. Whatever is the most effective method for you to get mentally ready, plan it and keep that clear motivation in your mind.

A positive mind frame as you approach each task is critical, occasionally a task will surprise you – that can become destabilising, creating a knock-on effect. A 60-second deep breathing exercise using basic meditation techniques is helpful here, but this only works if you have practised it before (search online to find out more information).

Key tip: Arrive at your assessment well-rested and with a positive attitude.


Make sure you know in advance if you will receive your results on the day, or if they are marked by AAT and you will receive them in 6 weeks.

Whatever your result, your feedback and your feelings will help you achieve more in future.   Before you move on, spend a few minutes reviewing your results and how you felt. Did you feel time pressured? Did the language surprise you? Did you find the silence of an exam room stressful? All these reactions can guide you to better learning skills in future assessments.  

If you want more support to understand your reaction, talk to your tutor. They are there not just to help your technical learning and techniques, but to support you as a person to grow, learn and progress through your learning journey.

Key tip: Review your results and understand how you felt doing the assessment.


Your first exam doesn’t need to be stressful – use these tips to effectively prepare and reflect, and you can turn these into habits for future assessments. Most importantly, enjoy your learning and embrace the assessments as your opportunity to share the joy of accounting with your assessors. Go on to achieve the dream that has led you to start the AAT journey.

Further reading:

Sam Perkin is an AAT tutor.

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