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  • A guide to using model answers for accountancy exams

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Jun 30, 2022

    In accountancy exams there are two major ways you are examined.

    • By Objective Test Questions, which have a definitive right answer to select or fill in, and
    • By written and/or calculation questions where more detail is needed.

    This article focuses on the second of these two as it is harder for you to know if you’ve answered these style of questions correctly.

    What is a model answer?

    A model answer is usually provided for each question and can be used as part of your revision when studying for an accountancy exam. The model answer will often show you a way to answer the question, but not necessarily show you all ways to answer the question. It will often include a marking guide to help you see how marks are allocated and where.

    How not to use a model answer

    It’s very important that you attempt a question for yourself before looking at the model answer. In the exam you are not going to have access to answers while attempting questions so you need to simulate this environment to learn the necessary skills.

    If you are really struggling to answer a question then it is much better to have a look at your study materials to refresh your knowledge of the topic. Just reading through questions and then the model answers will not give you the required application and exam techniques skills that you need for most accountancy exams.

    Potential pitfalls of a model answer

    The model answer can be off putting if it contains a lot of detail. However rather than being daunted by this it is best to view this as a positive since there are lots of different ways you could pick up marks and get enough to pass. The key is to focus on what you got right rather than looking at all the things you missed out.

    It can be hard for narrative style answers since the model answer will never be identical to what you have written. Therefore you need to look to see if your answer includes the key points included in the model answer even if you have worded it differently.

    Another potential pitfall of model answers is that for calculation style questions there may be more than one way to answer the question. If the answer is shown in a different way to what you have learnt, it can be tricky to see where you went wrong if you didn’t get the answer completely correct. If this is the case, you can reach out to your learning provider for support.

    What you must not forget is that in most exams you will be awarded follow through marks for your calculations. What this means is that you can still be awarded marks for applying the right method to the wrong number.

    All your numbers could look different to the model answer, but you have actually only lost half a mark as you got something wrong at the very beginning of the calculation and then followed the correct methods for the rest of the answer.

    Self-marking vs tutor-marking

    It’s useful to have an expert mark your work as they know how to do this properly and they can provide valuable comments to suggest how you can improve your answers.

    However, there are many benefits of self-marking. These include helping you to understand:

    • What the examining team is looking for in answers, and
    • Where marks are awarded.

    This will enable you to improve your answers in future so that you can increase the marks you will be awarded.

    Recommendations when using model answers:

    1. Attempt the question in full as you would in the exam e.g. to time and without notes where possible and set the answer out exactly as you would in the exam (e.g. in a spreadsheet if applicable)

    2. Read through the model answer in full, looking at the content of the answer but also how the answer has been presented

    3. Spend time comparing your answer with the model answer and awarding marks where appropriate (including follow through marks)

    4. Particularly focus on whether you have provided a technically accurate answer to the right level of depth. Also whether you’ve answered all parts of the requirement (looking for ‘ands’, full stops and commas can help indicate more than one part to a requirement)

    5. Create yourself a list of areas you need to study further, knowledge and methods that you still need to learn, and a list of ways that you can improve your answer in future, for example:

      • How you can make your calculations workings easier for the marker to understand
      • How you could improve the structure of your answer with headings and short paragraphs
      • How you can answer the question more efficiently with concise sentences starting with key words.

    In summary, using model answers, in the right way, is essential in properly preparing yourself for an accountancy examination.

    Exam time?

    If you feel ready to dive in and take your exam then feel free to visit our exam page.

    This piece was written by Academic Support Tutor, Jen Woodhams.

  • ACCA Oxford Brookes BSc: A great way to return to work

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Jun 16, 2022

    We spoke to ACCA/Oxford Brookes student Tingting Liu, to find out why she pursued this route and how it helped kick start her career.

    Why did you choose the ACCA Oxford Brookes BSc in Applied Accounting degree?

    It wasn't a straightforward decision. Originally, I planned to take the ACCA exams all the way through to the end because I already have a degree.

    However, I quit my full time job in 2016 and spent the past few years being a stay at home mum. I realised, especially after this pandemic, it wasn't very easy to get back into the workplace straightaway.

    During this time I worried that I may not be able to complete the ACCA exams whilst balancing everything else. I was at the point where I didn't know where to go. I had second thoughts about my career development, but I felt like I needed something to show how hard I have worked in the last few years while also caring for two children.

    The Oxford Brookes course was a good option because it would give me a conclusion to my studies. The ACCA Applied Knowledge and Skills exams I had completed to date would give me the opportunity to gain both an undergraduate degree from Oxford Brookes University and the ACCA professional qualification.

    Why did you decide to have an online mentor with Kaplan?

    I have some friends who are qualified accountants and considered speaking to them, but quickly realised I needed professional guidance. I don't doubt their quality as accountants, but I thought it might be difficult to have that kind of professional relationship with a friend. They might feel reluctant to give me their straightforward opinion.

    So I looked online, and found Kaplan’s programme. I was really happy with it because that's what I needed. I needed someone to guide me through and give me professional advice.

    How did you get organised and manage your time?

    It took a bit of effort to be honest and I'm really grateful for Rachel, my mentor, she was amazing. I actually applied to the previous period, but then it was quite a difficult time. My mother in law passed away so I had lots of things going on at home. I couldn't really focus on the programme.

    I spoke to Rachel, who was really kind and understanding. She told me to go back to her whenever I was ready. So after a few months I came back to it.

    Rachel really understood my position as a mother and how we can struggle to put ourselves first. We have to know how to accommodate other things and she gave me a lot of opportunities so I could make it work with my home life.

    Were there any other difficulties that you came across during your studies?

    I found completing the final Skills and Learning Statement and balancing that with the organising of two children at home really hard. The time management was very tricky. I was quite far behind schedule, but Rachel was there. She was firm and helped me to stick to it.

    I started thinking I've got to finish this or I would let myself down. I would feel so disappointed. So in the end I sent my final draft of my personal statement over only a week before the deadline. Rachel had to read everything and get back to me as soon as possible. She was really supportive.

    Those final two weeks were really tough, but we made it in the end. It really felt like it was a team effort and I was grateful for her help. I don’t know if I would have met such a tight deadline without her.

    What were your favourite elements of the course?

    I think it was really a good opportunity for me to look into some of the areas of accounting I was interested in because, when I did the exams there wasn’t enough time to dig into each subject. But with this project, you really could look into a specific subject in more detail.

    My subject of interest was corporate governance. I think I did so well in the project because of the fact that I really enjoyed it.

    How did the course help you personally? And professionally?

    I think my skills were quite rusty, as you can imagine as a stay at home mother. You have Word, Excel, and new updated versions of different programmes, so I really learned a lot from this project in terms of getting back into using these.

    I also had to do a PowerPoint presentation and I was so nervous. Rachel was really supportive and I think that gave me a lot of confidence. After the presentation I felt I got a better idea of what I needed to improve on.

    I was really surprised when I got my result, my daughter said “I've never seen you so happy mummy”. I finally thought these last few years have all been worth it, and I was really pleased with myself. It was a real confidence boost.

    In terms of my career I think it's laid the foundation for my next step.

    How has this helped you prepare for the future and get back into work?

    I’ve learnt a lot on this journey such as: time management skills, how to organise myself and how to work under pressure. It's all these softer skills I acquired over the last few years and through this project that will definitely help me move forward.

    Also, my confidence has definitely improved. Without this degree, I would probably still have a lot of self doubt especially when looking at what I can do next.

    I’m 43 and I’ve realised it’s very tough to get back to the workplace. As a mum I think it's very difficult to get back into it, and many people won't know where to go or what to do next. However, a lot of them still have a lot of potential, so I would encourage them to try this route.

    I'd definitely recommend the Oxford Brookes programme for someone who wants to start a new career. It's really a good way they can get the support and help you need to get the qualification completed.

    Find out more about our ACCA/Oxford Brookes course

    If you're interested in this course, visit our ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting course page for more information.

  • Careers in accounting

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | May 19, 2022

    Gaining a qualification in finance doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be an accountant for the rest of your life. Discover more about the opportunities in the finance sector and how you can get a job you really want.

    In this episode of our Learn Better Podcast, host Stuart Pedley Smith, Head of Learning at Kaplan, discusses careers in accounting and the current job market.

    Our guest is Anthony Clarke, Business Development Manager at AAT. Anthony covers the versatility finance qualifications can give your career, the current hot jobs in the finance sector and how to approach your applications and interviews.

    Anthony also talks about how the sector has made a commitment to drive diversity and social mobility and how this has changed the way businesses are recruiting. Instead of just looking at CVs, businesses are putting more emphasis on the individuals, their skills, behaviours and the value they can add to the business.

    Firms are looking at the individual. Those skills that they bring to the business, not necessarily just from a technical perspective, but in terms of how well aligned they are and how their values are well aligned with the business they are working for.

