Exams

Exams

We learn in different ways, but the art of note-taking is critical in achieving examination success. Sophie Campbell, winner of the Samuel Smyth Memorial Prize, gives her top tips for effective note-taking. Effective note-taking, when mastered, is a powerful tool, and it is not limited simply to our studies but has application for our day-to-day working environment.  Much has been written on the subject over the years by experienced practitioners. However, I would like to focus on effective note-taking for exam success. Taking effective notes is the foundation for building your knowledge on each subject. Taking notes can help retain information to memory, challenges our understanding, and essentially becomes a reference point from which we build knowledge and expertise on each topic. Even more importantly, effective note-taking helps identify gaps in our understanding which we can use to guide our future study.  A knowledge gap analysis is critical as you move through the various examination levels, as they build on cumulative knowledge from the previous years. Taking notes will allow you to pinpoint knowledge gaps more efficiently, taking pressure off as you approach the exams because you will already have a list of areas that require greater focus.  The following are my top tips for effective note-taking: 1. Preparation is key – Be prepared for the live webinars by creating notes from the self-study sessions. Your prepared notes will allow for more efficient note-taking during the live webinars, which recap and reinforce what you have previously covered. During the live webinars, you won’t have time to complete notes from scratch, therefore, by having base notes available, you are able to efficiently add or amend if the lecturer goes into more detail in certain areas or gives additional examples. 2. Method – In the open book exams, taking structured, precise and meaningful notes is crucial to refresh your memory when you are under time pressure. Pre-COVID-19, during class, I annotated on printed slides. This method was time consuming as you had to incorporate the slides and annotated notes into one document. Now that classes are held online, I find that using a split screen and taking notes in a word document much more efficient. 3. Structure – Be consistent with your structure by choosing a format that works for you and stick with it so that your notes are all structured the same way. That way, regardless of which standard is examined, I can quickly locate the information I need. For example, in financial reporting, each standard starts with an introduction to the standard and finishes with disclosure requirements.  4. Cheat sheets – Ensure that your notes are self-explanatory yet concise as you may need to use them during an exam to refresh your memory. An example of this is using ‘cheat sheets”, a document in bullet point or tabular format that detail key information for a particular topic. 5. Don’t zone out – Think as you write. Ask yourself if your notes cover the objectives in the learning journals and if you have an understanding of each topic covered. If not, add the topic to your knowledge gap list for you to come back to at a later date.  6. Stay up-to-date – Keep your file up-to-date by printing your finalised notes after the live webinars and use sticky note labels with a short description for ease of reference. This allows for quick access during the exams.  7. Ensure understanding – Use your notes in an exam style scenario when completing questions from each session. I often take further notes on areas missed or, if my notes are unclear, I will go back to the lecture to address any gaps in my knowledge and ensure my notes are updated to reflect same. Everybody has a different approach to note taking. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. Once you find a method that suits you, you will be able to make the most of your notes and be more successful in your studies.

