Study tips: the best way to work through an assessment 

We spoke to an AAT tutor, Gill Myers and AAT student , Jess Brindle to get their advice about the most effective techniques to use when working through an assessment.

What Gill says:

Practise writing – no matter how boring you find it

As a tutor, I’d often set written tasks as homework. However, it’s these assignments students would always ‘not have time to do’, because they found them challenging – accounting students will always prefer numbers to words. Before the synoptic assessments, you could get away with this.  Now, explaining complicated things to non-financial readers is important. Practise as much as you can.

Brush up on key words

Many students struggle in the assessment because they’ve misunderstood the ‘command words’ that crop up in the exam questions.

Here’s a refresher:

Identify: Pick out several key points or assets from a list. There’s no need to be over-descriptive.

Describe: Detail the features of a subject/object.

Explain: This means you have to include a ‘why’ or ‘because’ element. Simply outline how or why something happened.

Compare: Talk about the similarities and differences between two or more objects.

Read the entire question

Sometimes students will answer only half the question.

The question might be: ‘Identify X and describe with examples’.

If you haven’t included the ‘examples’ – which many students don’t – you won’t get full marks for that question.

Scrub up on spreadsheet skills

At the advanced level, the big issue is spreadsheets. The students who have dealt with spreadsheets throughout the year are the ones getting good results.

If you’re not being taught spreadsheets, mention it to your tutor. You need to be using Excel on a regular basis to do well in the assessment.

Don’t forget the ‘standard’

The standard is the assessment syllabus, which students can access at You should be able to see from the standard what topics will come up, and be able to go into the assessment armed with that knowledge.

Very few students are taking advantage of this – many don’t know it’s available.

What Jess says:

Use the resources available at

The practical assessments on are great. They’re similar to the real thing, especially with the question structuring.

Read these and you won’t enter the exam thinking: “What questions will be where?” Everyone gets exam nerves, but using these papers beforehand will make you more confident going in.

The best thing is the AAT Green Light test, which uses a ‘traffic lights’ system to tell you how you’re faring in different subjects.

Get an amber light and you’ll need to do more revision, while a red light means you don’t understand it at all. I once got a red light on business tax, which really
helped me focus on my revision.

Assume the examiner knows nothing

There’s a lot of writing in the advanced exams, which can be daunting. Just remember to explain everything as if the person you’re addressing – the examiner – doesn’t know anything about finance.

I used some technical words, but provided explanations of them to prove to the assessor that I knew what I was talking about, and hadn’t just plucked out words that sounded good.

Book your assessments wisely

I always try to make sure I book my assessments shortly after I’m scheduled to finish my lessons. I always book my assessments for the mornings, too.

Whenever I’ve done afternoon assessments, I’ve usually spent all morning stressing about them.

Remember: the assessment is similar to other exams you’ve taken

Many students describe the synoptic as this big, scary thing. But it’s no different from any  other exam I’ve taken.

To be honest, it was easier than my GCSEs. Because the assessment is split into different exams, you can identify which bits you need more revision on, as opposed to GCSEs, where it’s just one end-of-year exam.

Cramming doesn’t work

You just end up stressing out, because you start worrying about what you don’t know rather than focusing on what you do.

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

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