    - Anthony Clarke, AAT

    Key topics:

    Accountancy careers and qualifications

    There are multiple levels to accounting qualifications and unlike what it may seem, the end objective doesn't have to be to qualify with one of the Level 7 Accountancy bodies. There are many job opportunities for you at each level. What you do along your journey is important, the skills you learn and the people you meet.

    There are so many different areas to branch out into in the finance sector and so studying and pursuing a career in finance allows you to keep your options open, helping you to find a role you enjoy and gain a wide range of experience along the way.

    The hot jobs in the sector

    Anthony tells how the job market is really buoyant currently with businesses struggling to recruit at a senior level. However this means businesses have reacted by inventing more in organically developing their own talent for the future, particularly through apprenticeship.

    Audit, for instance, is a very in demand area and there is a common need for companies to expand their teams as businesses are winning new clients almost daily. And with hybrid working, talent is being accessed from all over the country, opening new opportunities to people who previously may have been limited by commuting commitments.


    There has been a real commitment in the sector to drive diversity and social mobility, and businesses are delivering on this promise. Firms are focusing more on the individual rather than the details on their CV and looking at ways to support recruitment that isn't just from the traditional talent pool.

    Anthony comments: “Because we do have such diverse communities within the UK, it’s really important that the talent that are working in [a business’s] Audit team can really reflect, understand and empathise with the client base.”

    Important skills for getting the job

    There are many skills that can help you in your career that can all be learnt through exposure to different environments. For example, a previous job in retail or hospitality can help you to learn how to communicate well with the public.

    The key skills businesses look for in interviews and assessment centres are:

    • The ability to communicate information clearly
    • The ability to analyse information and draw conclusions
    • The ability to present analysis in a palliative way
    • The ability to use technology
    • The ability to collaborate and work as part of a team

    As well as demonstrating these skills it is important to do your research. Researching a business's mission statement and values is key to help you understand how these align to your own values and how you can in turn add value to the business.

    Interested in hearing more?

    Tune in now to listen to the full conversation (episode 13) and learn more about a career in accounting and how to put your best foot forward when applying for your next job.

  • The benefits of completing the ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc in Applied Accounting with Kaplan

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | May 12, 2022

    Our Oxford Brookes course complements your ACCA qualification, and allows you to gain the skills needed to apply your ACCA knowledge to a real life situation. But what makes our delivery of the course so much better than the competition?

    Firstly, what is the ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc in Applied Accounting?

    Completing the ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc in Applied Accounting gives you the opportunity to gain a degree from a respected university. Oxford Brookes was founded over 150 years ago and is one of the UK’s top 50 universities. The degree is a great way of making your CV stand out from the crowd and showing employers that you are hard-working and motivated in your studies.

    To complete the degree you need to pass the Research and Analysis Project (RAP) part of your ACCA qualification. This consists of a 7500 word Research Report and a 2000 Skills and Learning Statement. Oxford Brookes also requires you to have 3 meetings with a registered mentor while you are working on the RAP.

    So, what makes our course delivery so special?

    Great mentors

    The mentors here at Kaplan have all completed the Oxford Brookes Online Mentoring training course and are all tutors in Accounting qualifications at Kaplan, meaning they bring a wealth of teaching experience and expertise to your mentoring journey. All of us have taught in an online environment and are highly experienced in running online sessions effectively.

    Your mentor will guide you through the Research and Analysis Project, acting as a “critical friend”. This means that your Kaplan mentor isn’t expected by Oxford Brookes University to be an expert in the topic you have chosen, but will question you on your approach and challenge your thought process.

    A common question you will be asked to discuss in your first meeting is “Why have you chosen this topic title?”. Answering this question will enable you and your mentor to determine whether the topic is suitable for you personally to pursue.

    If you have a robust reason for choosing a topic title - for example, if it’s of personal interest or you have existing skills in this area - you will be highly motivated to complete the project and it will retain your interest.

    Talking through your ideas in this way enables you to develop the communication skills you need for the workplace. Justifying an approach and being able to weigh up the pros and cons of a technique is a skill you will need throughout your professional career. The meetings with your Kaplan mentor will give you the confidence to apply this skill to the workplace.

    I chose Kaplan first of all because of its quality. I’d read a lot of testimonials on the web page. I also chose it because of the mentors, I found a lot of them in the approved list, provided by the University.

    - Apoorva Rawat, Oxford Brookes, ACCA

    The flexibility of the courses

    The Kaplan ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting course is a completely flexible online course. Our learning platform includes Kaplan’s Project Guide in an e-book format and there are recorded videocasts to watch before each of your 3 mentor meetings. This is to help you keep on track of the work you need to complete and to explain the graduate skills you need to demonstrate for success in your RAP.

    You can access the course wherever you are to make it easy to keep on top of your project work and adaptable to suit your lifestyle.

    The course starts with a live welcome session for the whole cohort via Zoom so you can ask any initial queries you may have about how to choose your project topic and organisation. This welcome session talks you through the Kaplan course content and also looks at how to prepare for the first mentor meeting to ensure you get the most out of this.

    Your three mentor meetings will all then take place on a one to one basis with your mentor via Zoom at a time to suit both you and your mentor . This means you really can complete the RAP with Kaplan wherever you are based in the world - all you need is a good internet connection - and can book these in at a convenient time - e.g during your lunch break.

    As the mentor meetings are all on a one to one basis, you will be able to ask your mentor any queries you have at each stage of your project to ensure you can move forwards with your work

    Remote learning, but still interactive

    To complete your RAP you are also required to make a presentation on your project work to your mentor via Zoom. As part of your Kaplan course you are invited to view the live presentations of all students in your cohort, and they can also choose to attend your presentation. This means that you get the experience of presenting online to a group of people - a skill much valued by employers in the current work environment.

    Viewers are able to ask you questions and give you feedback about your presentation - again giving you invaluable experience in answering questions confidently. Similarly, you also get the opportunity to provide feedback to other students on their presentation.

    Finally, you will also be granted access to Dublin Business School's ebook platform, VLebooks which you can use to access textbooks and articles relevant to your project. This is a great resource for you to use to get your research started.

    If you're interested in this course, visit our ACCA/Oxford Brookes BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting course page for more information.

  • Kaplan’s new Apprenticeship programme wins at the PQ Awards

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | May 05, 2022

    The PQ Accountancy Awards returned to a live setting as Kaplan and Deloitte won for Apprentice Training Programme of the Year.

    The Awards were held at the Proud Embankment cabaret club in London and a great time was had by all, with comedians and a mariachi band ensuring that the evening was entertaining long into the night.

    Kaplan were nominated for seven awards:

    • Newly Qualified student of the year - Haider Ali

    • Apprentice of the Year - Callum Keating

    • Apprentice Training Programme (WINNER) - Deloitte and Kaplan

    • Best use of social media - Kaplan, using TikTok to support additional learning needs students

    • Innovation in Accountancy - Kaplan Learn Better Podcast

    • Study Resource of the Year - ACA OnDemand

    • Accountancy Personality - Neil Da Costa

    We were delighted that our innovative school leaver programme took the honours. This programme included a five week experiential learning simulation for Deloitte’s new Level 7 BrightStart apprentices. It was rolled out in autumn 2021.

    The submission detailed that within the programme:

    Apprentices learnt skills vital for their role and the L7 Accountancy and Tax apprenticeship. They acquired decision making skills by discussing pricing, analysing data and collaborating to overcome unexpected situations, in this real time simulation. Kaplan taught presentation skills so when teams presented to senior leaders in the finale/awards ceremony, they were ready to impress.

    The programme gave apprentices the freedom to learn through their experiences within a safe environment.

    It was a true collaboration between Kaplan and Deloitte, resulting in a learning experience which set the apprentices up for success.

    We were so grateful to receive recognition, particularly as the feedback was so strong from the learners themselves:

    “The decision making aspect was most beneficial. We made decisions based on changing circumstances, reflective of the real world.”

    “I’ve felt my confidence increase, especially when talking to new people at work.”

    “I’m more resilient to potential challenges.”

    “Working with a team I’d never met before over Zoom helped me the most.”

    So congratulations to our team, our partner Deloitte, and all the apprentices who were the first to take part in such a programme.

    Special thanks must also go out to Kaplan employees Kur Lewis, Nici Caesar, Jenny Pelling, Linda Chiou and Lynsey Stephens. It was their great work that resulted in this award win.

  • Finding your motivation

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | May 05, 2022

    Finding motivation can be difficult, but when you learn how to apply your strengths you can begin to tap into your intrinsic motivation.

    This week on our Learn Better Podcast, host Stuart Pedley Smith, Head of Learning at Kaplan, looks at motivation and how you can learn to lead a more engaged life.

    Our guest is Ross Anderson, an expert in well being sciences and human optimisation, also known as The Motivational Dude. Ross shares details of his past involving drugs, crime, suicide and family struggles. Plus, how he found a more purposeful path through motivation.