Jan 13, 2021
Exams

With refreshed lockdown measures in place, being able to access textbooks digitally is paramount. Liam Boyle outlines how the Institute’s digital book platform, Chartered Textbooks Online, works and how it can help with your studies while distance learning. Since March 2020, we have all had to find new ways of doing things. Work. Study. Socialising. Although maybe not necessarily in that order. The academic years 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 will be remembered for the extraordinary, unprecedented events that have catapulted Chartered Accountants Ireland students (and staff) into full-on remote learning and online lectures and exams.  Once the initial shock of lockdown had subsided, and with it the realisation that this could go on for longer than first thought, it became apparent that new ways of teaching and learning had to be found – and new ways to facilitate it. Many students chose to head for home during lockdown, inadvertently leaving their printed textbooks behind. As lockdown continued, the need to provide access to the textbooks for these students became urgent.  As an emergency stop-gap, the publishing team at Chartered Accountants Ireland arranged for access to Ebook Central, the online platform of ProQuest, a US company that supplies ebooks to third-level libraries worldwide. This has plugged the gap, but is not a long-term solution. Fortunately, our own bespoke digital textbook platform, Chartered Textbooks Online, had already been developed and trialled. All we had to do was accelerate our plans to add every single title for each subject across all years. Chartered Textbooks Online Chartered Textbooks Online is, simply, a dedicated website where students can access digital versions of their textbooks. It is easily accessed from the Student Centre – the link is just underneath the Learning Hub button – and requires no additional log-in details if you are already logged onto the website.  First rolled out in September 2018 as a pilot project, Chartered Textbooks Online marked the first step in offering digital content to students, forming the foundation for what will become a complete digital library. It is an additional resource for students, enhancing and supporting the other resources available and allowing you greater flexibility in how you study.   The site is still in development, with titles now being added on a regular basis. Currently available are the tax textbooks (Taxation 1, Taxation 2 and Taxation 3) for both ROI and NI, the Law for Accountants manuals and toolkits, the Double-entry Bookkeeping Toolkit, An Introduction to Financial Accounting 2nd Edition and Managerial Accounting 3rd Edition. Further titles will be added in the coming months. The target is to have all CAP1, CAP2 and FAE textbooks added to the site by May 2021. Students will be kept up-to-date and informed as new titles are added to the service.  The digital textbooks retain the look of their physical printed versions – the familiar design, layout and structure helping students to navigate the online texts with ease. As a digital resource, Chartered Textbooks Online offers a number of features: side bars with linked table of contents and chapter contents for quick and easy navigation, hyperlinked cross-references and search functionality.  As a dedicated website, Chartered Textbooks Online has the added attraction of making all the textbooks available in one place. Whether you are a CAP1, CAP2 or FAE student, all the textbooks you need will be there for you. Furthermore, Chartered Textbooks Online provides access to all current textbooks across all years. So, if you are a CAP2 student and you want to recap, say, the most current income tax reliefs available to an individual, you can access Taxation 1 and look it up. Chartered Textbooks Online is a work-in-progress. We have a vision of how we can make it more useful and user friendly, but we would really like to hear what you think. Your feedback (critical as well as positive welcome!), comments, suggestions and ideas are hugely important in helping us to create and develop a truly useful and valued digital textbooks platform. Please share your thoughts with us by emailing publishing@charteredaccountants.ie. Liam Boyle is Editorial Production Manager at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jan 13, 2021
Exams

