10 Mistakes students can avoid when preparing for ACCA's Advanced Audit & Assurance (AAA)

Don't you want to avoid all the pitfalls that will cause you to fail when preparing for the ACCA AAA paper. then this post is for you

I may have covered some of these areas I discuss here in a previous post entitled " 7 things you never knew about preparing for the ACCA AAA paper"

However, this post is about the common mistakes students make when preparing for ACCA’s Advanced Audit & Assurance. 

My goal is that if you know what these errors are, you will be able to stop them and be rewarded with a pass in the exam.

The global pass rate for AAA remains in the low 30 percentile. 

This means only 3 or 4 students who sit for this subject, pass.

But the global pass rate is not a reflection of the difficulty of this subject. 

Any student can easily get a pass if BASIC MISTAKES are avoided. 

And it is with this goal in mind that I used my experience to create the AAA course

The pass rate of 80% attests to this.

My aim is to help students sitting for AAA to pass the first time they sit for it. 

My motto has always been “Prepare Not Repair”. 

But for now, let me explain what these mistakes are.

Mistake 1 - Inadequate subject matter knowledge

Preparing for the AAA exam or any professional exam, for that matter, can be likened to building a house. 

Laying the foundation is the very FIRST STEP before the walls and roof go up. 

If any of the steps are skipped or performed in the incorrect order, the house may become unstable and can collapse. 

For AAA, the foundation is acquiring the required knowledge. Acquiring this knowledge is the first step.

Mistake 2Reading textbook without understanding.

A common method used by students is reading and highlighting/underlining their textbook or course notes. 

A “fully colored” textbook is dangerous because it gives the student false confidence that they “have studied” the topic.

Reading, highlighting/underlining are PASSIVE ways of learning and do not help with “understanding” the topic.

The student needs to understand what it is they are studying by asking themselves WHY THAT KNOWLEDGE IS CRUCIAL TO THE WORK OF THE AUDITOR.

“Reading and highlighting the textbook” is not the same as “understanding the knowledge in the textbook”. 

Understanding a topic will contribute significantly to the student’s ability to apply the knowledge in the increasingly challenging scenarios in the exam.

But trying to “understand the topic” requires effort. Many students find this stage, tedious and boring. 

So they make the mistake of skipping this step and going straight to practicing Past Year Questions after highlighting their textbook.

I am not discounting the benefits of practicing past exam papers. 

But what I am saying is, understanding the topic will go a long way towards making sure you are not stumped in the exam.

Mistake 3Memorising Past Year Question answers

Many students practice Past Year Questions to memorize answers. 

There is no point in memorizing suggested answers for a particular question because the questions appearing in the next exam will have a totally different scenario. 

Writing a “memorized answer” will be wholly irrelevant.

Marks are awarded at AAA level for application of knowledge to a given scenario, where candidates demonstrate an understanding of the issues presented.

Practicing Past Year Questions is crucial. 

It helps the student see if the knowledge learned can be applied. 

But students should not practice Past Year Questions as an end in themselves. 

It is important to remember they are only a MEANS TO AN END.

Mistake 4Not knowing the dynamics of learning.

Many students do not know how to learn. 

They do not know the dynamics of learning. 

They don’t realize how the brain works. 

I have met students who have told me that they are so frustrated with themselves because they cannot remember what they have read in their textbooks. 

To remember information, the mind must be TRAINED to remember. 

Training is not ad hoc. Training has to be purposeful. There are steps. 

There has to be ACTIVE RECALL.

Mere reading of a textbook hardly has 10% retention of knowledge. 

Knowledge needs to be kept at the forefront & SPACED REPETITION helps to this end. 

My course notes are simplified & contain quite a lot of acronyms and mnemonics to help my students remember various topics. 

But the student still needs “active recall” & “spaced repetition” to reduce the chance of forgetting. 

Mistake 5Not knowing critical areas to focus

Students are often unaware of the critical areas that are examinable in every sitting and therefore treat all audit topics as being equally important. 

But studying like that is not strategic. 

Knowing these critical examinable areas will help the student to focus, to prioritize, to strategize, and have a sense that they are progressing towards getting a certain number of marks as they prepare for the exam. 