    Ross talks through the different types of motivation and influencing factors. He also outlines the reasons why and how to use your strengths to unlock your motivation. He explains how the key to understanding your strengths and in turn how to motivate yourself, is self-awareness.

    Action beats distraction.

    - Ross Anderson

    Key topics

    What is motivation?

    Motivation is the reason or reasons for one acting in a particular way. There are 2 types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

    Intrinsic motivation comes from your inherent joy and satisfaction of doing something, and often when doing these things you will not be distracted from them easily. For example, playing football because you enjoy it.

    Extrinsic motivation comes from influencing factors such as money, wealth, fame and beauty. For example, working hard to receive praise and recognition.

    7 reasons why

    As humans there tends to be seven key reasons why we do what we do, these are:

    • The drive to learn
    • To connect and bond with other individuals
    • To defend and protect
    • To acquire
    • Meaning and purpose
    • Self actualisation
    • The drive to feel

    How to tap into your intrinsic motivation

    To tap into your intrinsic motivation you first will need to go on a bit of a self awareness journey. It is important to learn about your strengths, and you can begin to identify these through an online psychometric test.

    Once you have established your strengths, you will need to live through these and see how they feel. Wrapping your strengths around your activities, goals and pursuits should help you feel energised and motivated.

    Interested in finding out more?

    Tune in now to listen to the full conversation (episode 12) and learn how to take control of your motivation and live a happier, more successful life.

  • Webinar: How data skills are powering the future of finance

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Apr 26, 2022

    Data analysis is a skill that has become very sought after, and is one of the fastest growing job areas in the UK. Join our webinar on 12th May to learn more about upskilling in this field.

    Qualified accountants and finance professionals are finding an increasing need to embrace data analytics in order to future proof their careers. And as they are already handling data every day, having a greater understanding of it is the next natural step.

    Big data is currently revolutionising the Finance industry, transforming the way larger organisations work. So this area of expertise not only keeps professionals’ skills relevant, but adds greater value to their organisations.

    To help introduce professionals to this area, we’re hosting a webinar with the ICAEW and DataCamp in mid-May. Both are very respected within the data analytics field, and are leading what we expect to be a well-attended webinar.

    90% of financial institutions also believe that successful Big Data initiatives will determine the winners of the future.

    - Cap Gemini

    The webinar will cover:

    • How has data changed the role of Finance professionals, and why do we need to embrace data analytics now?
    • What are the challenges faced by those tasked with using their organisation’s data more effectively?
    • What data skills are expected of the modern finance professional? And what is the risk of simply doing nothing?


    Richie Cotton, Data Evangelist at DataCamp
    Richie is DataCamp's data evangelist. He has been using R since 2004, in the fields of proteomics, debt collection, and chemical health and safety. He is the author of two books on R programming, Learning R and Testing R Code.

    Jim Hinchliffe, Commercial Manager at Kaplan
    Jim has held various senior positions at Kaplan over 20 years. Since 2017, Jim has been part of the commercial management team, a strategic account director, and is a member of the Kaplan Professional Senior Leadership Team.

    Ian Pay, Head of Data Analytics and Tech at ICAEW
    Ian is the ICAEW's Head of Data Analytics and Tech, looking at the role that analytics and technology solutions play in the profession. Prior to this, Ian worked for over 10 years at PwC in Data Analytics, specialising in External Audit and Data Acquisition.

    Those who attend the webinar will receive an exclusive 20% discount for the Kaplan and ICAEW Data Analytics Certificate.

  • Planning your career backwards

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Apr 26, 2022

    Everyone would love to have a job they enjoy, but with jobs continually evolving, career planning can be daunting. Find out how to identify your true skill set and plan your next steps.

    Kicking off series 2 of our Learn Better Podcast, host Stuart Pedley Smith, Head of Learning at Kaplan, explores career planning and how to find a job that you enjoy.

    Our guest is Sarah Pritchard, Head of Banking, Finance and Management Design at Kaplan. She describes her own personal journey from studying Set Design at university to finding passion in education. Sharing what she discovered to be important in loving what you do, Sarah provides useful tips for assessing your personal skill set and in turn identifying if a job is right for you.

    Together they talk through: recognising what you are good at, how that ability can be reflected in a job, how to prepare for interviews, the best way to express your ambitions to potential employers, and how to reflect on your journey to help establish next steps.

    If you find a job you enjoy doing, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

    - Mark Twain

    Key topics

    Not having a traditionally linear career

    Sarah shares her personal journey and how her passion changed from what she studied at university to what she wanted to do - career wise. It is important to understand that plans and passions can change over time and you should be flexible with your career plan and allow for reassessment.

    If your plans do change, don’t worry that you have wasted time. Instead, it is important to look at your journey so far and identify your strengths and weaknesses and what you would like to develop. These can then help you find a job to help you progress and take your next steps.

    Focusing on skill sets rather than job titles

    A big part of the conversation focuses on looking at skill sets rather than jobs as often ambition and enjoyment lies within the skill set rather than the job role itself. Every job will have multiple different responsibilities, and it is key to learn what parts of a role you enjoy and make sure these are present when planning your next steps.


    Stuart and Sarah explore how to articulate your skill sets and ambitions across to a potential employer. They warn against googling the best answers for common interview questions. Instead, they suggest how to open the interview into a professional discussion, and prepare by thinking about examples where you have demonstrated your skills within the workplace.

    Career planning with exploration, prioritisation and action

    Sarah details how exploration, prioritisation and action can help you solidify your career plan.

    Understand what is the question you are trying to answer. Is it based on skills you need, what your next step up the ladder or how you are going to get a promotion?

    Hone in on realistically what is possible and what you need to do next to develop your skills and take a step towards your goal.

    Make a positive step. Using SMART objectives create short term goals for you to work towards to help progress your career. Make sure they are timely, measurable and realistic.

    Interested in finding out more?

    Tune in now to listen to the full conversation (episode 11) on how to plan your career.
  • ICAEW Business Strategy and Technology Exam Tips

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 31, 2022

    This blog has been developed to set you up for your ICAEW ACA Business Strategy and Technology (BST) exam so you can be in the best possible position to pass.

    The level of the exam

    The BST exam forms part of the Professional Level of ICAEW ACA qualification and has elements that you’ll be familiar with from the Certificate Level papers Business, Technology & Finance and Management Information.

    However, BST will take the underlying concepts a step further with greater emphasis on applying models in context and providing reasoned conclusions that are supported by data analysis.

    Key exam topics

    Students often ask what will come up in the exam. Though the desire to create certainty in the exam situation is completely natural, the BST examiner is unlikely to oblige by providing a consistent set of topics or scenario settings.

    However, as the general rule of thumb, the exam will contain the following:

    • Strategic analysis (30-40% of marks) – the topic of environmental analysis has long been a students’ favourite. Questions on PESTLE or Porter’s 5 forces help students to ease themselves into the paper.

    • Strategic choice (30-40% of marks) – Porter’s generic strategies is probably the most useful theory in the whole syllabus as it could be applied to almost all contexts and is an easy way to get a few knowledge marks.

    • Implementation and monitoring of strategy (25-35% of marks) - it’s virtually guaranteed that every exam will contain questions on the topics of ethics or sustainability.

    Exam structure

    The exam is 2.5 hours long which makes it very time-pressured and there are no permitted texts, so you’ll need to know your stuff well in advance. There are three compulsory questions in the paper, each is based on its own scenario.

    Question One Format and Marks

    This is often referred to as a mini case study due to its length. It often exceeds two pages including many numerical exhibits and is normally allocated 40-45 marks.

    Question Two and Three

    These are shorter, with a page for each scenario, which might include some numerical information, and these are worth 20-25 marks. The pass mark for this paper is consistent with the rest of the ACA ICAEW qualification and stands at 55%.

    Key challenges of the exam

    Many students find the volume of information in the exam overwhelming. One question in particular tends to consume much more time than would be recommended, which means that the whole exam becomes extremely time-pressured.

    In addition, ICAEW has recently strengthened their requirements when it comes to data analysis and digital skills and now expects students to be familiar with the following spreadsheet functions:

    • AVERAGE – useful when determining the mean of several values, such as an average profit over a number of years.

    • COUNTIF/ COUNTIFS – helps to determine how many cells contain values that meet certain criteria. This could be useful when determining the number of years when an organisation’s profit exceeded a certain threshold.

    • IF- allows for logical comparison between two values, such as whether the profit in a given year is above or below the budgeted figure.

    • RANK – provides the rank of a number within a series of values, such as ranking the branches of the organisation based on their profit margins.

    • STDEV (Standard deviation) – it is used as part of statistical analysis to reveal the spread of data around the mean. Higher standard deviation reflects greater variability of results. For example, a greater standard deviation in past profitability indicates a greater risk of an organisation not producing the expected returns in the future.

    • SUM/ SUMIF – allows to quickly total up a set of values, for example when determining the profitability of the organisation as a whole by summing up the returns of its divisions.

