The secret to tackling your synoptic

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Helen Pretty became an accounting revision coach so she could help more accountants finish the qualifications they started. Here, the former finance manager outlines a number of techniques to help you study and prepare for your synoptic assessment.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that AAT synoptic exams are easy – because they are not! I describe accounting exams as an emotional rollercoaster. They’re tough, but when you are sitting in that seat at the end of the ride and you join “the qualified club”, it’s so worth it.

The smug proudness you will have when you put your plaque up on the wall, or changing your name on LinkedIn to add those “MAAT” letters after your name, or getting that pay rise or promotion that you’ve been dreaming of… So worth it!

Remember the aim

Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves what AAT is examining you

on during a synoptic exam: “The synoptic assessment will ask students to apply knowledge and skills gained across the qualification in an integrated way, within a workplace context. You should demonstrate your knowledge of core accountancy skills and your ability to apply them in the workplace”.

So, these words make up the core and foundation of how you approach this synoptic exam.

Have this as your first thought when it comes to revision and your synoptic exam – it will really help laser focus your answers on proving to AAT (and yourself) that you know exactly what you’re writing about.

Also, remember why you are doing this. To become an accountant, to prove to yourself and AAT that you know your stuff and that you can apply it. I know some days it feels tough and you can forget, but trust me – please remember.

Smart revision, confidence and exam techniques are the three most important things you need. This is my focus for you today, so you can pass your synoptic exam in 2021!

Revision focus

Successful revision is about being smart. Study is learning and revision is practicing.

Practising how to answer the exam questions in the way AAT wants you to, is the smart way. You won’t prove you’re a smart accountant if you don’t know the knowledge, and you won’t pass the exam if you’re not being smart.

A smart accountant says YES! Smart revision is about saying YES! So that when you get your exam result, you can scream YES! Here is what I mean when it comes to saying YES to smart revision:

Y – You

You are the person who will pass this exam because you know the knowledge and you know how to answer the exam questions. That makes you the smart one, because you can do this. Put yourself first when you revise, at times that work for you, and in ways that work for you. Positively putting yourself first will give you the motivation you need to feel smart, prepared and confident.

E – Exam practice

Exam practise is the biggest part of revision. But not just any kind of exam practise, and definitely not cramming a week before your exam (that’s not smart). I want you to practise exam questions in full exam conditions, which means to time and with no notes. Remember, we want you to pass this exam, so like-for-like exam practise will make such a huge difference when it comes to being fully prepared and confident on exam day. 

S – Structure

If you only take one piece of my advice, make sure it’s to write and stick to a revision plan – with daily bite-size slots of smart revision. 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. My motto to my clients is “to be smarter at the end of the revision slot than you were at the start”. Use your revision plan to revise smartly.

Practice, practice, practice

But please be smart when you apply this. Revising for 12 hours on a Sunday is not smart. Writing exam answers when your test is online is not smart. Being too nervous to sit a few mocks in full exam conditions is not smart.

Yes, I give a big emphasis on revision practise, and this is because it makes such a difference – but with a massive caveat – practise in ways that make your exam answers smarter (with more markable sentences).  

What is smart?

Writing and sticking to a revision plan is the most important revision advice I can give you. A revision plan keeps you motivated and gives you a daily structure to keep you focused (on the right jigsaw pieces).

Consistently using a revision plan works, because having a daily plan keeps you on track and allows you to make bite-size progress every day, which is much smarter than cramming at the last minute.

If you don’t have a revision plan, then you have a blank piece of paper, and that never inspires anyone to get on with the work and take revision action.

How you should practice:

  • in ways that work for you
  • putting yourself first
  • committing to your revision.

You started this for a reason, so I empower you to commit to your revision phase, focus more on how to answer the exam question and less on memorising every word in the study text. Figure out what revision works for you – and do more of that!


If you don’t believe you will pass your exam, you probably won’t! You could know every word in the study text and still fail this exam. As a coach, I speak to hundreds of qualifying accountants, and I know you are struggling with confidence and you find it hard to truly believe that you can really pass this exam. But trust me, you really can, and I need you to believe it.

