Lots of AAT students will be taking their Professional Synoptic assessments in March, and it can be a nerve-wracking time. After years of studying, and months of revision, it all comes down to this.
A different mindset
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, for example. It’s designed to replicate the issues and challenges you might face as an accountant or accounting technician working for a company.
In that sense, it’s impossible to learn by rote how to tackle the questions. Instead, you need to adapt your mindset and think like an employee within a functioning business.
When looking at the questions, jot down salient points or anything that looks unusual or questionable. Think around the problem – you can suggest a number of alternative answers which, in some cases, could earn you extra marks.
How to approach the assessment
Many students get nervous about sitting the synoptic assessment because it has a reputation as being tough.
However, it’s the final stage in achieving a highly respected and recognised professional qualification.
Once you’ve passed it, you’ll be able to show prospective employers and clients that you’ve been trained to the highest standards. If you approach it in this way, you can view the assessment as a test of everything you’ve learned, and preparation for your future career as an accounting technician.
Make sure you complete the practice assessments, but don’t assume that the questions you’ve already tackled will come up in the same format in your assessment. You’ll be assessed on how well you can apply the fundamental principles learnt during your study against different scenarios.
AAT level 4 student, Goitsemang Motatuki definitely recommends looking over the most recent examination report; “It’s vital to use this when studying, so you know what you’re expected to do in the exam, and how to answer questions properly to avoid losing marks wherever possible. “
What to expect from your Professional Synoptic
The assessment is marked out of 100 and is divided into six tasks.
As each task may have a different number of marks available, and complexity level, it’s up to you to determine how long to spend on each task, based on what is being asked of you. Keep in mind that the total length for the assessment is three hours.
Think about how you want to structure your answers and make sure you pace yourself when you’re going through practice assessments at home.
You need to build in time to check your answers at the end of each task.
Under time restrictions and exam pressure it’s common for students to rush into their first answer without reading and thinking about the question properly.
This is understandable, but not advisable.
You could end up:
- answering a question in the wrong way
- misinterpreting the question
- missing out important points
- or writing an answer which is unstructured and unclear.
Be very wary of answering a question in a certain way just because it’s similar to one you’ve practiced. Pay attention to what’s being asked. You’re unlikely to come across a scenario which is exactly the same.
A better approach is to incorporate some planning into your answer.
Read the question several times, jotting down points that arise. Then allocate some time to planning your answer.
- what is the question really about?
- What elements must you include?
- How can you substantiate and support your claims, calculations and observations?
- Explain each point with evidence.
Don’t just rely on the numbers – you’ll need to illustrate that you understand the different concepts and techniques, not just demonstrate your mathematical abilities.
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An example breakdown of the assessment tasks
Below we’ve outlined the way your tasks may be organised, but this is not prescriptive. Please refer to the Professional Diploma in Accounting Qualification Specification (new version released each year) for greater detail.
- Task 1 – This could be a mixture of short and multiple choice questions.
- Task 2 – This may require you to calculate and analyse budgets.
- Task 3 – This could be an extended writing task on systems and process weaknesses.
- Task 4 – This may test your understanding of Decision and Control and requires a mixture of calculation and extended writing.
- Task 5 – Potential Financial Statements task – which could be a multiple-choice section.
- Task 6 – This section may be on systems and controls, and may test things like whether you can pick out the costs and benefits from a scenario.
Goitsemang advises to play it safe and “expect everything you have studied”, so there are no surprises in the actual exam.
Case study: Goitsemang Motatuki
Goitsemang Motatuki is an accounting assistant at Reddys Group and she’s passed her AAT Level 4. She studied for her AAT qualification by distance learning.
“The best part of studying AAT was the Professional synoptic,” she says. “It was fun because I had to deal with all the modules in one paper.”
She said that at times, she did feel a challenge to stay motivated, but overcame this by setting goals and connecting to the AAT community.
“AAT has given me job security, status and confidence,” she says. “This has motivated me to work hard towards my studies and I am looking forward to progressing further with AAT.”
She has found her qualifications to be very useful in her day to day working life.
“I enjoy bank reconciliation because I compare my own internal records with those provided by the bank and it helps me identify any unusual transactions,” she says.
And her top tip for the AAT synoptic exam?
“Accountants love working with numbers only, but you should make sure to practice more of the written questions because the synoptic has a lot of theory.”
What happens next?
You will sit assessments when you’re ready, as agreed with your training provider.
You will need to check with your training provider as to the availability and schedule for completing your assessments. Synoptic assessments are sat towards the end of a qualification and are taken at specific times of the year.
Assessment fees range between £70 – £80 depending on the qualification you’re studying. Assessment fees are paid to the training provider or the AAT Approved assessment venue.
You should check whether these are included in your overall training provider fee.
If you’re studying via classroom learning, you’ll sit your assessments with your AAT Approved training provider. If you’re studying via distance learning you can sit your assessments with an AAT Approved assessment venue.
If you don’t pass first time, you can resit your synoptic assessments.
The synoptic assessment requires students to think around the problem they’re presented with and solve it within a real-life scenario. For the Professional Synoptic, you’ll need to draw on four units from the diploma (optional units aren’t included) and be confident explaining the approach you’ve taken for the given context/scenario, and why.
Make sure you read the questions properly, plan your answers, organise your written responses so they’re clear and backed up by explanations and evidence, and make sure you allocate a sensible time for each of the six tasks.
When you answer a written question make sure you make your point, use a definition, explain your point, illustrate it with an example, and show how it refers to the question.
Read more on studying successfully;
- 9 writing tips to help you through your studies
- Study tips: learn how to love your assessments
- Study tips: Advanced aspects of time management
- AAT assessments
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.