    What should I do to pass the Business Strategy and Technology Exam?

    Start by working on your business awareness. BST will challenge students by giving a wide range of scenario settings in the exam, ranging from air traffic control or charitable organisation.

    There are also more familiar settings such as retail, banking or manufacturing industries. Small steps needed to increase commercial awareness include reading business publications. To paraphrase a famous proverb – a business article a day keeps the examiner at bay.

    As always, it is important to practice past exam questions. By going through as many recent past papers as possible, you will start to see repeating patterns in the way that scenarios are structured and how the requirements are formulated.

    The exam experience becomes much more palatable if you have a good understanding of the approach you are expected to adopt when dealing with wordy scenarios and pages of data.

    Remember to keep the balance between knowledge and skills elements. In BST you can’t just rely on rote learning of theories as the knowledge element makes up only 25-30% of the marks.

    At this level knowledge is assessed in context and thus must be applied to scenario circumstances. To demonstrate your application skills, you will need to show that you fully understand the situation an organisation is facing and are able to provide solutions and courses of action.

    Do remember those all-important conclusions! The examiner is expecting you to provide a reasoned explanation for your choice, as well as its consequences.

    To support you with your studies, Kaplan offers a variety of different study methods for the ICAEW Professional Level course, including OnDemand, Classroom, Live Online and Recorded Online to fit in with your time commitments and required level of support.

    With expert guidance from our skilled tutors, you will find it easier to acquire both the knowledge and the exam techniques needed to succeed in the BST exam.

  • “You are good enough” - autism and my success

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 24, 2022

    Former truck driver, Gavin Simpson, is a successful accountant and is passionate about neurodiversity awareness. Find out how he used his differences to his advantage.

    Before starting my journey to accounting, I was a retail manager. During this time I had a bit of a breakdown (which I later discovered was “autistic burnout”), and decided to be on my own. That led me to truck driving.

    It was great. Hard graft, but good money. After nine years I was offered a new opportunity.

    They questioned me about my experience with Excel, but I had never used it. So I bought a book and started doing little things. Suddenly I got this buzz about Excel, data and numbers and loved it.

    Within a week I was showing my manager how to do things. I don’t know if it's an insult or compliment but his words were: “My god, these last nine years you’ve made a good impression of being thick.” I think that really shows the unconscious bias around people in certain professions.

    Poor grades don’t summarise who you are.

    As I started to impress, I took part in a management development programme. This programme marked the moment when I started to realise that I was slightly different to many people.

    We did an insights exercise where we were asked questions about being introverted and extroverted. You had to take a step either left or right depending on the answer, and I ended up on the other side of the room to everyone else.

    And when I had my son, we went through the autism diagnosis for him. That's when I discovered there was something more to it.

    Why management accounting?

    After doing a personality profile on myself, I researched relevant jobs and the top result was management accounting. I looked at a few different courses, but CIMA just stood out for me. It's got the element of business improvement that I enjoy, as well as financial accounting.

    This career path also meant I would be working Monday to Friday, nine to five. This gave me all the things I wanted: consistency, formality and all the things I know now that my autistic mind probably needed.

    After joining Travis Perkins I made my way round the business and was noticed for my successes. I progressed into different positions, but even when the Head of Finance was talking to me about jobs I still lacked confidence.

    All I saw were these intelligent people that had been to university. Although I wanted to keep progressing, I felt really insecure. But when I joined the team, I realised I've never fitted in so well anywhere in my life.

    Social mobility is also important to me. I want to encourage people that have come from a working class background to know that if you want to be a management accountant, there's nothing stopping you.

    Studying CIMA with Kaplan

    I started doing my certificate level of CIMA and passed before I even worked in finance.

    Eventually I studied through a training provider - Kaplan - who are still my provider through Travis Perkins. It’s been great. Being able to contact a tutor on the chat and get an answer straight away is fantastic.

    The study materials are great like the little study cards and the online testing, so you can do it under time pressure. All the resources are really, really good.

    Study method wise, I have used OnDemand and Live Online (for my case study).

    Discovering I was on the autistic spectrum

    I'd previously never had any knowledge of autism, I was very ignorant of it. When my son was born, he developed chickenpox very early, so I incorrectly blamed that on his subsequent autism diagnosis.

    What I didn't realise is that autism can be genetic. I ended up learning about all the traits and a lot of them matched me. I did a test and it concluded I was off the scale autistic. I couldn't get my head around it though: how different my brain worked, compared to other people.

    It took me ages to have the courage to get an official pre-diagnosis, but I was motivated by wanting to make a difference to my son and his peers.

    Everyone’s journey is unique, and contrary to many people’s beliefs, autism can affect people differently. I learnt one phrase which I think reflects this:

    If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.

    I've now inspired people in my business to be open about their autism, even those who have kept it quiet.

    Neurodiverse and social mobility awareness

    I'm trying to spread the word about autism and what it's like so people’s experiences can improve. School wasn’t good for me at all. I ended up with 50% attendance in the last few years, but with my late diagnosis, I now understand that period of my life better.

    Social mobility is also important to me. I want to encourage people that have come from a working class background to know that if you want to be a management accountant, there's nothing stopping you.

    The best thing about studying CIMA is what it has done for me personally, and the confidence it’s given me. I've lived through some really dark times and thought very little of myself. So getting these qualifications has been amazing for my personal morale.

    Don’t let anything hold you back

    My advice would be - if you want to do something, go for it. Don’t put yourself down, don't let there be any barriers. Don't be afraid to step up and don't ever think you're not as good as any other “social groups”.

    If you are neurodiverse, there's a good chance you've actually got some better skills than people who aren’t, such as: your attention to detail and problem solving skills.

    I was written off at school and got hardly anything GCSE wise. Poor grades don’t summarise who you are. You can do what I have and gain qualifications later on in life.

    Learn in a way that suits you.

    Find out more

    To find out more about the learning support we offer check out our accessibility information or to discuss the extra support you need, email

  • Should you be an accountant in practice or industry?

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 17, 2022

    It’s the eternal accountant’s dilemma - to go into practice or industry - but which is the right career path for you? Let us explain the difference to help you decide.

    What is working in practice?

    Working in practice offers you the opportunity to work with clients from a range of industries, allowing you to hone your technical skills while being exposed to a variety of industry sectors. Industries range from tech to financial services, and could be in the audit, taxation or advisory service lines.

    Practice roles tend to be more varied than roles in industry as you engage with multiple clients with different requirements, business practices, and methods of engagement.

    You can expect to deal with a variety of clients across industry sectors, dependent on the size of the business you work in.

    What is working in industry?

    Working in industry means that you work for one business. Accountants working in industry often focus on the economics within a business including cash flow, cost control and budgeting. You may work in specialised areas such as financial accounting, management and cost accounting, and treasury management.

    If you decide to move from practice to industry you’ll have more opportunity to use your skill set in a very different environment. You’ll be able to focus on the specific needs and requirements of the business you work in, rather than across many business clients.

    In-house accountancy allows you to focus on a core area of the finance function where you can add real value to a company’s processes. You’ll also potentially provide key commercial insight into the strategic direction of the business.

    Which one should you choose?

    It’s entirely up to you but you should ask yourself some questions to help you decide. For example, do you like variety? Practice may suit you best as you’ll have a range of different clients with varying needs.

    Or do you want designated salary bands, career progression within a firm, and the buck stopping with you? Then industry may be the way forward.

    But there’s nothing stopping you from trying one and then the other. All experience is worthwhile, and you’ll quickly realise which one suits you best. It’s probably easier to move from practice to industry, rather than the other way around, but if you make sure to keep up with changes in accountancy and software, it won’t be too difficult to move the other way too.

    What salary can you expect in practice vs. industry?

    There’s not a huge difference, but in practice you can take on as many clients as you can cope with - we don’t recommend overloading yourself, but the more clients you have, the more you can earn.

    In Accountancy Age’s most recent salary survey*, industry has a slightly higher average annual salary at £65,886 compared to practice’s £61,574. Many things have been taken into account with these averages though so do take them with a pinch of salt.

    Final thoughts

    No matter which one you choose, a career in accountancy is always going to be a good option. If you’re thinking about starting out, or you’re looking to progress your career, have a look at our AAT, ACCA, or CIMA pages for more information.


  • It’s never too late to resume your career

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 17, 2022

    Faisal Mahmood shares his battle with OCD, and how he resumed his accountancy career later on in life.

    When I was a teenager, I lost my grandmother - who I lived with. 6 months later I lost my dad too. It was a chaotic time, and in the midst of it I ended up pursuing a career path that just wasn’t right for me.

    At university I studied science, and it wasn’t until after speaking to a friend that I decided to try accountancy instead.

    One thing I want to tell everyone is ‘do what you enjoy’. You can only perform and do your best if you enjoy something. If you don’t, you'll find an excuse to miss lectures and you won't be interested.

