Tax exam and prep: advice from the tax examiners

Jun 30, 2020
Sitting with both tax examiners for a virtual coffee, John Munnelly asked them: what separates candidates who pass comfortably from those who are less successful? 

From the perspective of both the Northern Ireland (NI) and Republic of Ireland (ROI) tax examiners, the best candidates display several recurring and common traits in their scripts. They have distilled them below into three key issues they feel will contribute to the successful completion of the paper.


NI examiner: Year on year, the best scripts demonstrate a high level of preparation. It is not just about having the materials and texts at your disposal in the exam – having these sufficiently referenced and tabbed is key. Time is a valuable commodity in any exam and with an open-book exam, in particular, you need to use your time answering the indicators rather than trying to find a particular topic in your notes or in a book. Candidates can organise their materials in different ways, but with tax, it would be beneficial to have the various tax heads and reliefs colour coded throughout your textbooks and past papers for quick reference during the exam.

ROI examiner: I would add to that by saying it is always important to remember that the competency statement is your guide for all that is examinable. It would be useful to have a copy of this referenced so that you can easily access relevant material once you have identified what issues each indicator is examining. This will save time whether the issue is one that is commonly examined or if it is a topic that has not been examined before, as you will be able to find relevant materials quickly.


ROI examiner: The quality of a script is often evidenced by the quality of the plan provided by the candidate. In past sittings, candidates who took appropriate time to fully plan their answer to each indicator generally scored better. A plan will help to process the information in the simulations, help to identify what issues need to be addressed and will provide a structure for your answer.

Each simulation will have four distinct indicators and each indicator should be considered and answered separately. There can be multi-facets to each indicator, so you should plan for each one individually. Identify the tax heads that need to be addressed and consider all reliefs that may be applicable. Be sure to consider any VAT and stamp duty implications even where these are not the primary focus of an indicator – credit is given for correct consideration of all relevant taxes.

NI examiner: Your plan should also consider the amount of time you should allocate to each indicator part. Each indicator on the paper carries equal weighting and you should plan to give sufficient time to answering each indicator. As examiners, we collaborate on developing each indicator element, e.g. degree of computation, complexity of an issue or variety of relevant taxes. We know that some calculations are demanding, but we also know that practised candidates will get through the indicator elements and give themselves the greatest scoring opportunities. Planning the indicator (there is reading time available to do this) is a learned and valuable skill. 

Details matter

ROI examiner and NI examiner: Over the past number of exam sittings, the examiners’ reports and articles related to the FAE tax elective papers have stressed the importance of considering the conditions when discussing any specific tax relief, election, or exemption. It is not enough to state that a certain relief may apply, and scripts should consider the facts presented in the simulations and discuss all the reliefs, etc., which may be appropriate. The conditions for any relief discussed should be given and it should be clearly stated where each condition is fulfilled. Credit will be not be given for just identifying a particular relief, but candidates can go a long way towards earning full credit for clearly demonstrating why the relief will apply given the facts of the simulation.

Final remarks

The FAE tax elective paper will test your tax knowledge and how you can apply this in practical situations, but if you prepare fully, plan well and provide full detail in your scripts, you will give yourself the best chance to pass the exam in August.

Good luck in your studies and in the exam.