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October 31, 2012updated 03 Jan 2021 8:49pm

A warning to all

To my greatest disappointment I did not manage to pass what was to be I hoped my last ever exam. I scored 48 in the case study based on a hairdressing salon in Newcastle, which is two marks off the grail that is 50%, and what an agonising two marks they have turned out to be.

Not passing also comes with the financial burden of having to pay to re-sit the exam myself as well as the tutoring course I am now undertaking before the exam and to get my cover sheet back for the last exam. I was also planning on taking holiday at the beginning of November but with the exam on the 7 November that too is out the window.

For those that aren’t familiar with training towards the ACA, the case study is a four hour examination where a student is required to produce a document based on a fictional company in a real industry, using information seen in advance and then information provided in the exam.

My friends jokingly have said that due to the fact that the company in question was a hairdresser, I never stood a chance of passing, and in fact with my approach to this exam, I really did never stand a chance.

After all the intensity and pressure that comes from the first 12 exams, followed by another step-up to the technical integration papers, which forces an even higher level of concentration and dedication, the case study element to me was like a step down.

I saw it as an easier paper that was just a case of box-ticking and going through the motions. Even my friends and family commented on how relaxed I was compared to normal in the days leading up to the exam. This is a mistake that I urge others not to make, and one I cannot afford to make again myself.

The case study is a completely different exam from any of the others we take, and is marked in a completely different way. Something I failed to grasp at first.

You are graded on a competency scale by the markers in over 40 different areas. From this, the examiners obtain a ranking of scripts, from best to worst, by assigning marks to the competency grades. "Clearly Competent" are worth the most and "Not Addressed" are worth nothing. This gives a raw mark out of more than 250. The examining team then agree where the pass mark is on this ranking and weightings are applied to the raw marks by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to arrive at a mark out of 100.

For example, if there was a 76% pass rate, then 76% of the scripts were given a mark between 50 and 100 and 24% of scripts were given a mark from 0 to 49. This means 76% of the people who would have taken that exam were squashed into a bracket between 50-100, and the other 24% were stretched over a bracket from 0 to 49, thereby giving a greater qualitative difference between a script scoring 46 and a script scoring 47 than between one scoring 56 and one scoring 57.

A ‘near miss’ mark in the 40s in the case study is not the same as a mark in the 40s in other ACA exams which are marked out of 100. Where three or four extra points in the latter might have gained you a pass, in the case study they won’t.

If you scored less than 50 in the case study, your script was qualitatively poorer than a script scoring 50 or more. This means you didn’t fail because of a calculation you got wrong or a fact that you forgot to state. It is because your script was not good enough in at least one of the four exam elements.

So, take heed. Be diligent in your approach to every single aspect if you are training towards the ACA. By taking the case study lightly you may well be out of pocket and out of a holiday like me.

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