These topics carry BIG marks in every sitting. 

A student should master these big mark questions to secure a pass. 

That is called SMART STUDYING!

Mistake 6Not understanding what the examiner wants

It is important to understand what the examiner wants of you in the exam. 

Understanding the different VERBS used by the examiner in framing the question (the difference between “list” & “evaluate”) is crucial. 

“Evaluate” is not the same as “list”. “Evaluate” carries more marks. AAA questions very rarely start with the verb “list”. 

List is more found in AA rather than AAA.

The student also needs to pay careful attention to the KEYWORDS in the question. 

The examiner may have asked “How” something is done. 

But if the student’s answer explains ‘Why” something is done, the student will not be getting any marks. 

You have to read the requirement of the question carefully.

Mistake 7Not understanding the marking scheme

Understanding how the marks are distributed is critical. 

Here is where EXAM TECHNIQUE comes in. 

The student needs to know what matters to include in the answer. 

Also crucial is knowing how many marks each point will attract. 

Without exam technique, a student’s answer may be too shallow (resulting in hardly any marks) or too lengthy (resulting in too much time devoted to that question with hardly any time left to complete the final question)

Mistake 8 Not practicing writing

While accountants (and auditors) will spend most of their time crunching numbers, there will come a time when the findings & analysis will have to be presented in a report to stakeholders. 

In the exam, answers will have to be written in words & in FULL SENTENCES. 

You will not be able to do this in the exam if all you do during practice is SCRIBBLING your answers or just jotting down one or two-word answers. 

I am NOT SAYING THAT you have to write out all your answers in full. 

But what I am saying is that, without practicing how to express your ideas in words, you will not be able to present an adequate answer in the exam.

To make progress in writing, you will have to write daily. 

Make writing a daily habit. At first, it may be difficult. 

Practice really does make perfect! (When I say “writing”, I mean “typing because AAA exams are all computer-based now, aren’t they?)

Mistake 9 Not practicing writing to time

It is imperative that you practice writing with a timer. 

A 25 mark question should be completed in 45 minutes. 

You will use 7.5 minutes for reading and planning the answer and the remaining 37.5 minutes to write out the answer.

When the time is up… STOP writing, or it will eat into the time of another question. 

Not having the time to complete the final question on the paper means lost marks.

If students had 10 hours to complete the paper, there would be 100% passes. 

But you only have 3 hours and 15 minutes in the exam. 

Only those who can collect 50 marks or more IN THAT STIPULATED TIME will pass.

I saw a cooking show where accomplished cooks FAILED to win the competition simply because they could not keep to the time. 

They were good cooks but because they did not complete their dish in the time given they got knocked out. 

Time management is crucial. 

Do not imagine you can do this without practice. 

Time management must be practiced.

Mistake 10 Not sitting for mock exams

You should at least sit for ONE MOCK EXAM to be done under exam conditions. (Sit for 3 hours 15 minutes without being distracted). 

Ideally, answers should be MARKED by a tutor. (If you are not studying in a program that offers marking services, you can always mark the paper by yourself, with a suggested answer to refer to). 

The FEEDBACK FROM THE MARKER will expose your blind spots to the things you are doing incorrectly so that these can be fixed before you go in for the exam.

At the same time, it will also highlight what you are doing correctly, and this will boost your self-confidence.

Many students skip this very important part and suffer for it. 

They do not attempt mock exams because they are frightened that it will expose their lack of preparedness.

In a study on mock exams, researchers found that students who attempted three mock exams had a 70% chance of passing compared to only a 30% chance of passing for students who did not. 

If you perform badly at the mock exam at least you will be aware of the areas, you are weak in and make an effort to fix them before the exam day. Remember ...do not skip mock exams

I have been teaching ACCA’s Advanced Audit and Assurance for more than twenty years have worked with many students, some of whom were sitting for the exam for the first time, and they passed. 

They were shown how to prepare for the exam and did not take shortcuts.

You do not have to have multiple re-sits before crossing 50 marks. AAA is a COMPLETELY DO-ABLE paper. Having said that let me emphasize that those who have passed AAA did so ONLY because they prepared correctly for the paper.

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