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Getting back on track - studying ACCA after a break

Student working on laptop next to notebook

ACCA Regional Head of Education, John Cunningham, and Kaplan tutor Grace Hodgetts delivered a webinar aimed at helping ACCA students get back on track after a break in their studies.

Over 200 people listened in and took part in the question and answer session. Here we’ve summarised the main points for you.


Think back to when you first started studying. What was your reason for doing the course? Has anything changed? And do you still feel the same now as you did back then.

Grace took a poll and found:

Webinar poll results - What motivated you to study ACCA?

Career progression - 60.9%

A desire to work in finance - 21.7%

Job security and good salary - 40.6%

Other - 1.4% - including: I wanted to get a degree, I need more security in my career

So as you can see, most people decided to study ACCA to progress their career, for more job security and for a good salary.

This is what you need to revisit. Your motivation will get you through it. Look back at why you wanted to do it in the first place. It’s easy to forget why you’re doing it. Just because it’s been a while since you last sat an exam, don’t give up now. Your goal is still possible if you just remind yourself of your initial motivation.

Getting back on track

Have a think about when you want to sit your next exam. It’s always better to do it sooner rather than later, whilst the information you’ve learnt is still fresh.

Webinar poll - When are you likely to sit your next exam?

0-3 months - 41.6%

4-6 months - 45.5%

7-12 months - 9.1%

Over 12 months - 3.9%

Most people wanted to sit their next exam in the next six months - which is great. Most people are keen to get back on track. If you’re delaying because you’re nervous or concerned that you don’t have the knowledge, the sooner you get back on it the better. Pull together a good study plan and all the resources needed for the exam.

As long as you have planned there’s no reason you can’t take the exam within the next 6 months. Get it done - finish the qualification and reap the awards. Don’t be afraid to book your exam sooner rather than later. If you make a commitment, it’s harder to back out, and easier to focus on.

What route should you take?

Grace focused on those who have completed Applied Skills and are yet to do Strategic Professional.

Strategic Professional is made up of 4 exams - 2 compulsory and 2 optional.

The compulsory exams are Strategic Business Leader (SBL) and Strategic Business Reporting (SBR).

The optional exams are Advanced Financial Management (AFM), Advanced Performance Management (APM), Advanced Taxation (ATX-UK), and Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA)

Grace advises that you do SBR first, especially if you’re choosing to do tax or audit as an optional exam. You will learn the essentials in SBR first, to help boost your confidence and knowledge.

And she says to do SBL last, as all the technical information you learn earlier on will be vital for this exam. But she also says you can do the exams in any order that you like - whatever suits you best.

No matter what options you choose, you will need to do Ethics and Professional Skills, and it’s best to do this module first, as ACCA have discovered that students who do EPSM first are 25% more likely to pass SBL.

It’s an online module delivered via your MyACCA portal and should take you around 20 hours to complete. There is some great content in there relating to the Strategic Professional subjects you will go on to study, so it really is the best introduction to this level.

Which sittings should I do?

So you can take your exams in four sittings, or less,each year, it’s up to you. However keep in mind your time restraints and how much you are able to study before an exam.

If you do 4 sittings you’ll always be studying. There will be little time for a break and recovery between exams. But it does mean you’ll get to focus on 1 subject at a time.

If you do 2 sittings you’ll get a break between them, but you may lose motivation between the exams. You will also probably want to do 2 subjects at the same time to get qualified quickly, which means careful planning to balance your studies over two syllabi.

Did you know?

According to ACCA’s most recent global survey, 96% of employers think ACCA is a respected qualification.

Study plans and progress

Grace set the next question to see why people have slowed down, and why they are in the position where they find themselves having to get back on track. As we know, accountants want everything to be perfect, but sometimes it doesn’t work like that.

Webinar poll - If your progress has slowed, why do you think that is?

Not having time to study - 66.2%

Studying is too expensive - 16.9%

The subject is too difficult - 29.9%

Other - 19.5% - volume of information, I’m a perfectionist, lack of motivation

Grace pointed out that accountants want everything to be 100% perfect - but you only need 50% to pass these exams!

Focusing on “not having time to study” here are some tips:

Make a study plan

  • Set goal and target dates for your study
    • Start with your exam date
    • List all the tasks
    • Block our times you can’t study
    • Slot the tasks into your plan
  • Online calendars - access your plan anytime/anywhere
  • Consider your exemptions - you may need more time to brush up on your assumed knowledge - extra revision might be needed. Check what knowledge you should have before you sit the exam.
  • Be honest and realistic with yourself - you’re less likely to go off track.

Set what date you want to sit the exam, and work backwards. List out all the tasks that you need to complete in the weeks you have between now and then. Make sure you have up to date materials, especially if you’re resitting. Just double check that you have the right syllabus for the exam you’re sitting.

List out any assessments, mocks, and tests you want to complete and by when.

Be honest in the times you can’t study. Block them out of your calendar straight away.

Use your calendar like it’s your professional one. If you have a study slot, treat it as a business meeting - you have to attend.


Grace’s advice is to give yourself 12 weeks before an exam. 4-5 weeks to absorb the knowledge, 2-3 weeks to start on questions and how to apply your knowledge, and then 3-4 weeks for final practice timed questions, using the CBE software, marking answers, and understanding where you’ve gone wrong.

Essentially the top advice is to just get started - the sooner the better!

One participant posed a question during this section: How long should I study? It is very personal. Some people will work an hour or 2 a day, some will work 6 hours on a weekend day.

It really depends on what works for you. Don’t overestimate what you can do in a day. And remember to take breaks to rejuvenate and give your brain time to absorb the new information.

Exam confidence - technique and tips

Understand the verbs used in the exam questions - what are they asking you to do? i.e: are they asking you to name something? Simply name it - and it will probably be worth half a mark. Do they want you to explain or describe? You need to identify a term, and then give more detail - this would probably be 1 or more marks. Make sure you understand what they want eg: Critically discuss = disadvantages of something, not the advantages.

Read examiners’ reports and articles from the examining team - this will help you find out what they’re looking for, and what pitfalls other students have made.

Practice, practice, practice - and read the instructions carefully. You don’t want to set off writing about something that isn’t relevant.

Try marking your own answers - learn where the easy marks come from, and find out what sort of questions trip you up the most.

Computer based exams - make sure you’ve practiced doing them on the software that is used. It’s very different doing exams on the computer than on paper. The ACCA student support section has all the guidance about computer based exams, and videos showing how to use the software and what to expect.


Remember the motivation you had at the beginning of your ACCA journey. There must have been a reason to do the qualification. Focus on that and get going. Don’t put it off any longer.

If you’re ready to commit to an exam, book your ACCA exam now and get back on track. Best of luck.