Here’s how you can pass your synoptic exam by the end of the summer

If you have been studying hard for your synoptic exam the good news is that it is now possible to take the exams in the next month and you could be on track to finish by the summer.

Passing your synoptic exam is a good way to enhance your career progression, move towards working for yourself, or change your job role. While AAT exams were postponed during lockdown, the schedule is now up and running again, so you can start talking to your training provider and planning your assessment to make sure you do not miss out.

The good news is that you can still pass your synoptic now that we are coming out of lockdown and the new synoptic schedule has windows in July and August for the Professional and Advanced Synoptic exams. You can take the Foundation exam in August. 

If you have been studying and are keen to get your qualification, then this is your opportunity to take the exams and feel a sense of achievement.

How can I stay motivated when I am studying on my own?

Nick Craggs, AAT Distance Learning Director at First Intuition, a professional education training provider, says it has been a testing time for students. Many have been trying to study at home while working, managing homeschooling, and dealing with other pressures in lockdown.

“It helps to remember why you are studying, and the real-world benefits you will get from passing your exams,” he says. “That might be career progression, a change or role, or working for yourself.”

“You can use the AAT learning materials to help and when you do exams look at the model answers to see how you might have answered the question. You do not have to prepared exactly as the example answer has done – if you have a sensible point which is argued well that is just as valid.”

He suggests that you do mock exams which are timed, and perhaps ask fellow students to mark your work so that you have a more independent result than if you were to mark the paper yourself. You can also find support in the AAT forums, on Facebook, and with colleagues or other students. This will give you moral and mental support as well as technical help.

“Synoptic exams are very different from other exams because there is no right or wrong answer,” he says. “Instead, you are analysing the scenario and there are lots of possible answers. It is about not taking everything at face value. Think about why you have been given the information and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself, how does it affect the business as a whole, and how will it affect other departments?”

It is also important to bear in mind the marking scheme and think about how you are going to structure your answers carefully.

“Students have a lot of external pressures to cope with – money worries, being furloughed, trying to fit in study with family commitments, and if progress is not as great as usual, try not to get too worried,” he says. “You are still progressing in your career and you are trying your best. If you have not achieved what you have planned over the last year try not to put undue pressure on yourself. You can only do your best.”

It can be useful to think about your goals, and the benefits of passing your exams. He also suggests you work in short bursts rather than sitting at your computer for three or four hours at a time. 

What do I need to bear in mind when studying for synoptic exams?

Sherad Dewedi, Managing Partner at Shenward Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors says that studying for your accountancy exams takes commitment, hard work, and a passion to succeed. 

“Synoptic exams require a commercial perspective,” he says “Whilst technical in nature, the aim of the exam is to get you to apply commerciality to the situation as though you were advising a business owner/client.”

So, to really excel, you need to treat it as a real-life situation. Examiners are looking to see how you would react in practice and the advice you would give to the client, so don’t get carried away with too much detail.  

“The way you communicate in the written form is key here. Remember, your advice will be given to a non-accountant, so it needs to be concise, factually correct, and understandable.”

How can I prepare for exams independently when I have no classroom time? 

Simon Bell, Careermap Director and Founder, says for accountancy students it can feel overwhelming preparing for your exams independently without any time in the classroom, however, creating a structured home learning plan is key to succeeding. 

“Don’t leave it to the last minute to cram in all of your revision,” he says. “It can be a challenge to get into a study mindset when learning from home, try to keep to a routine as best as you can. 

“When revising on your own, it is easy to get distracted and lose concentration, which is why it’s important to create a timetable and stick to it. At the start of each revision session, write a list of everything you would like to cover and tick it off as you go along. Make sure you are realistic with your time. Schedule in breaks to avoid burnouts.”

He also advises students to schedule in time for breaks and exercise. 

“If you are struggling, speak out and ask for help. Whether you need support from your tutor, lecturer or a friend and family member to lend a listening ear, remind yourself that people want to help and support you,” he says.

How can I get into an exam mindset when there are so many distractions and outside pressures?

Murray Morrison, leading education expert and founder of online learning program Tassomai.com, says good examination preparation is about organisation.

He advises candidates to start early, map out the requirements of the exams you face, and evaluate what you need to learn for each area of required knowledge or skills.

“The more organised you can be in measuring your abilities and confidence, the more adaptive and aware you can be and the more effective you will be in your exam preparation,” he says.

While mindset is different for everyone, there are common factors which he says can be supportive of your studying and revision:

  • Create a routine: Having a routine removes decision making (where should I sit today? How can I find two hours in my day?). It puts you in an unconscious ‘performance mode’. 

“It’s the reason you see athletes do things like tie their laces a particular way, or put on a special hair-band,” he says. “What may seem like superstition is actually a way of short-cutting to an ideal mental state of high-performance and focus. Find your routines: a place, a time, a music playlist or white-noise app and so forth so you replicate your perfect conditions and easily find your focus every session.”

  • Think “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. Schedule your sessions in a way that will be sustainable, not cause burn-out or failure down the line.

“You should have specific plans for what you’re trying to get done in each session – plans that are relevant to your longer-term targets, but that allow you to measure your progress,” he says. 

“The ideas around growth mindset and marginal gains are key here too – aiming for perfecting any skill in a session is a fool’s errand: think about where you are at the moment, and look to improve slightly each time, witness that improvement, and think about the trajectory you’re mapping out over the longer term.”

  • Anticipate and reduce disruption: Take a look at what professional sportspeople do: the ones who win matches are almost immune to disruption because they train and prepare with self-sufficient routines, relying only on those things that they can control and keeping themselves obsessively organised. 

“If passing that exam is your priority, then build for yourself a routine and an organised plan that relies only on yourself and the resources you can count on,” he says. “Then you’ll be confident of your ability to perform on the day regardless of what life might throw at you.”

How can I use my limited time most effectively when I study?

Sherad Dewedi says there are things you can do to ensure that your time as a student is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. 

“Structure your study: understand each subject and the core elements you need to remember,” he says. “Use these to make a timetable and stick to it. Don’t forget to factor in time for yourself too. Rest is an important part of absorbing knowledge.”

He suggests choosing a quiet area and keep this as your dedicated workspace to ensure familiarity with your surroundings. You could form study groups to catch up with study friends and discuss the topics that you’re each struggling with. This way, you can share tips and advice between you.

“Complete practice papers in timed conditions and send them for marking,” he says. “Results from these will inform you of the effectiveness of your revision techniques and what needs changing.”

Key points: tips for home study from Simon Bell:

  • Discover your learning style – think about what works best for you and then put it into practice
  • Make a plan and stick at it – prioritise your topics; think about which areas you’re a whizz at and areas you’re not as confident about
  • Ask yourself ‘is this going in?’ – if you were making good progress but all of a sudden your concentration levels have dipped, take a break and come back to it with a fresh outlook 
  • Set goals – for one of your study session you might want to focus on accounting systems and controls, identify your areas of weakness and strengths and use this to guide your planning
  • Keep going – practice, practice, practice. You’ll get there!

Further reading:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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