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How to stay motivated during the ACCA qualification

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Kaplan recently caught up with one of our ACCA students, Craig Coda - a part qualified accountant with two papers left to complete. Now it's coming to a close, Craig looks back at his ACCA journey; the missed opportunities and what he has learnt along the way.

Hi Craig! Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how you first got involved in accountancy?

I started to look into accountancy when I realised A Levels weren’t working for me - or rather, I wasn’t working for them! I wasn’t enjoying school and I decided it was time for me to look into what other positive steps I could take for my future.

So I looked into what options were available to me and found that not only does accountancy pay well, but I could potentially find an employer that would help fund a qualification. That settled it - I found an accounts job and quit my A Levels, wondering if I was doing the right thing!

I started working for a company that owned a few hotels in Bournemouth. I was luckier than I realised, because it allowed me to do a lot of tasks within the company. I started off inputting invoices, but ended up responsible for paying around 100 employees and costing up hotel renovations.

My next job was as an insolvency analyst at PwC. After I started working here, I realised I should get qualified, but as I felt like I was progressing well I coasted through 9 years without really thinking about putting my heads in the books. Several things then happened that changed that attitude, which I will talk about later!  

Now I’ve got just two papers left to complete - P6 and P7. It’s been a long time coming - I had to do 7 exams for the Foundations in Accountancy (FIA) before I could start ACCA, so I will have done 21 exams by the time I’ve finished my qualification.

What are some of the misconceptions about accountancy that you had before you started?

When I started around 10 years ago I didn’t know a huge amount about the profession - I didn’t even know who the big four were!

My first misconception was that being an accountant was a back office job and just dealt with figures, but I’ve found that I’ve dealt with a lot more than that. In smaller companies especially your points of view can be quite important across the whole business, from deciding marketing budgets to developing new products.

Also when I went into accountancy I thought it was just one career path, but there are so many different avenues. It’s a bit like doctors in a hospital - they’re all medical doctors, but each one has a specialty and a very different role.

Do you see yourself as a typical accountant?

I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical accountant. For instance, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly academic. I always enjoyed playing around with numbers in Maths at school, but I had to work hard and get extra tutoring to get the grades I wanted. I also became very interested in economics and business studies thanks to my family.

I think accountants get stigmatised as being quite serious people, but in work they have to take things seriously because they are of utmost importance to the company. You wouldn’t want your accountant coming in talking about how much they’d had to drink the night before!

Which paper have you found toughest and why?

I think it was F9. I recall looking at the equations on the front page and then showing my friends, who asked if it was a different language - and quite frankly, it could have been! As much as I was quite excited to learn about the subject, it was really tough.

Equal to that is Tax in terms of its size, but it is such a useful subject to learn. I always aim to get 100% in every exam (even though that’s impossible), but with that one I said, you know what, 50% would be amazing!

Have you had any tough times when studying for ACCA?  

When I first started doing my ACCA qualification, every day after work I would take a 10 minute break away from my desk to signify that I had left work for the day, then I would walk back to the desk and study until 9-10 at night. I was putting every ounce of time that I had into it, weekends as well as evenings.

However, all I was doing was reading the textbook page after page. Looking back, I was also taking the wrong papers together, F6 and F7. My logic was that these are two of the hardest exam papers, so if I don’t pass them then I won’t pass the ACCA qualification.

On results day, I drove up to Guilford to go to my cousin’s engagement party, with my results arriving at midnight. No one doubted for a second that I was going to pass these exams, because I put everything into them.

My results came out by text at midnight and surrounded by friends and family and I was gutted to find out that I’d not just failed one exam, but both.

My mum didn’t believe me, because I’d put all this effort in there was no way I couldn’t have passed. But the truth was that I’d failed, not because I hadn’t put enough effort in, but because I hadn’t studied smart.

How did you change your studying after that and do you have any tips on studying smart?

The first thing I did was to invest time into studying how to study - finding revision techniques that work well for me. I went online to research loads of different study techniques and I now find myself adopting different ones depending on what paper I’m sitting.  Learning these techniques has helped me speed up my revision and has also given me confidence.

I also try and eat healthy and get exercise, as some studies have shown this can improve brain performance - even if those studies are later disproved, it seems to work for me even if it is just a placebo effect!

What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to get this far?

The qualification is hard work, especially as I'm not academic - some people can take 4 exams in a sitting and get great marks in every single one, but I have to work hard. That means that as exams approach, I have to go into ‘lockdown’ and won’t have time to see friends as much.

Plus I have to live on a shoestring budget and make small sacrifices like not upgrading my laptop or buying computer games, which I haven’t got time to play anyway!

I think you have to understand that you will have to make occasional sacrifices which can be tough, but it will be worth it in the end!

I think it's very important to sit down and think ‘why do I want this?’ and then remember that when times get tough.

What motivates you to keep going with the qualification?

I don’t have any A Levels or a degree to my name, so the pride in gaining a world-renowned qualification is a major driving force.  

Family and friends have also been incredible supportive and of course the financial security that being ACCA qualified brings is a big motivation.

Finally, what words of wisdom would you give to people who might be struggling with the qualification?

Firstly don’t study cheap - the Premier distance learning option has worked for me the whole way through because of the extra support I get.  

Also, have a study plan - what exams are you going to take and in what order? Some combinations work better than others.

Most importantly when you’re struggling, remember it’s a globally recognised qualification which holds a lot of prestige and is recognised as a taught Masters by the UK NARIC and Department of Education. It’s not meant to be easy, so you’re not stupid, you’re trying to do something that is very difficult.

I knew I wasn’t going to pass every exam first time. The truth is, I expected to be unsuccessful despite my best efforts to be successful. Unless you are extremely gifted, you’re not going to pass every paper first time. When I walk into an exam room, I’m so aware that a significant proportion are going to get a text message saying they were unsuccessful and they’ve all tried just as hard as I have.

So when you’re sitting at your desk and it seems hard, remember that if you’ve got this far, you’ve done really well - and if I can do it, so can you!