Charlotte Keating, Founder of Act On It Coaching, shares her tips on how you can keep energy levels and motivation up the week before and during the exam and re-sit period. Did you know fear and excitement are pretty much the same feeling? Think about it – your body displays almost identical symptoms to each emotion as it’s getting ready to take action. According to neuroscientists, the difference is all in the mind. In fact, when participants of a 2014 Harvard Business School study re-labelled their fear as excitement, they performed better in important tasks. When you feel those pre-exam nerves kicking in, you can work with them positively by choosing to feel excited instead. Interpreting what you’re feeling as excitement can make exam anxiety easier to manage and is much less draining as it puts you in an ‘opportunity mindset’ which focuses on the ways the exam could go well, increasing energy and confidence. Here are some ways you can practice this approach while reflecting on your past, focusing on the present and looking towards your future. 1. Reflecting on past achievements Think of your accomplishments and the challenges you’ve overcome so far in your life. Go back as far as you can remember and write them down. Look at this list daily, especially the night before and the morning of the exams. Focus on how proud your achievements make you feel. Use these memories to get excited about what you can achieve! 2. Focus on the present As you revise and practice questions leading up to your exams or re-sits, it can be useful to keep your energy high by taking care of yourself. Wake-up calls: use the alarm on your phone to not only wake yourself up in the morning but throughout the day as well. Set different alarms as a great reminder to take a break, stretch, get a drink of water, have a snack, or get some fresh air for a few minutes.  Consider labelling the alarms with different words and phrases: “I am really good at what I do.” “I am successful.” "I always do my best.” “alive, grateful, happy.” Choose something that is going to lift your spirits and help you be mindful of the present moment. You could also use these wake-up calls as an opportunity to listen to an upbeat song. Music is powerful for releasing dopamine (making us happier) and also helps increase energy and focus. Postural feedback or “Power moves”: Getting into as good a posture as possible, chest out, with your hands on your hips like a superhero, over your head like a bear, or to the side like a peacock, is a technique that you can use to feel in control and confident. Take some deep breaths as you do this. You might also say out loud “I feel excited”, even if you don’t. Repeating this action and sentence creates an authentic sense of excitement. Try holding the pose for two minutes to increase the feeling. You can practice this throughout the day when you take a break from the books and right before going into the exam (if you can find a suitable place).  Exercising: Being active is a great way to focus your energy, absorb information and come up with solutions. Maybe you’ll gain clarity in an area you’ve been puzzling over while out for a walk. Switch off: Activities that will distract your brain at the end of the day to allow it to rest are ideal. For example, watch a movie that makes you laugh. 3. Look towards the future Visualisation is a technique that has long been linked to high performance. Spending five minutes each day visualising your future success can help to settle the nerves. For best results, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and allow your thoughts to wander into a daydream: Imagine the day of the exam – how do you wake up? Refreshed, focused, motivated? On your way to the exam, how are you feeling? Confident, prepared?  Take yourself to where you will be sitting the exam in your mind. What do you see, hear, smell, feel?  Block out thoughts of everyone else. What they are doing is not important and doesn’t matter to you or your success. See yourself opening up that exam paper, answering questions with ease, taking deep breaths and being able to come up with a plan to answer anything challenging. Imagine the exam has gone well. Try to feel the emotions you would feel afterwards. Allow yourself to get excited about it! Always do your best As a final thought, in his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz says that:  “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, when you are tired as opposed to well-rested. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement.” Remember, you have done the bulk of the work and achieved so much already. A great use of your time before the exams is to work on preparing yourself mentally so that you can approach them feeling excited and ready and come out the other side knowing that you’ve done your best.  Always consult a specialist if that’s the best thing for you. CA Support is here to assist you and can be contacted at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie, or on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294. There are also video supports and articles available on the Chartered Accountants Ireland website.

