ACA exams - How difficult are they?


HI all,

Been reading up on ACA exams and sometimes I come across horror stories of how difficult they are etc. I know they are difficult and you need to put in lot of time to get thru…

Could someone realistically tell me the amount of time that needs to be spent studying for them. I believe each of the Big 4 do the training differently. I am more interested in PwC. How much of time do you need to spend over the weekends and the evenings to get thru? Do PwC give study leave after college is over and before the exams?

Also, it would be great if people could give their tips and tricks on the best way to get thru the exams. I am about to start my qualification at PwC soon. Feeling very nervous about it as my job is on the line if I dont do well in the exams.

Thanks a lot :slight_smile:


Feeling generous today so I’ll answer your question.

It is a lot of work. There’s no way around that really. The ACA exams aren’t much like university exams. I personally find them less intellectually challenging but demanding in other ways.

There’s a lot of material to cover. For the professional stage, you cannot markup the set texts so there’s a lot of rote learning.

Outside of college time each knowledge paper is around 20 hours of work, application papers can be over 100. Either way, just before your exams you will be working from morning till night.


Agree with loquitor. Lots of cramming. Lots of material. Tough if you’ve absolutely no business or finance background but you’ll soon get the hang of things.
PwC guys have to pretty much self teach the knowledge subjects of which there are six. 3 weeks to study three subjects then you take the three exams. Next cycle 3 weeks, three exams.
A short break in between the two sets of three when you do client work.
Application stage: 6 weeks at college to do three subjects. Exams at the end of the 6 weeks. (There are two cycles of 6 weeks. Timing depends on your client committments). College 9 til 4.30 then lots of homework in the evening and weekends.
It’s a very hard slog but worth it.


Another small piece of information on timing of study for ACA exams.
Just been talking to some PwC graduate trainees.
The ones who started in the April intake studied and sat 9 exams in their first 5 months at PwC. Compared with the September intake who sit the same exams over a 10 month period. Arguably less exam pressure for the September intake or you get through the exams quicker (if you survive the pace!) in the April intake.


did you get a safe 2:1 in a (semi)mathematical subject? then easy/doable…


Conversely do not take wikijob99’s posting the wrong way.
Quite do-able for non mathematical gaduates too!
A not insubstantial number of “non relevant subject graduates” (apologies for the clumsy terminology, but generally, Classics, Languages, Humanities etc) join the Accountancy profession and cope perfectly well with ACA exams. The interview process is designed to select those graduates who will cope with ACA exams.


I got a 1st in accounting and finance will ACA be easy for me?


The obvious answer and the one which I rather suspect that you expect is “yes”.
However that may not be the case in fact.
You need to consider:

  1. The standard of the course and university you attended.
  2. The standard of the marking of that course.
    3.The topics covered.
    1 and 2 are pretty self explanatory. Let’s assume you went to a Russell Group university (but it won’t be Oxbridge as they don’t offer undergrad degree in accountancy. Presumably not considered academic subject) whose accountancy course is highly/well rated by the usual bench marks used to grade UK universities. ICAEW standards are high. The work is detailed and exacting.
    Re 3. Did your course overlap with the subjects on the ACA syllabus? If so then you should find the ACA professional stage straightforward and will most likely be eligible for exemptions (check the ICAEW website). That’s good news.
    Our Institute wants to be in control of setting standards it deems appropriate to produce professionally qualified Chartered Accountants. Hence it’s own study program and exams.
    It does not require an accountancy degree, as you know. Indeed, recent statistics show that only 11% of graduates entering ACA training have Accountancy and Finance degrees. So really it’s a shame you didn’t do a degree in another subject to broaden your intellectual horizons. ie all you’re going to do now is study accountancy for another three years.
    I find the most interesting accountants and those with more to offer have studied for different degreees at uni.
    Anyway, as you have a 1st in accountancy there will be high expectations from your peer group who will expect you to sail through, help them and get the class prize.
    Many congratulations on your first and good luck with your ACA.
    Which firm are you joining?

Ability is not about which university you attended at all. They teach you the same accounting/finance principles everywhere. I graduated from a London uni which is not even in the ranking and I am eligible for five exemptions. Its about determination, hard work and having a clear goal.


Re: tutor

You say:
“So really it’s a shame you didn’t do a degree in another subject to broaden your intellectual horizons. ie all you’re going to do now is study accountancy for another three years. I find the most interesting accountants and those with more to offer have studied for different degreees at uni.”

How is it shame on him/her for having a clear career goal as early as at Uni stage? Why would he/she mind doing accountancy for another 3 years? Assuming he/she is doing the qualifications means he/she chose accountancy career which goes beyond 3 year period - either in professional services, or otherwise.

Broaden horizons? Most accountants from non business degree background I talked to confessed that they did not see themselves doing what they studied because their course choice was random and not well thought through in the longer term. All that made them feel better than accounting students was conviction that their course was more “intellectual”.

  1. There is common misconception that accountancy is just about stupid number crunching. Totally neglecting the fact that accountants create rules that they use to govern themselves <sic!>, that it needs to shift with the social information needs etc.

2.If you look at the development of the profession then you will notice that e.g. what made Arthur Andersen fail was the recruitment policy that gradually paid less attention to attracting accounting students -those who had a deep understanding of what makes professional services legitimate from social point of view.

“Anyway, as you have a 1st in accountancy there will be high expectations from your peer group who will expect you to sail through, help them and get the class prize.”

After all, I would not care about the prize if I were you. Congratulations on 1st.


I’m sorry hicsuntleones if I appear to have offended, for that was most certainly not my intention in any way, shape or form. I acknowledge that my comments went somewhat beyond the remit of the question from James23.
I certainly admire James23 for his hard work dedication and focus. He will most probably have no trouble with the exams since he has already studied accountancy and finance. My comments in my previous post are merely observations based on my experiences and personal viewpoint. And, yes I do have a thing about trying to encourage folk who want to do ACA not to also do a degree in accountancy and to expand their horizons. You’ll find that many in the profession will give similar advise to students. Did you know that graduates with music degrees are extremely suited to accountancy? The intellectual skills required to read , play and compose music are ideally suited to careers involving numeracy and mathematics.
So, a university education is all about transferable skills. This is clearly demonstrated by my already quoted statistic that only 11% of graduates entering ACA training have a degree in Accountancy and Finance. For sure the other 89% do not fail the ACA exams and generally proceed through a most successful accountancy/finance career. I think if you look at the profiles of CEOs, CFOs and partners of large accountancy firms for example, they all have very different first degree subject backgrounds. One of the sharpest and brightest tax partners that I came across had a double first in Classics from Cambridge.
Indeed, many people who know that after university they want to work in the city do not choose finance related degrees. Eg all those at Oxbridge.
Having a university degree in Engineering, Law, PPE, languages, pure science, just to cite some examples is actually better for your finance career as you have a much wider skill base. In fact the combination of Law and ACA is a very powerful qualification.
Having a degree in accountancy and finance then doing ACA means that you are in effect duplicating your study. You are going to spend about 40 years working. Isn’t it considerably more interesting and more benefit to have experience of other areas of learning.
Your comment on the failure of Arthur Andersen is interesting. I haven’t read that article.