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Pushing yourself to a level you're happy with - student story

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Global prize winner, David Barker, was awarded the ACA Financial Management First place and the Howitt prize in March 2021. Find out how he overcame personal and logistical obstacles in his pursuit of success.

Financial Management was the subject I’d found the most difficult as it was the most different from my day-to-day job. However, I enjoyed studying it the most. I liked that you’re applying it to real world situations.

I was very surprised when I won the prize. I knew I had to work really hard for this subject, and felt like the exam went well, but I can’t believe I did SOO well!

Balancing work, life and study

It was really difficult and time intensive. Starting work at 7:45am and finishing at 5pm, going on to study for a couple of hours, and then getting up early on the weekends. However, I always made sure to give myself time to decompress in the evenings.

I didn’t have a set routine as I prefer to take it day by day, but always had an overarching view of where I wanted to be at each stage before the exams.

Kaplan’s guidance was great in terms of studying. I pretty much followed this to the letter and it was great.

Don’t worry about doing 4-5 hours a night, do what suits you and just stay on track with what Kaplan says, it works!

My main advice is practice, practice, practice. Do as many practice questions as you can, both open and closed books.

My tactic was just to practice and then address any specific areas of weakness by working through the answers piece by piece.

Overcoming stress

I struggled with stress the few weeks before the exams. My company were really good, they let me take short notice leave and my workload lightened before exams. I felt my managers understood when they were coming up and supported me through the process.

It’s ok to find the balance, to take time off if you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

It’s a stressful time and It’s really important to only push yourself to a level you’re happy with.

Mental health is a big thing for me, exams are a big trigger for my anxiety, so I really benefited from the support I had around me. My family, friends and girlfriend provided unbelievable amounts of support to me throughout the process, and I am so thankful as I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s so important to have a support network around you.

Getting into accountancy

I studied architecture at Uni, then worked in a call centre for a year and saved up money to either go and travel or find a job. I ended up teaching English in China for a year in Wuhan (before it was famous!) then moved to Massan in Korea.

I was worried about finding a job when I first got back. I loved teaching, but the situation with teaching in the UK isn’t for me, so I went into accounting.

My company, Sagars, is very keen on hiring people from different backgrounds, even without finance experience, and training them up then promoting internally. This brings a lot of different perspectives to the firm which means there’s a really great culture.

The stereotype of “typical stuffy accountants” was proved not to be true at all, the people are all very friendly.

Future ambitions

I have two more professional exams left, one in summer and one just before Christmas. I will be taking Advanced next year and then the case study.

I love working at Sagars and I much prefer working for a smaller practice where you feel part of the fabric of the company. Sagars have really made me feel important and there’s a great future here.

The advantage with ACA is that once I’m qualified, there is the opportunity to work anywhere. In the future I'd also love to revisit the option of going back overseas and working in management accounting.

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