AAT is testing you on your application and evaluation of your knowledge. Think of the synoptic exam as a fun quiz where you get to prove (and show off) that you know it – you know that fun, smug feeling!

Confidence and self-belief are fundamental pieces of a revision jigsaw and to pass any exam (especially a synoptic) successful revision is about putting the right revision jigsaw pieces together in the right way.

Make boosting your confidence a non-negotiable as part of your revision journey – work on it every day. If you are feeling less than confident, then it will show in your answers and energy. Let’s make your revision count.

Your journey

I empower you to do it your way, not like Sue Smith or Joe Bloggs, maybe not even the way the tutor told you to do it… Be real and honest about revising in the ways that work for you. Know what works for you and do more of that.

Be kind to yourself

The words and stories you tell yourself impact and affect you the most. Imagine telling yourself every day, “I am a smart accountant” and “I can and will pass this exam”.

A coaching technique that I would love you to try is to write these sentences on paper and stick them up by your study area – bonus points for saying them out loud.

Interview skills

As a previous finance manager, leading a finance team and recruiting AAT apprentices and qualifying assistant accountants, I cannot stress how beneficial an exam-style test is for your CV.

From a practical point of view, it gives you a rounded, practical mindset, plus analysing or evaluating scenario-based examples leads to financially-aware thinkers.

Accountants who can focus financially at work – with the added bonus of commercial awareness – are much-needed in a modern finance team.

I love interviewing accountants for my team who can give synoptic-style answers in an interview – it really shows their all-round financial abilities, which for me are super-important. 


The perspective you bring to your synoptic exam will make such a difference to your revision.

Remember, you are in control of your perspective – so let’s focus on the positive, smart and amazing focus you need to embrace your synoptic exams with confidence, energy and fun.

On a technical note, the key to passing your synoptic exam, along with smart revision, high confidence and a positive perspective, is knowing what AAT wants you to say and why.

Don’t forget the build-up and journey so far to the synoptic, with your unit assessment exams, the jigsaw pieces you’ve passed already.

If you think, “oh this synoptic is such a big mountain to climb and pass”, then that perspective is going to affect your daily revision and motivation.

Let’s tweak your perspective to focus on the positives, because, why not? You are a smart accountant and you can pass this exam – remember!

The synoptic exam perspective I encourage you to focus on is that this exam is the cherry on the cake – it is your opportunity to finish off this level by proving your smart accounting application skills.

Having a positive perspective lets you see your revision in a smart way. Think about:

  • What do I need to revise today so I pass my synoptic?
  • How can I utilise my hour revision slot to be more knowledgeable?
  • What revision methods do I love?

Reframe your perspective to add your confidence by thinking about positive boosting words and actions, whilst building your confidence that you really are a smart accountant and can prove it.

I empower you to keep going, keep your head up and stick to your revision plan.

Exam technique golden nuggets

Your key revision tool is a revision plan, like I’ve explained. But one of your key exam tools is knowing and practising with a key focus on exactly what AAT wants to see. The golden nugget jigsaw piece for this is the exam syllabus.

AAT tells you: “Students should demonstrate knowledge of the core accountancy skills and be able to apply them in the workplace scenario”.

Guess what? Focus on that, with your smart revision practise. Have demonstration and application at the forefront of your mind and perspective when approaching this exam (and every revision slot).

Being tested on financial scenarios will make you a smarter real-life accountant, and that’s something you should positively shout about (especially in future job interviews).

Top tips for synoptic success

  • Stick to your revision plan. Have a daily structure that keeps you motivated and committed to your goal.
  • Believe in yourself – so that you walk into that exam knowing you can pass and walk out with your arms in the air!
  • Practice how to answer the exam question – the question actually set, not the one you wish was there.
  • Repeat after me: “I am a smart accountant and I can and will pass my synoptic exam”. Positive self-talk is key to revision confidence.

Hide your study text. Revision must be about your exam conditions practise, and putting “the comfort blanket” (study text) away, so you stop reading and start practicing (earlier than you ever have).

Further reading:

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