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ACCA Strategic Professional - your questions, answered

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Just finished Applied Skills level, and now moving onto Strategic Professional?

Many struggle to know what to do next. Read on for answers to the most common questions.

When should I sit the Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM)?

Ideally you should complete your Ethics and Professional Skills module before, or alongside, your first Strategic Professional subject. The module will increase your chances of passing at this level, as it will supplement your technical knowledge - with the ethics and higher level professional skills you’ll need.

It’s essential that the module is completed ahead of Strategic Business Leader (SBL), as the skills covered are explicitly examined in this subject. If you leave the EPSM until later on you’ll be at an unnecessary disadvantage.

When should I attempt SBL?

If you’re studying the ACCA qualification, under a Level 7 Apprenticeship, you must sit SBL as your final paper as it’s the formal end point assessment (EPA). For all other students, you can take it at any time (as long as you’ve completed, or are completing, the Applied Skills level).

This is the longest exam, at 4 hours, and requires you to have professional skills such as: communication, analysis and scepticism. You may not have developed these in earlier subjects, or at this point in your career, so it’s advisable to get at least one or two Strategic Professional subjects under your belt first.

Which options should I choose?

At Strategic Professional there are two compulsory papers, SBL and SBR, and four optional papers, AFM, APM, ATX and AAA. There’s no set combination, although students often select ATX with AAA and  AFM with APM. When making your selection there are a few things to consider:

  • How much did you enjoy the underpinning subject? If you disliked FM you might find it hard to motivate yourself to study AFM, as we tend to spend more time doing the things we enjoy.
  • How well did you do in the underpinning subject? If you didn’t perform well, either scoring a low mark or failing a time or two, at the lower level subject it’s likely you’ll find the higher level subject difficult to pass. If you had three attempts at TX don’t opt for ATX!
  • What field are you working in currently / do you want to work in? If working in practice you should do AAA as it’s essential if you want to obtain a practice certificate. One of the AAA examiners has previously stated that those students not working in an audit environment may find the exam difficult. If working in industry you may find AFM and or APM more useful.
  • Employer preferences. If your employer is paying for your studies they may have a preference over which subjects you take. Even if they don’t, it may be courteous to check!

Should I attempt AAA before SBR?

Absolutely not! You should always complete Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) before, or alongside, Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA). Sitting them the other way round is like running before you can walk.

In SBR you learn about the accounting standards. In AAA you learn about auditing them. If you sit AAA before SBR you’re trying to learn how to audit standards you haven’t yet learned. Don’t put yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage. AAA is a tough paper with a pass rate usually hovering around 30%, so don’t make your job any harder!

Should I take a different approach to my studies?

If you’ve been studying diligently and scoring high marks at the lower levels then probably not. Keep doing what you are doing. However, if you’ve scraped by doing the bare minimum then now is perhaps time for a change.

Research completed by Kaplan shows a strong correlation between students that complete their practice tests and assessments/pass rates, particularly at the Strategic Professional level.

Getting them marked is even more important than at the Applied Skills level as all answers are long form (there’s no objective test questions), so good exam technique is essential. If your tuition provider offers to mark your answers, submit them on time to get the feedback you need. This will drive improvements and increase your chance of exam success.

Whatever you choose to do at the next sitting - good luck!