Nov 02, 2020
Exams

At the marking centre, it was interesting to see how closely the CAP1 Tax Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland papers performed and how the marking teams consistently saw the same common errors across both papers. Philip Nicolls speaks with both examiners to glean some advice for future candidates. The 2019/20 examinations cycle saw a significant change in the CAP1 syllabus, with Law moving to an on-demand e-assessment and an expanded tax syllabus assessed by a full, three-hour paper. Despite maintaining a healthy pass rate, some candidates clearly found the new syllabus and longer paper quite a challenge.  What impact has the change in Tax syllabus and paper had on candidates sitting in Summer 2020? Northern Ireland examiner (NI): First, congratulations to the almost 600 Tax ROI and Tax NI candidates who passed their CAP1 tax exam. Well done for staying focused through COVID-19 restrictions, remote working and the move to e-assessment. One of the key impacts of the syllabus change is that candidates now need to understand the four different taxes at CAP1: income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and value-added tax. While most candidates were able to differentiate between the various tax heads, a significant number did not understand that each different tax head has its own rules in terms of application and administration. While there may be an interaction between the taxes in some cases, they are ultimately separate and distinct regimes. Republic of Ireland examiner (ROI): Absolutely, candidates sitting the Tax ROI paper made the same mistakes. Because of the longer paper, we can examine candidates on a wider range of topics from the Competency Statement. In many cases, students scored well on the basic computational elements of a question but were unable to develop or apply their answers further. A significant number of candidates clearly had not prepared for particular topics and performed poorly as a result.  Can you give me an example of those two issues from the summer paper? NI: Of course. When determining the rate at which an individual pays UK capital gains tax, it is necessary to consider the amount of taxable income for income tax purposes that person has received in the tax year. However, the tax rates which are applied to any capital gain are the capital gains tax rates. Similarly, the due date for payment will be different under capital gains tax rules than under income tax rules. ROI: In part one of the income tax computation, some candidates correctly calculated that a loss was incurred and were able to discuss how that loss could be applied but were unable to correctly apply the loss in the tax computation. Also, in the capital gains tax questions, the basic computational aspects were generally well answered, but the subtleties around marginal relief, wasting chattels or foreign taxes paid were not.  Other questions that candidates seemed ill-prepared for included corporation tax payment dates for large companies, the exception for being a proprietary director, and the rules around help to buy incentive relief. It is important for candidates to ensure that all aspects of the syllabus are studied. While many score reasonably well on the high-level concepts, candidates need to earn marks across the depth and breadth of the Competency Statement to be confident of a pass. What one practical piece of advice would you give candidates sitting in November? NI: It is fundamental that students understand the administrative rules of each tax head. The rules do differ, and it is imperative that candidates at this level know, and can explain, the relevant payment dates, filing dates, potential penalties for infringements, etc., for each tax. Summarising this type of information for each tax head is a valuable revision tool. Something as simple as being able to state when a liability or tax return is due is often a way to pick up easy marks in this exam. ROI: Make sure you include your workings for computations, and also an explanation, if required. For example, explain why you made an add back or deduction in the calculation of taxable profit. This seems to be one area of exam technique where candidates have slipped in the move to e-assessment. Workings allow the examiner to award marks for adopting the correct approach, even if there are errors in the calculations. Often these ‘method marks’ are the difference between a pass and a fail for marginal candidates. Don’t be tempted to do your workings on the scratch paper. Make sure you input them as part of your answer. Detailed commentary from examiners is presented in the PEC report, which is available on the examinations area of the Chartered Accountants Ireland website.

Nov 02, 2020
Exams

Leo Norris, Head of Education Delivery at Chartered Accountants Ireland, shares his eight tips to help students get the most from the Institute’s new online education offering. At the time of writing, Chartered Accountants Ireland’s online education delivery model is up and running for CAP1. CAP2 is scheduled to follow soon after. In this article, I will share eight tips to help you get the most from your online education experience. Take these on board and discuss them with colleagues and fellow students. To be successful in online education, students must take a proactive, committed approach. The student is responsible for their studies and overall time management. The Learning Hub will record your activity on the platform to ensure no-one falls behind, and you will receive email reminders to complete a session – but it is ultimately up to you to manage your progress. Remember, this is your learning journey to career success. Own it! Make the most of live webinars. They are your chance to connect directly with the Institute’s team of lecturers. These webinars have a particular function, which is to explain the practical application of a teaching concept and demonstrate how that topic might appear in an exam. Webinars are not there to explain basic concepts, that is done in the recorded lectures. Your attendance at live webinars will be recorded from November and will cover both your attendance and engagement. These records will be passed to training firms, which are eager to monitor their students’ involvement. Deciding to watch recorded webinars only is therefore not an option. Give yourself enough time to undertake the self-study sessions before live webinars. The pre-read material is short (e.g. a series of ten-minute lecture videos). Much of the content is “gated”, so some material will need to be viewed in sequence. For example, Management Accounting Session 1 must be completed before starting Management Accounting Session 2. It also means that students must open and engage with the preparatory materials to have access to live webinars. Take care of yourself, as we are all working through exceptional circumstances right now. Most students are balancing work with professional education and exam preparation in the middle of a pandemic, so schedule time to relax and recharge. Keep in contact with friends, take up a hobby, and make the most of your professional network. The flexibility of online education is great, but it also has some pitfalls. Do your best to minimise distractions, which could include disabling notifications on your phone or studying during typically quiet hours in your household. Time management will be a crucial element of success, so set short sprint targets (e.g. to view two recorded lectures and take notes in the next hour). Understand what motivates you and plan a reward for overcoming a particular study milestone, but not the summer exams – they are far away! That way, you will stay energised and focused. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that online education isn’t the real thing. It is as real as it gets, with real exams to prove it. We will reach out regularly with surveys to hear what’s working for you, both at a subject level and across the broader programme. Please take the time to respond, as your feedback will help us improve our teaching, education delivery, and course material throughout the academic year. Contacting us couldn’t be easier. Visit the ‘Contact Us’ page on the student section of the Institute’s website. But first, please read the relevant Student FAQs as they may have the answer to your question. In the meantime, good luck from the Education Delivery Team to all new and continuing students!

