What I wish I’d known before I started my studies

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From using mindfulness to overcome stress to taking time to network, we reveal what finance professionals who have completed AAT wish they’d known before they started.

Juggle your workload, not your whole life

Quit clowning around with scheduling! Sanne Gates, trainee accountant at Jacob May, believes that consistency in your routine is the key to staying on top of your workload:

“Prioritise some time each day or week to complete your studies, because this will allow you to make good progress and stay motivated to reach the end goal of a highly respected qualification.”

Instead of using a calendar to create a revision timetable, pick a time of day to study and commit to doing a small amount every day. No more faffing around juggling engagements, just have the confidence to set a regular chunk of time aside to study.

Don’t get heated, start chilling

We’re not encouraging a Netflix binge instead of studying, but freelance bookkeeper Angela Black wishes someone had told her to take a more easy-going approach:

“If I could go back, I would tell myself not to get so stressed. I found the Advanced Diploma particularly gruelling and would panic as each exam approached. But in three years I passed every single exam first time so I obviously wasn’t that bad!”

If you’re feeling a little frazzled, why not try out some mindfulness techniques before the assessment. You’ll feel calmer and more focused.

Practice makes perfect

Buhir Rafiq has been running his own small firm for the past eight years where he tutors his own AAT apprentices. He advises students to never underestimate the importance of testing out their skills on practice assessments.

“Ask the tutor to highlight the topics that weigh heavily, and questions that are regularly asked.”

Plenty of practice assessments can be found in our study support resources.

Switch off when you’re not studying

When you’re spending a lot of time working hard on something, it’s easy for it to consume all your time, thoughts and energy. But it’s important to switch off to make sure your brain can digest all the information you’ve learnt.

Pete Freeman, winner of the AAT Distance Learner of the Year award in 2017, stresses the importance of self-awareness, to ensure the time you do spend studying is productive:

“Get to know your own way of learning. I discovered I do well when I write brief notes while studying and work best with revision cards and mock exams during the revision stage. It’s good to find out what works for you because you’ll probably be using those techniques every step of the way in your career.”

So, if you find yourself in conversations about credit and debit while you’re out socialising with your mates, let it be a reality check for you. Switch the topic and save your accounting brain for when you’re able to give it the time and attention it deserves.

Talk the talk

Michelle Bowley, director of Shoreline Accountancy Services, thinks it’s important for students to become confident getting out in the real world and making business connections:

“I would tell myself that AAT gives you so many networking opportunities that are invaluable, so you must make the most of those. By networking effectively, you may be able to gain useful experience alongside the qualification. Even if this is voluntary, it enables you to progress much quicker in the long run.”

Speaking to strangers in a business setting can be nerve-wracking to begin with, but believe in yourself and you never know what opportunities you could open up.

Time to work it

It’s easy to get bogged down in learning and lose sight of the big picture. Studying AAT was the first time learning made sense for Elizabeth Claxton, director of accountancy firm Rostrons, who dropped out of school at 16. “[Studying] became a little bit addictive in that I’d done well teaching myself something, but also I’d been able to apply it to what I was being taught in the workplace. And that was really, really interesting, because at school no one ever explained why they were teaching me anything. Being able to apply what you’ve learnt was really rewarding. I think it’s life-changing.”

Rafiq agrees and recommends finding a position as soon as possible, so that you can get a feel for the workplace dynamic:

“If you don’t have one already, try your utmost to get an entry-level job in accounting once you start studying. Practical experience alongside skills learned through studying will go hand in hand.”

Have your tutor on speed dial

A strong tutor-student relationship can be a lifeline for students and the foundation of productivity. Jerome Li, principal tutor at The Accounting Tutorship and winner of AAT’s 2017 Tutor of the Year award, highlights the importance of staying on track – and how your tutor can help:

“Independent learners have the flexibility to study at a pace that suits their circumstances, but create rough deadlines for each piece of work with your tutor to maintain motivation and momentum. It’s easy to be thrown off course with the cliché of ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’.”

The assessment period is stressful and knowing what to prioritise can be difficult. There is no shortcut to completing your AAT qualification successfully, but with the right guidance from people who have done it before, you’ll be more prepared than ever to master the course and succeed in your career.


We’ve created a free distance learning e-book jam-packed with tips and advice to help you succeed. It will give you advice for staying motivated, creating the right environment and useful resources to get you through your qualifications.

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

Ebony-Storm Halladay is editorial operations assistant at Flibl. She researches and writes about finance, business, sustainability and technology.

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