    Overcoming OCD

    In my final year of University I started to develop severe OCD, which caused me to miss lectures. My lecturers noticed something was wrong, so they called me in. After I explained what was going on, they suggested I get medical help.

    So I ended up seeing a psychotherapist and got put on medication. Getting this help then allowed me to complete my degree and solidify my interest in accounting.

    After graduation I started pursuing an accounting career. However, my illness overwhelmed me and holding down jobs became very difficult.

    It’s never too late

    As the years progressed, I still thought about getting back into accounting.

    Initially I wanted to study ACCA but couldn't do it because of all the other ‘life things’: my illness, getting married, and having a lovely daughter. Finances were also a factor, but I was still determined to get back into accounting.

    As things started to settle down, I was able to get a job - at the University of Bradford. Once I settled in, I told them that I wanted to get back into accountancy. Despite feeling a little rusty, I went back to the beginning and started the AAT Foundation course.

    So, the last three to four years have been quite a long slog. I've been juggling work, family life, running the household, having a social life, and studying. And although my OCD has never completely gone, it's now manageable.

    Studying Live Online

    Because of my OCD, I found that Live Online was perfect for me. I'm in the comfort of my own home and have everything I need. I think it's the best of both worlds because you get the classroom atmosphere, so you can ask questions and interact with other students, and don't have to travel.

    Another thing that was fantastic was that it was recorded. So, I could play them back if I was unwell, which happened a few times during COVID.

    The online resources were fantastic as well as the printed materials. It was also easy to interact with the tutors through live support, email a tutor, or directly contacting your own tutor. There was always somebody there for us - we weren't on our own with Kaplan. I can honestly say every tutor was fantastic.

    My first tutor, Sarah Powell, will always be my favourite tutor because when I first started, I had a lot of doubts. She encouraged and supported me. I'll never forget that.

    Be proud of your achievements

    I'm proud of my achievement and my exam results. In Level 2 and 3 I got quite a few 100% marks and an overall distinction for both. The lowest mark I got was 82% in Level 4, for which I got an overall merit at 87%.

    For me it’s really important to share my story and help others. If I can inspire people who are going through difficulty, financially or health wise, I want them to feel that it's never too late.

    I'm now in my 40s, and had my doubts, but ultimately realised it's never too late. Despite all the obstacles and hurdles with illness and responsibilities, I got there.

    What’s next?

    I’m currently an Accounts Assistant and my ambition is to become a senior member of the finance team here, such as the Finance Manager. I want to give something back, and I also enjoy working with young people and helping them.

    There are times when things get difficult, but you just need to take a step back.

    Not everything will be clean sailing. There may be challenging topics or challenging personal circumstances, but that is life. When something's out of your control, there's no harm in taking extra time, as long as you get there.

    It’s never too late. Inspired by Faisal’s story? Have a look at our accountancy pages to see how you could start your accounting career.

  • Where is AAT recognised?

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 10, 2022

    AAT is one of the most popular accounting qualifications, but did you know that it’s also recognised around the world? Meaning that if you wanted to, you could be working in the sunshine on the other side of the planet!

    Using your AAT qualification in other countries

    As AAT is known throughout the world, you really have a lot of options for where you can work. No matter what, you will need to have a visa to relocate, and they usually ask that you have an offer of employment before you move. But with AAT under your belt, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    In the US you can quickly become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with no further training, bar taking the CPA exam and gaining field experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA. This won’t be much of a problem for you if you’ve already achieved AAT.

    It is worth also considering, however, that rules might slightly differ depending on which states you are working in.

    Other countries to consider

    If you fancy somewhere different, bear in mind that the CPA qualification is internationally recognised so if you have that AND AAT you could move to: Japan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Brazi, the UAE, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands.

    It might take some time to get your head around processes and local legislation, but your core competencies such as interpersonal skills and technical ability travel well. And for those who are eager to climb the career ladder, international experience really can pay off.

    Do some research before you leap

    As tantalising as a tropical island might sound, it’s important to do some research before you set sail. Where are your particular skills most in demand? You’re more likely to get a visa if the country needs more people with your experience and knowledge.

    Speak to a recruiter who specialises in overseas job opportunities. They will be able to give you advice on local market conditions, rates, salaries and visa requirements.

    Getting a job overseas

    Make sure your CV and LinkedIn are up to date, and state clearly that you are looking for a relocation or overseas opportunity. Highlight any work that you’ve delivered or collaborated on that has had an international element, or any international clients you’ve worked with.

    Show on your CV that you’re adaptive and have an open and positive attitude to change. This will be really important to anyone considering you when you need to move country - change is inevitable!

    And when it comes to an interview, it’s more than likely to be over a video call - unless you’re very lucky and get flown out to the company’s country. Make sure you research the customs and norms of the country that you may move to - you don’t want to inadvertently insult the interviewer!

    It’s a big step, but worth it

    Working in another country, potentially on the other side of the world, could be your next big adventure. And with AAT it’s just a little bit easier to secure that dream job. With the skills and knowledge you gain, you can work in accounting anywhere, and employers know that you have the experience and qualifications to add value to their business.

    For more information on the AAT qualification it’s other benefits please visit our course pages.

  • Transforming businesses through Apprenticeships - Case Study

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Mar 04, 2022

    Paul Fellows is the Apprenticeship Manager at Marston's PLC. We asked for his thoughts on using apprenticeship training programs to upskill and transform business practices.

    Why were you initially attracted towards apprenticeships for your business?

    Any kind of further knowledge, especially in Finance and Accountancy, is essential for our business. The education our apprentices pick up clearly improves their ability to carry out their jobs. The more knowledge they gain, the better their prospects, and the better we perform as a business.

    Ultimately this is what a lot of people want: the power to become masters in their field and progress. Also, by having official recognition and becoming a member of a professional body is a win-win too.

    The business will benefit due to the accountancy and financial knowledge that they will acquire, and it keeps the Internal Audit function in a position of strength.

    - Jonathan, apprentice line manager

    How does the business specifically benefit from apprenticeships?

    Better engaged team members.

    In hospitality, retention rates are always an issue, as there is often a high transient population. However, our reports state that the apprenticeship programmes are at 75% retention. This massively bucks the trend in the hospitality industry.

    Through apprenticeships, the business can now look at retraining options for those who show a willingness to learn and expand their knowledge.

    Anna is studying to gain her accountancy qualification so she can gain an accountant position within the team. Her exams are necessary for her to have the relevant qualifications to input into our company accounts.

    - Georgina, apprentice line manager

    Do you hire directly into these positions or do they come through internally?

    We hire people into apprenticeship roles from internal and external sources.

    We’re hiring through a kickstarter scheme and support those who couldn't find roles after finishing their degree. It’s important we let people know what is out there and that we educate teachers and schools about apprenticeships as a genuine route into work.

    I can see that so many different companies don't consider, or understand, apprenticeships.

    What would you say to someone who is considering apprenticeships to train their workforce?

    Go for it. The apprenticeship route offers such a great way for people to practice what they learn and put skills, knowledge, and behaviours into practice immediately.

    Also, utilise the levy. It's such an important pot of money and unfortunately not many people use it.

    Finally, don't be put off. Apprenticeships aren’t just for trades any more. Apprenticeships can help in all fields.

    The scheme supports students in a practical way, and helps track studying and structure the timing of the training.

    - Jonathan, apprentice line manager

    How does one convince senior stakeholders?

    Get all the facts. Work with the providers, like Kaplan, to get the real detail. Speak to similar companies to get their take on how apprenticeships work and get information from people already invested in them.

    How has it helped with diversity?

    It offers more opportunities to more people. We did an impact study and found that there is greater diversity in parts of the country where apprenticeships are prevalent.

    They make the job market more accessible and the candidate pool a lot wider. Maybe more disadvantaged people don't get the same opportunities via the university route. I think apprenticeships are great for diversity.

    Not only have I watched our apprentices develop personally and professionally as they go through the programme, but they also develop a great connection with the company.

    - Georgina, apprentice line manager

    We also spoke directly to some of the apprentices who have been on the programmes…

    How have you found Kaplan’s support with these schemes?

    Helen (Apprentice):

    The support is very good when studying the modules. However, it was a tricky start as Marston’s wasn’t an approved training provider with ICAEW initially, so there were some delays with being able to register and book exams.

    Although I had a bit of a shaky start, my first meeting with a Talent Coach has now taken place so I can now move forward knowing what the process and expectations are.

    Anna (Apprentice):

    The support has been excellent from the get go. I have catch up meetings on a regular basis with my talent coach who not only guides me through the apprenticeship process, but checks in to make sure that I’m on track with my studies and exams.

    They’ve provided me with links/webinars/reports to look at and I didn’t have these resources before I was put on the apprenticeship. My talent coach is extremely friendly and approachable, making me feel comfortable and equipped going into my final year of studying.

    In terms of materials, lectures and communication how is everything going?