Nov 02, 2020
Exams

Yes, the e-assessment will be different, but as long as you embrace those differences and practise on the e-assessment platform, it won't be any more difficult, says Philip Nicolls. Looking back over recent months, the scale and pace of change are just astonishing. All of us have learned new disciplines, skills and employed new tools in both our work and personal lives. Professional accountancy exams have changed, as well, and Institutes around the world have moved quickly to e-assessment as we adjust to a world with COVID-19.  Fortunately, Chartered Accountants Ireland candidates have a range of resources to assist with this unexpected transition. Your starting point should be the e-assessment pages on the website. Make sure that your hardware and software meet the necessary requirements and that you understand what will happen on the day of the assessment. You will find the frequently asked questions helpful in this regard. You will also find video tutorials walking you through the e-assessment platform, as well as a link to the practice papers. Once you understand the big picture, it's time to focus on the detail of the assessments themselves and how you plan your preparations. New terminology The structure of each exam is unchanged, however, as we move to e-assessment, some of the terminology changes to that used on the e-assessment platform. Most noticeably, each individual requirement is numbered as a Question.  For example, the CAP 1 financial accounting practice paper in its original form as the summer 2019 paper, question one had four requirements, a) to d). In the e-assessment platform, this becomes Part One with four requirements, Question 1 – Question 4. This is particularly important when it comes to choosing your optional questions in Section B, where, for the financial accounting paper, you must answer any two of three parts. The introduction to the assessment clearly lays out how many questions are in each part and the heading on each individual question will clearly indicate to which part it belongs. This will become more intuitive as you practise more papers on the e-assessment platform. Stay engaged During the CAP 1 e-assessment pilot, there was a strong correlation between candidates' engagement with the online examination resources and their performance on the actual exam. Recognise that the value in the practice papers is not primarily the technical accounting aspects. Rather, it is your opportunity to develop familiarity and enhance your skills working in the e-assessment platform.  In preparation for the main summer exams, candidates are allowed up to five attempts at each practice paper – that's up to 76 hours of e-assessment time for a candidate! Use the opportunity to practise navigating around the assessment, structuring your answer and using tables.  Some aspects will be down to personal preference. How do you prefer to view the resources on screen? Do you find it easier to expand your answer to full screen as you are working, or see the narrative, requirement and answer on-screen at the same time? It's good to figure these preferences out beforehand. Exam technique Back in the March issue of Accountancy Ireland Extra, we considered how exam technique is largely unchanged in the move from paper-based assessment to e-assessment. You still need to read the question carefully, and answer the specific requirement, manage your time, show your workings, etc. Of course, there are some differences, and I would recommend that as you prepare for your exams by practising past papers, you create your answer using a word processor rather than a handwritten script.  You should also note that, for CAP 2 and FAE, reading time has been amalgamated into the overall time. You might adjust your approach to the past papers slightly to take advantage of this. Final thoughts As you move into a period of intensive study, take some time to reflect. Make sure that you have the e-assessment practicalities covered off. Recognise that there are some different skills to practice and be deliberate in how you adjust your exam preparations.  Good luck with your summer exams, but remember the immortal words of golfer, Gary Player: "The more I practice, the luckier I get."

Jun 30, 2020