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What do you understand by the term opportunity cost? How long should it take to qualify? These are a couple of the questions that should be on the mind of every PQ accountant as they plan for their next exams.

Since the financial crisis started to bite in 2009, rates of study have continuously declined with PQ accountants sitting less and less exams each year. This is surely one of the results of the austerity we are now all facing but there are real consequences and false economies.

Salary differentials between PQs and fully qualified accountants have continued to hold up with a potential salary gap of up to £10,000 per annum. The cost of deferring qualification is expensive and it doesn’t take long to do the maths; just compare this lost income from delaying qualification against the cost of study. A quick examination of the typical costs of learning support should enlighten those who think they can save by studying slower! Delaying qualification is costly and the forgone income can never be recovered. The smart student invests in their future now to avoid the opportunity cost of delaying qualification.

A sensible and realistic target should be to aim to qualify over a 3 to 3½ year period sitting a minimum of 5 exams each year. Experience shows that studying over longer periods seems to induce live changing events that have the habit of knocking students off course sometimes never to reappear from the long grass. Studying over a longer period can actually reduce the chance of ultimate qualification; success requires rigorous focus which is ultimately harder to maintain over a longer period. So what’s the plan?

The key to success is to anchor a date that you will qualify, working on the principle of about 4 to 5 exams a year. Find out how much you will earn as a newly qualified and visualise that larger salary. Make your qualification date as real as possible, write the date on a poster and pin it on the wall, tell your boss, tell your parents, believe you can do it and you will.

Having set your qualification date, work backwards and build up your own Individual Learning Plan (I.L.P.). Your I.L.P. should set out exactly what exams you plan to sit and when and what method of study support you plan to use. You should also estimate your total study support costs at this stage. The costs certainly add up but should be compared with the potential income that you could lose by delaying qualification; remember, one year could cost you as much as £10,000!

Main image courtesy of Tax Credits via Flickr.