    Helen (Apprentice):

    For my first two units I studied Live Online. I found the lectures intense, but very useful and worked well with the training material.

    Kaplan employees have been very knowledgeable and always sign-post areas for additional help and support. I have recently started studying my third module using the OnDemand service.

    I’m using a different way to study this module, due to the extensive screen time. The units do tell you to take a break, which is very important with screen strain and to allow information to embed.

    Anna (Apprentice):

    The materials are great, because you receive a wide variety and they cater for all learning types. For me personally, and for the way I learn, the textbook, the question book, and the online 500+ question bank are the most beneficial. They give me detailed explanations that the lectures don’t have time to cover.

    Also, they allow me to practice questions over and over again to obtain a full understanding and better prepare me for the exam.

    The communication and quality so far are great and I have not had any problems. Kaplan have been good at sending email updates, exam scores, webinar invitations, and other related information in a timely manner.

    If your company would like to explore the potential benefits of onboarding apprenticeships, then please view our range of apprenticeship programmes available.

  • How accounting has changed with technology

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 24, 2022

    Accounting has come a long way from counting on an abacus and recording sales on a stone tablet. Technology has played a big role in making an accountant’s life just that little bit easier. And modern accounting is benefitting from huge advancements in tech - carry on reading to find out more.

    Cloud computing

    You no longer have to cart around piles of paperwork, ledger books, or wait an age to share information. Cloud computing is a type of internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources, data to computers, and other devices on demand.

    This allows you to perform accounting tasks from any location, as well as the ability to deliver financial information and reports immediately, via the cloud. It’s a new way for you to work with your clients. There is more time to engage with the client and focus on business strategy instead of getting burdened with detailed processes.

    Mobile accounting

    We are never far from our mobile phones, and accountants are no exception to the rule. So it makes sense to be able to do accounting via our phone. There are now many mobile applications designed for accounting. You can now create and send invoices, capture receipts, create expense claims, get signatures, all on the go.

    This is all thanks to the cloud, as we mentioned before. Everything is in one place, in real time, and accessible wherever you are.

    AI and robotics

    More and more of the tedious tasks can now be done by computers. Artificial intelligence and robotics are automating complex and repetitive tasks and processes, with extreme accuracy, reducing operating costs and increasing efficiency.

    Of course, a skilled accountant won’t be replaced by a robot, but those everyday tasks that take up your time, could be given to a piece of software to work through, freeing you up for more client interaction and relationship building. This isn’t something you want to leave to a robot!

    Specialist software

    Abacus and a stone tablet?! Not for us. No, you can use all manner of software to make your life easier. There are more efficient processing tools and specialised accounting software that allow quicker input and computation of data.

    In fact there are some manual aspects of entering information into software that you no longer have to do, as scanning technology makes it possible to simply photograph a page and let the software complete the relevant fields for you.

    It’s important to make sure that you don’t make mistakes - we’re human. It happens. But with specialised software all your information is calculated by a computer. This dramatically improves accuracy and reduces the margin of error. Accounting software allows you to let the computer do the nitty gritty whilst you concentrate on your clients.

    Final thoughts

    With technological advances, accountants are no longer permanently attached to pen and paper, fastidiously jotting down every number. An accountant now needs a lot more communication and interpersonal skills to go with their accountancy skills.

    We also think that accounting is much more interesting than a lot of people initially think - so it’s a great career to go into, no matter what your background.

    Thinking about accounting as a career? Have a look at our AAT or ACCA pages for more information.

  • Kaplan Success Story: From Kaplan scholar, to dream job

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 24, 2022

    We caught up with Magdalena Woźnikiewicz, two years after gaining a place on Kaplan’s AAT scholarship (2020) to find out what studying has meant for her career.

    Hi Magdalena! Tell us how you came to hear about Kaplan

    When I moved to the UK and started my job search I knew I wanted to continue working in finance, as that was my background in Poland. Very quickly, I discovered that UK job sites referred to certificates such as: AAT, CIMA, ACCA when it came to finance roles.

    After further investigation, I saw a Kaplan article that referred to an opportunity for a Kaplan Scholarship Place to study L2 AAT. So I signed up for this and a few weeks later I was told that I had been successful.

    I was so delighted because Kaplan has given me a chance to expand my knowledge and to start my professional career here. This was exactly the opportunity I needed at the time.

    How was your experience with us?

    In my drive towards professional growth and career goals, Kaplan clearly understood and responded to my needs. The company created an environment where I could quickly develop, by providing me with all materials and support that are necessary.

    Thanks to the "MyKaplan” study platform I was able to monitor my progression and keep track of all my mock exam results. I was also able to review the topics I had to work on and organise my study time effectively.

    Having both printed textbooks and videos allowed me to study effectively on my own, and in my spare time.
    A screenshot of 2 emails confirming Magdalena’s scholarship, above images of a Kaplan box filled with Kaplan study materials that she received

    What has taking part in this scholarship meant for your career?

    During my time studying I have also been working in my day job, and thanks to being given a Careers Coach as part of the scholarship programme, I was given the confidence to explore internal finance roles within my current company. The advice from my Careers Coach was great.

    I had been getting to know more about other departments, and luckily a very interesting job vacancy became available - because I had been speaking to colleagues in the department, they encouraged me to apply - so I did.

    A few days later I was notified that I was successful! I was very grateful that the management team, from the finance department, trusted me enough to offer it to me.

    So far, under my supervisor's outstanding leadership, I have been able to contribute strongly to our team.

    How do you intend to advance your career further?

    After the wonderful experience with Kaplan, I have decided to continue my studies and start CIMA - to further improve my skills and knowledge. This is something I also discussed with my Careers Coach - I have already received my materials, and I’m happy to continue this amazing and motivational journey with Kaplan.

    Although the scholarship has now ended, I was offered a final Careers Coaching session to talk about my longer term career goals which I am looking forward to.

    I believe studying CIMA will allow me to explore complex finance topics so I can be even more productive and efficient at work.

    Anything else you would like to share with us?

    I’m very grateful to Kaplan that they’ve given me an opportunity and have trusted me. I always believe that with effort and dedication, great things can happen. This was proven when I unexpectedly received Employee of the Year at my company at the end of last year!

    I wish everyone could have the same experience and support in their professional journey as I have received.

    To discover more about AAT and CIMA, and how they can boost your career prospects, please visit our course pages.

  • Completing CIMA in just 10 months

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 16, 2022

    Sandil Mallikarachchi set a world record for time to complete the CIMA professional qualification. Find out how he managed it and what he’s looking to do next.

    What led you to study accountancy?

    Following my A-level results, I was offered a state sponsored scholarship into a Sri Lankan University, to study mathematics. However, because of the financial background of my family, I had to start working.

    I ended up working in the finance department of an engineering firm. This is the place that turned things around for me, because it was here that I discovered that I have an aptitude for accounting and finance. My supervisors were always very appreciative of my skills and analysis.

    As a result of that, in October 2020 I started looking at CIMA.

    Did you know from the beginning you wanted to complete it quickly?

    Yes. The main reason why I decided to drop the maths degree was because when you get a state sponsored scholarship in Sri Lanka, you only start your university education at the age of 21.

    If I started studying at 21 I'd be studying until 25 to get the bachelor's degree. So I believe my career prospects would not be as far reaching.

    I decided that I wanted to get through this as quickly as possible to save time. After that I’d do a master's and move up on the career ladder.

    How did you manage to complete it so quickly?

    For the objective specific exams I usually studied for one week. My strategy was to read the study text twice in the span of four days. Then for two days, I would complete the Kaplan exam kits. By the seventh day, I would book the exam and do it.

    I think it helped that I have an ability to take large quantities of information and make sense out of them. I usually break things into smaller parts and I deliberately don’t try to memorise anything, instead I just try to understand the content. And that works for me.

    For the case studies, I wasn't able to afford any extra books. So I looked at the core areas that were published by CIMA, and then analysed everything under those core areas in the Kaplan study text. I stuck precisely to that. I read the pre-scenes two, or three, times and then I tried to associate the content that I learned with the company.

    How did you balance working and studying?

    I don't think I ever thought about studying in terms of quantity, it was more the quality that was important to me. So if I was to say that I studied four to five hours a day that would be untrue.

    Instead, after coming home from work I would do one or two hours, but I would try to give it my full attention for maximum efficiency.

    So why did you only study with the textbooks?

    One reason for my choice of self learning is quite obvious, I was not able to afford the tuition. Apart from that, I also wanted to go at my own pace. I tried watching some free lectures that were available on the internet, but they weren't really up to the pace that I was looking for.

    I wanted to have something hands-on that I could refer to, and Kaplan’s materials were ideal. The study texts had everything. There wasn’t one exam where I sat and thought the Kaplan study resources were insufficient. This is the main reason why I'm so grateful to Kaplan.

    I believe the study texts were definitely the best form of education that I have encountered in my life, because everything was up to the point and very straightforward. Those books made what I achieved possible.

