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Top tips to help you prepare for your synoptic

To be a successful accountant, you need a good all-round knowledge and understanding of the profession.

Synoptic assessments allow AAT to ensure that students have this knowledge – to be able to explain what the numbers mean, what makes up the numbers and the impact that the numbers may have on a business in a real-life situation. 

Synoptic assessments have gained a reputation for their sizeable tasks, content spanning multiple units, and detailed written questions pushing learners outside of their comfort zones. When sitting your synoptic assessment, you should ensure you demonstrate your knowledge of core accountancy skills and your ability to apply them in the workplace. 

1  Before you book your synoptic assessment 

  • Complete the mandatory units 

Prior to booking your synoptic assessment, ensure you have completed all the mandatory units. Statistics show that if a student has passed their mandatory units, they have a better chance of passing their synoptic assessment. If you are studying with a college or training provider, ensure you complete all the coursework provided. 

  • Talk to your tutor 

If you are studying with a college or training provider – whether that is classroom-based learning or via distance learning – make sure to talk to your tutor before booking your synoptic assessment. They are there to support you, give you their expert advice and to give you constructive feedback – so just ask! If your tutor believes you are not quite ready to sit a synoptic assessment, they are saying that for a reason. 

  • Make sure you feel ready 

Avoid rushing to complete your qualification, as this can lead to not achieving your best possible grade or even failing the synoptic assessment. If you feel you are not ready to take the synoptic assessment, then don’t. Allowing yourself an extra couple of weeks of study may be the difference between passing and failing. 

2  Preparing for your synoptic assessment 

  • Confirm the date of your synoptic assessment 

The date of your assessment may be chosen by you or set by your college or training provider. Confirm the date of your synoptic assessment, then work out how many days you have to prepare. Consider how many hours you are able to devote towards final revision and prepare a timetable of study. 

  • Start your revision ASAP 

Don’t procrastinate! It is essential that you give yourself enough time to prepare and revise thoroughly for the synoptic assessment, so start revising as soon as you can. As the saying goes: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Remember, you can never revise too much. 

  • Plan out your revision 

Take time to draw out your planned revision, based on the areas you require reinforcement on, and consolidating areas of previous knowledge. When writing your revision plan, do not overstate the amount of time you realistically have to study, as this can create additional pressure and stress if you are falling behind. Studying little and often is better than studying for long periods every so often. 

  • Make use of the many resources that are available to you 

AAT has a plethora of valuable resources that will help you prepare for your synoptic assessment. As part of your revision planning, reach out and grab all the resources you can. Particularly beneficial are the e-learning modules, key calculations, and Green Light tests available on AAT’s Lifelong Learning Portal. The most essential revision resource will be practice assessments – they will help you get used to navigating your way through the different screens, the set-up of the questions within the assessment software, and the different ways in which questions may be asked. 

3  The day before your synoptic assessment 

  • Avoid last-minute cramming 

Provided you have stuck to your revision plan, find a suitable time to put the books down, digest your final revision session and unwind. Last-minute cramming places stress on the brain, pushing it beyond its limits, which can increase feelings of anxiety, frustration, fatigue and confusion. Your brain needs time to relax and refocus.  

  • Get everything ready 

Make sure you have everything ready for your assessment the day before you go. Prepare your required items so that they are easily accessible, such as your photo ID, pens and a calculator. Know where you’re going and how you’ll get there – plan the route, where you’ll park (if you’re driving) and allow yourself enough time to deal with traffic or other potential delays. Ensure that everything outside your assessment is planned, so that you can focus fully and not worry about, for example, who is picking up the children. 

  • Try to get a good night’s sleep 

It’s beneficial to get a good night’s sleep the night before your synoptic assessment. Sleep is much more important than a late-night revision session – there is no point stressing yourself out with last-minute cramming and then not sleeping due to your mind being overactive, so get some rest. 

4  On the day of your synoptic assessment 

  • Prepare yourself mentally 

Go for a walk or do some light exercise – any activity that will calm your mind. Try to reframe any nerves as excitement, by telling yourself: “I am excited” (search ‘anxiety reappraisal’ for more information on this). You don’t have to be a mindfulness maestro, but even sitting quietly for 10 minutes can be a great way to alleviate stress. 

  • Make time to eat 

Your brain needs the energy from food in order to work efficiently, so it’s really important that you eat before your synoptic assessment. Protein-rich foods can lead to greater mental alertness, so try eggs, nuts or yoghurt. If you don’t usually eat breakfast, try a protein shake or a smoothie. 

  • Arrive at your assessment centre early 

The last thing you want on the day of your synoptic assessment is to be running late, as this will lead to greater stress and anxiety, so get to the assessment centre with plenty of time to spare. 

5  During your synoptic assessment 

  • Plan the time you will spend on completing each task 

When you are answering the questions, make sure you don’t spend too much time on questions that have low-value marks, as you will run out of time and this can impact on your result. Examiner reports show that in previous synoptic assessments, some students did not apply the appropriate amount of time to some tasks (especially the written tasks), which impacted on the marks they were awarded. Plan your time accordingly. 

  • Read the question 

Take your time to read the question thoroughly and then read it again – make sure you understand it fully before you begin to write your answer. Don’t assume you know what the examiner is expecting. 

  • Plan your answer 

Allocate some time to planning your answer. Ask yourself: What is the question really about? What elements must you include? How can you substantiate and support your claims, calculations and observations? Explain each point with evidence. Don’t just rely on the numbers – you’ll need to illustrate that you understand the different concepts and techniques, not just demonstrate your mathematical abilities. 

  • Answer the questions as thoroughly as possible 

Don’t tell the examiner what they already know – in other words, don’t repeat what is already given. Structure your answers so the examiner can follow what you are saying. Show the examiner all the knowledge that you have and make sure you base your answers on the scenario and you don’t just generalise. When you answer a written question, make sure you make your point, use a definition, explain your point, illustrate it with an example, and show how it refers to the question.   

Common mistakes 

During the synoptic assessment, when you are under pressure and time restrictions, it’s not unusual for students to rush into their first answer without reading and thinking about the question properly. This is understandable, but not advisable, as you could end up: 

  • Answering a question in the wrong way; 
  • Misinterpreting the question; 
  • Missing out important points; or 
  • Writing out an answer that is unstructured and unclear. 

Be cautious of answering a question in a certain way just because it’s similar to one you’ve practised during your revision. Pay attention to what’s being asked. You’re unlikely to come across a scenario that is exactly the same. A better approach is to incorporate some planning into your answer. 

Feeling the pressure? 

When you have assessments approaching, knowing that there is a lot of work to be done can become quite overwhelming and stressful. However, there are steps you can take to help you manage any feelings of stress and avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

Top 10 tips for reducing assessment stress 

  1. Work out what is causing you to become stressed. 
  2. Talk to someone about it and ask for professional help if you need it. 
  3. Plan ahead and don’t leave everything until the last minute – making sure you leave yourself plenty of time can be a great way to improve assessment confidence. 
  4. Split large tasks into lots of smaller tasks – break your revision down into more manageable chunks. 
  5. Just focus on today to avoid becoming overwhelmed. 
  6. Reward yourself for your little achievements, no matter how small. 
  7. Let go of self-imposed idealistic goals – no one expects you to be perfect and you don’t need to set those expectations of yourself either. 
  8. Try to focus on your ‘why’ and keep it front-of-mind. 
  9. Attitude is everything, so try to practise a positive mindset and be grateful. 
  10. Surround yourself with positive people who are a good influence on you.

Further reading:

Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.

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