9 top articles to help you nail your synoptic exam

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If you are currently working towards your AQ2016 qualification it is important to know that the cut-off deadline is fast approaching. You have until 30th September 2023 to complete your qualification.

Here are nine top tips for synoptic success and some advice from the experts on the common mistakes to avoid.

1. Learn how to answer each task in the right way

When you are revising at home, a really key consideration is planning how to structure your answers on the synoptic assessment. You need to give yourself enough time to get through each of the six tasks.

The assessment is marked out of 100 and each task may have a different number of marks available. You have three hours to complete the exam, so when you are planning at home, think about how you will allocate the time for each task.

In the exam, make sure you read the question several times. Under exam pressure it is easy to mis-read the question or think that it is the same as one you have previously practised but there may be nuanced differences.

Read the question, think about it, and start to jot down points and sketch out your answer with the main points. Then give it a proper structure and list the concepts and techniques you are going to showcase before you start.

There’s no better time to pass your Synoptic: Top tips for success – AAT Comment

2. Practise time management

The synoptic assessment is different from other exams, in that it requires students to think around the problem they’re presented with and solve it as though they were advising a business.

When you sit the exam, your strategy should be to gain as many marks as you can, as early as possible and understand the marking scheme so you can be efficient.

By using time efficiently from the start of the exam to gain as many marks as possible in the shortest amount of time, you can give yourself a head start in your synoptic exam because the performance and concentration of many students will start to deteriorate after two hours.

Top tips to tackle the synoptic – AAT Comment

3. Figure out what the examiner is really asking

Exam questions often start with an instruction and a command verb. These command verbs might be “demonstrate”, “define” or “outline”. Command verbs are normally the first word in each question and you need to think about the specific request that the word requires.

Depending on what the task instructions are asking for, the key command verbs in the exam are used to prompt you to respond in a certain way and require varying levels of detail. You need to pay particular attention to what the verb is asking you to do in order to answer the question properly.

Check out the e-learning module on writing skills and command verbs on the AAT Lifelong Learning Portal.

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4. Think about how to use all your accounting knowledge holistically

When you sit your synoptic exam you will need to write an extended response, bringing in what you have learnt across multiple modules and combining that knowledge into a coherent response.

The exam is designed to be a reflection of what you will need to do in your job as an accountant in the future. You will need to be able to explain different accounting concepts and theories and communicate how these will affect the finances of a business and what strategy a client might need to employ going forward in the real world.

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5. Use model answers to help you revise

Studying model answers can be really helpful in understanding what is expected in the synoptic exam. A good way to prepare is to do a timed mock exams. You could get together with other students and swap papers so that you can mark each other’s work. That will give you 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.

You need to approach the questions with a commercial eye, and the perspective of a real-life situation or business.

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

6. Use the right format for your answers

As well as linking answers logically and presenting them in an organised manner, you will need to learn all the different formats of business correspondence, such as reports, emails, memorandums. Make sure you don’t lose marks by answering in the wrong format.

To increase your rate of learning and retention, revise and refresh the information regularly. Repeating and reviewing topics learned three times is hitting the target, but doing it five times will get the facts stuck into your head. 

7 tips for synoptic success – AAT Comment

7. Be focused in your revision plan and set yourself goals

Draw up a revision plan and stick to it. Successful revision is about being smart. Study is learning and revision is practicing. A revision plan will give you much-needed structure to boost your confidence, get you super-prepared for the actual exam, and motivate you every single day.

In addition, work on your self-confidence and believe in yourself. Positive self-talk will keep you motivated and disciplined.

The secret to tackling your synoptic – AAT Comment

8. Manage your stress and find ways to look after your own mental health

Stress can have a big impact on your mental health, and we tend to experience more of it around assessment time. Manage stress by setting achievable goals, charting your progress, checking in with fellow students, friends and family and leaving time to relax, rest and exercise.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by a gigantic to-do list. Instead, think about how to turn your revision timetable into reasonable and realistic day by day goals. Give yourself something to look forward to when you have done your work for the day, whether it is spending time with friends, going for a walk or a work-out, or reading a book.

Having realistic goals will help you stick to your timetable and ensure that you still have downtime to eat, sleep and relax.

Coping with stress when studying for your AAT qualifications – AAT Comment

9. Cramming is less effective than spaced-out study

Research by Kent State University in Ohio found that it is helpful to study and revisit topics you have already learned.

Rather than trying to cram all your knowledge into a week of revision, using the spacing technique instead. The researchers found that that the spacing effect worked well when optimising learning and memory, as did practice tests across several days.

Going through practice tests helped students retrieve information from their long term memory and consolidated what they had already learnt. In addition, testing yourself regularly, or getting someone else to test you and ask questions on different topics, can be very effective in helping you prepare for the variety of questions and approaches that might come up in a formal exam.

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Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.

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