    So what does the future hold for you?

    I want to continue to learn more about finance. I have already received a number of unconditional offers from top UK universities to study MSc in finance and accounting. Unfortunately, they're not in my reach right now due to the cost, so I am looking into scholarships and sponsorships.

    If I can study a masters, I would also like to look to pursue a PhD if the funding is available. Otherwise, I would like to re enter the finance sector in the capacity of an analyst. Because the economic situation in Sri Lanka is not very favourable right now. After my studies, I would be willing to work in the UK for at least a couple of years.

    What advice would you give to someone looking to study CIMA?

    Don’t be intimidated by the amount of pages in each book. The more realistic way to look at it is by taking one subject, breaking down the content, and understanding what they're actually trying to say.

    I also want to emphasise that having done CIMA, it’s definitely worth it. Although I do not have a bachelor’s degree, after speaking with Chancellors and Deans from top business schools, they are willing to recognise the potential as a result of my achievements.

    As a 21 year old Sri Lankan, the opportunities that I've been presented with are just priceless, and I'm grateful to everyone for that.

    Following his success, 21 year old, Sri Lankan based, Sandil has secured a position at EY as a senior associate. To find out more about the CIMA qualification, please visit our course page.

    For anyone interested in talking to Sandil about potential sponsorship or funding opportunities, to aid him on his journey, then please reach out to him via Linkedin.

  • There’s still a lack of diversity in accountancy, and we want to change that

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 10, 2022

    Many areas of society are still underrepresented in the professional services sectors, and we want to use our privileged position to challenge this.

    Now is the time to act. Now is the time to listen.

    It’s been a tough couple of years and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But if we’re completely honest with ourselves it’s clear that our sector still mostly serves a specific demographic.

    After some reflection, we realise it's not enough to simply offer the same to every student. Some of our students come to us from more disadvantaged backgrounds: due to their home life, their education, or the discrimination they’ve faced.

    Our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) steering group

    So in 2020 we put together a team, made up of people from all over the business who have the passion and influence to make real change. Many of these people can see first hand the issues some students face, and this gives us insight into what needs to change.

    Much of this insight comes directly from our apprenticeship EDI learner data .This allows us to understand the demographics of approx. 60% of our student population. This year, however, we are to launch a new data capture tool to get an understanding of all students.

    So far, our steering group has helped facilitate many internal changes. We now deliver inclusivity training to all managers and tutors in the company, and we have incorporated EDI learner training within our learning platform MyKaplan. We have also reviewed our company policies to ensure that learners are protected as students with us.

    Collaborating with other companies

    We are also focussed on helping people from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds get the career opportunities they deserve. So we’ve started work building relationships with organisations that share our concerns.

    Companies such as Career Ready, RefuAid, and Rareqol have partnered with us to help create internship programmes for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    We have also initiated a period poverty pilot and awarded scholarships to those who are disadvantaged.

    But this is just the beginning

    We need to be sensitive to cultural differences internally too...

    From the way we design our apprenticeships and programmes, the way we teach, the way we support and provide services, EDI needs to remain at the forefront of all our thinking.

    And for lasting change to happen, our efforts must be shaped by those affected by discrimination. Feedback is vital.

    So through our annual survey we’re now discovering how inclusive our learners thought we were over the course of 2021, plus we hosted our first Kaplan-wide EDI summit in January this year. Through our EDI focus group meetings, conversations are ongoing so that this subject stays on the agenda.

    We’re listening

    We’re not trying to promote ourselves with this public call to action, we’re trying to hold our hands up and claim that we could do better. The first step towards change is accepting that change needs to happen.

    If you are working for an organisation that shares some of these concerns and you see an opportunity to collaborate then please reach out. Or if you’re a learner and have any thoughts around how we can work better and be more inclusive - get in touch.

  • Empowering apprentices to be the best they can be

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 10, 2022

    We spoke to our client, HSBC UK, to find out the benefits of their Kaplan apprenticeship programme and how it helps them prepare for the future.

    What does HSBC UK’s landscape for learning and development look like in 2022?

    Our aim is to continue educating, inspiring, and empowering more people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and helping to make HSBC UK an inclusive employer of choice. We do this by spreading awareness of our early careers programmes and working collaboratively with wider areas of the bank.

    How does HSBC UK identify where apprenticeships add value?

    It starts with our Early Careers team speaking to senior managers and key stakeholders in various business areas. Their expertise and insight helps to highlight how apprenticeships would benefit the team, customers, and wider business.

    We then work together to ensure that the programme gives apprentices the opportunity to learn new skills and knowledge. It also helps them to network across the bank, establishing their own personal brand and expanding their future career opportunities.

    What impact do you hope to achieve both for the business and the apprentice?

    We value difference, with diverse ideas and perspectives helping us to innovate, manage risk, and grow our business in a sustainable way. In terms of business impact, we encourage apprentices to bring their true and authentic selves to work, in turn bringing new ideas and viewpoints into the bank.

    For the apprentices, we aim to help them be the best they can be through tailored, engaging, and relevant training delivered in a blended method by Kaplan that suits the individual.

    It is also an opportunity to join one of the world’s largest financial services organisations in a permanent role to start and grow their career, working across all business areas and functions, and developing their skills and knowledge.

    What skills gaps do you hope to fill?

    With many of our apprentices being part of a younger generation, they can bring insight into what Gen Z employees and customers want from HSBC UK.

    Soft skills such as curiosity, desire for new experiences, creativity, and resilience not only helps them as individuals to develop and adapt, but also helps HSBC UK grow and transform as new innovations develop.

    What are the business priorities for HSBC UK?

    We want to be a truly inclusive business – opening up a world of opportunity for our customers. We are bringing together the people, ideas and capital that nurture progress and growth, helping to create a better world – for our customers, our people, our investors, our communities and the planet we all share.

    Banks have a major role to play in the fight against climate change, and HSBC is committed to helping lead the transition to a global net zero economy. We’re helping our customers make a successful transition by providing world-class sustainable finance and advice, and are also working to achieve net zero in our own operations and supply chain by 2030 or sooner.

    The wellbeing of our employees has always been paramount, and continues to be a high priority in regard to the impact the pandemic has made on people’s wellbeing. We are making sure we continue to provide support, make relevant adjustments, and create a safe and flexible environment to work in.

    Apprenticeships help to achieve these priorities by offering an alternative pathway for individuals to join the organisation, whether they are school leavers, returning parents, or career changers. They help us attract a diverse demographic of talent, with different strengths and skills, that are essential for HSBC to be innovative, collaborative, and to become industry leaders, fit for the future.

    What EDI considerations do you make whilst recruiting?

    We are a disability-confident employer that supports candidates with disabilities and long term health conditions by making reasonable adjustments not just during the selection process, but throughout their career with HSBC.

    Also, prior to all campaigns, we run open events which allow candidates to hear from an apprentice regarding their journey, help them find out more about the opportunities and the role itself. We also have colleagues from disadvantaged backgrounds share their stories to help inspire others.

    From these events, we have seen an increase in applications from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as making a positive impact on social mobility.

    We also run briefing sessions at each stage of the selection process. These are open to all candidates to help them be the best they can be, and especially supports individuals who haven’t had any support and lack confidence due to their background or disadvantages.

    Quote from Mr Ian Stuart, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, HSBC UK

    “Apprenticeships add enormous value to our business and provide people who may not have gone to university with another route into a challenging and rewarding career with HSBC.

    “Apprentices bring with them many skills and behaviours – innovative thinking and ideas, motivation and determination to name but a few. Their hard work and commitment not only to their apprenticeship programme, but to their colleagues, our customers and the wider organisation is very much valued.”

    For more information about how a Kaplan apprenticeship programme can support your organisation’s goals, visit our Apprenticeships for Employers page.

  • The importance of integrated thinking for finance professionals

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 03, 2022

    Why do I need integrated thinking?

    If the role you do – or the role you’re aiming for – involves corporate reporting, you need to understand integrated thinking.

    In today’s volatile business landscape, there’s much more to appraising organisations than simply looking at their year-end numbers. Research shows 90% of an organisation’s value is in intangible assets such as reputation, human capital, and intellectual property. That’s 90% largely not recognised by traditional accounting standards.

    There’s a growing demand in all sectors to combine this non-financial information with standard financial data to create meaningful reports and support better decision making.

    It’s about providing shareholders and other stakeholders with the full picture. And that’s where integrated thinking comes in.

    How does integrated thinking link to integrated reporting?

    Integrated reporting, or “IR” as it’s known, offers a powerful lens through which to assess your organisation and its activities. To adopt an IR approach, you need to embrace integrated thinking.

    In a nutshell, integrated thinking is about considering how your organisation affects, and is affected by, economic, environmental and social values.

    For instance, how do activities in different parts of the business combine to create value? What compromises is the business making in the short term to maximise long-term rewards? How is the business limiting any detrimental impacts from these measures – between the environment and profit, for example?

