Study tips: the best way to work through an assessment 

We spoke to AAT tutor, Gill Myers and AAT student, Jess Brindle to get the most effective techniques working through your AAT assessments.

What AAT tutor, Gill says:

1. Practice 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 often seemed to  ‘not have time to do’, because they found them challenging.

Accounting students will always prefer numbers to words.

Before the synoptic assessments were created, you could get away with this. But now, explaining complicated things to non-financial readers is important.

Practise as much as you can.

Check out our Writing skills e-learning module

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 as soon as possible. You need to be using Excel on a regular basis to do well in the assessment.

5. Don’t forget the ‘standard’

The standard is the assessment syllabus, which students can access at aat.org.uk. 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 AAT student, Jess says:

1. Use the resources available at aat.org.uk.

The practical assessments on aat.org.uk 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 tests for each unit, 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.

2. 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 in my own exams, but provided explanations alongside them to prove to the assessor that I knew what I was talking about, and hadn’t just plucked out words that sounded good.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

In summary

There are a few different kinds of exams with AAT. The synoptic assessments are the newest addition, which follow a different format to your average exams, but there are some basic rules that are true across the board. Read the question, look out for key words, explain things, and do your best.

Read more on preparing for your AAT exams;

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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