    As an accountancy or finance professional, understanding how to harness the power of integrated thinking and use it to communicate a broader set of findings in your annual integrated report is an essential skill to have in your toolkit.

    Is integrated reporting covered by the ACCA and CIMA?

    Both the ACCA and CIMA have recognised the value to professionals of developing integrated reporting skills. You’ll find this career-enhancing subject in the Advanced Performance Management (APM) option for the ACCA Strategic Professional qualification, and in the course content of CIMA Management, the second level of the CIMA Professional qualification.

    And the good news is, this important area of study is nothing to fear.

    “The inclusion of integrated reporting in the ACCA APM syllabus should not cause major difficulties for students,” says the ACCA. “In many ways, it is corporate reporting catching up with the aspects of analysis and reporting which Management Accountants have already been performing for internal, organisational use.”

    Will integrated thinking skills be valued by future employers?

    In its report, Invisible Threads: Communicating Integrated Thinking, the ACCA answers that with a resounding yes. “Well-embedded integrated thinking can make organisations more resilient in the face of challenges, like those that arose from the Covid-19 pandemic,” it says.

    CIMA is in agreement. “Integrated reporting has rapidly gained prominence as one of the main management and accounting innovations of the recent decade,” CIMA says in its own report, Integrated Thinking. “And this trend is due to continue.”

    At Kaplan, we can help you keep pace with the trend.

    Next steps

    See how you can learn more about integrated thinking and reporting with our ACCA and CIMA courses.

  • In the top 10: Ben Springall provides his advice

    by Katy Thomason-Stewart | Feb 13, 2024

    When results were released for the August 2023 sitting of CIMA’s CGMA Case Study exams, we found that over one-third of the top 33 placings across all three levels studied with us at Kaplan.

    We recently caught up with one of these high achievers, Ben Springall. After completing his CGMA studies, he discovered that he received a commendation as the tenth in the world for his Strategic Case Study paper.

    He provided some of his tips, insight and career background so far…

    Can you tell me about your career?

    I initially studied at a university in London, and I graduated with a first-class degree from there and went straight on to the Lloyds Banking Group Finance graduate scheme.

    While I was studying, I worked as an intern there for six weeks in Commercial Banking Finance, so I joined their three-year finance graduate scheme straight out of university, which ended in September. And as part of this, I also studied towards CIMA’s CGMA Professional Qualification with Kaplan.

    After finishing my A-levels, I wasn’t too sure where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. I went to a career fair with my school, and I spoke to a lot of different universities and looked at different courses. But I’ve always been interested in either banking or finance so it progressed from there.

    How would you compare university to your apprenticeship?

    It’s very different, especially because I started studying my CGMA studies during COVID so I was studying virtually. It was quite a big shift in terms of how I was learning as I was used to face-to-face tuition and support.

    It’s definitely more independent studying CIMA’s CGMA with Kaplan as you’re trusted to do a bit more of it on your own. And especially as there’s more flexibility with when you sit your exams, you need to be more self-driven. Whereas, at university, you’ll have strict deadlines and people pushing you along.

    At university, my course was quite broad in what I would learn so we would touch on a lot of different subjects. But with the CGMA qualification, especially while working at the same time, I noticed that a lot of the theory was directly relevant to my work so, in a way, it was a lot more practical.

    Have you encountered any challenges during your studies?

    I think the first big challenge was COVID, as coming straight out of university and studying online was difficult. And then I had to get used to working during the pandemic virtually as well, so the challenges were changing all the time.

    None of CIMA’s exams are easy, so there are obvious difficulties there. I failed the CGMA P2 paper, and it was the first exam that I’d failed. I do think it is one of the hardest ones. But at that time, I was already finding it quite tough in terms of motivation, so after I failed I wasn't sure what I wanted to do - so don’t worry if you ever get those thoughts, it’s quite normal and you have to remind yourself of why you’re doing all of this.

    In the graduate scheme, we also have competency meetings if you fail an exam, so I think that also added to the pressure a little bit.

    But overall, I definitely think the biggest challenge during the apprenticeship was to motivate myself to get up and redo the P2 paper, and passing that exam was a pivotal moment in establishing my own belief that I could complete the course and see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel.’

    We heard that you completed your apprenticeship project report a lot earlier than expected - do you always try to go above and beyond?

    I definitely always try to. My project report during the apprenticeship was a unique situation as I had to do it for my apprenticeship at the same time as studying for my exam, but I was also looking to roll off the graduate scheme so I didn’t want to leave it to the last minute. So getting it completed as soon as possible avoided any delays but definitely did involve some tight prioritisation and time management.

    But I always try to do everything to the best of my ability. It plays into the industry too as in finance you need to be very specific a lot of the time. So I try to get things done right the first time.

    Achieving 10th in the world with CIMA

    When I was told I achieved tenth in the world for the final exam within CIMA’s CGMA Professional Qualification, I definitely didn’t expect it. I think when I go into an exam, I struggle with thinking quite negatively after it about how it could’ve gone much better, etc. With CIMA’s Objective Test exams, it’s great that you find out your results straight away. But with the Case Study papers, I could spend the next two months or so worrying that I had failed and would have to resit. Of course, this gets worse and worse the closer to results day you get.

    So I definitely wasn’t expecting to get such a high grade.

    I would say that I do go into an exam trying to get the best I can - you’re always aiming to get 100% anyway, and not just a pass. I’ve always aimed to give myself the best chance of passing, but I didn’t go into it expecting a commendation. I can’t imagine too many people go into the exam aiming for a prize, because it’s just a relief when you pass, especially when you’re fully qualified at the end of it all.

    I thought it was a mistake at first, and I was waiting for an email to come through to say that there had been a mix-up and I didn’t get the commendation, but it’s a nice feeling. You’re happy to know you’ve passed the exam, but then finding out I did so well a week or so later was just an extra boost.

    How have you found the support from Kaplan?

    I think the Talent Coaches are really incredible and their support is amazing. Anytime my Talent Coach, Jo, was working she was quick to respond. She was supportive throughout my studies, but would also reassure and talk to me about work-related stuff, so she was always there to listen and give advice. I found it invaluable to have an outside voice I could lean on as I made my way through the graduate journey.

    More than being a Kaplan Talent Coach, she was supportive throughout my whole graduate scheme. All of the lecturers were also great, but my Talent Coach was amazing. It’s like they’re a Talent Coach and a therapist all at the same time.

    How’s the support been from your employer?

    Lloyds Banking Group has been running apprenticeships and doing these qualifications for a long time, so the support is always there from your peers and managers. Whether it’s off-the-job training, graduate events or study leave. But especially when you work in finance, a lot of people have gone through it themselves so they know what it’s like and are very sympathetic and try to help wherever they can.

    It can be quite daunting at times, but that’s just part of being in a competitive environment. They’re investing in us and the support that comes with that is very good.

    If you just need a quick chat with anyone at work, they’re all happy to do it. That investment in time and energy is really important. I also value the trust that they give, as you’re given the space to get things right or wrong on your own, which is really important in an employer and is a very powerful enabler for development.

    Do you have any advice for anyone who is studying?

    I think for anyone looking to study or do an apprenticeship, I’d say you have to stay disciplined and gain the ability to motivate yourself. You need to be OK with failing the odd exam, as it’s possible that you won’t get through it without any challenges. But also try to learn from people who have been there and done it is very useful. Just a quick conversation with someone who’s also been through it can be super, super useful.

    But remember that it’s all possible. It’s not impossible to pass CIMA’s exams and work at the same time, and it’s not impossible to pick yourself up if you fall down along the way. If you’re struggling, just look back on what you’ve already achieved in your life and take inspiration from the fact that you’ve already worked hard to get to where you are and you deserve to see it through to the end.

    Use that motivation to keep going, even if it feels like you’ve had enough. Think about even tougher challenges that you’ve already overcome and take motivation from that.

    Also, part of it for me is that I was the first person in my family to go to university or anything like that - so I always wanted to keep going so that I wasn’t letting other people down. It does depend on every individual’s circumstances but always look back on why you’re doing it in the first place and the people in your personal life that have supported you and want to see you succeed.

    What does the future look like for you?

    I think I’ll take a while off of doing any exams, as there’s been a lot in the past few years. I’d like to continue to grow and develop at Lloyds Banking Group, and I can now spend more time expanding and deepening my understanding of my job role as I don’t have to take any time off for studying.

    I can spend time developing my relationships across the bank too, as well as look into any other areas that I find interesting. But I do think I’ll end up learning something new eventually, whether it’s finance-related or not. I think I’m too used to learning and developing academically to completely give it up.

    Feeling inspired?

    We offer the CGMA’s CIMA full qualification across all study methods. Find out more.

    If you’re interested in an apprenticeship, browse our current vacancies or read more about how to talk to your employer about starting you on an apprenticeship.

    Ready to start your studies?

    Find out more

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