If you’re wondering how to pass your ACCA Advanced Audit and Assurance exam, this comprehensive guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Whether you’ve got Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA) coming up, are considering enrolling, or want to know how to resit, you need to keep reading.
Before we start, it is important to know that there are variants of AAA, as you have the option of taking the accounting and auditing exams based on international standards, UK standards, and national standards in certain countries.
You can choose the exam which you will be sitting, depending on the auditing standards that are most relevant to your career. Read more about the ACCA variant exams.
The advice given in this blog is relevant to all auditing standards, and as such all students considering this subject.
The AAA syllabus is designed to further your knowledge and skills from the Audit and Assurance syllabus, and use these to analyse, evaluate and conclude on the assurance engagement and other audit and assurance issues in the context of best practice and current developments.
The AAA exam is one of four options papers, from which you have to do two.
It’s important to note that if you are not working in an audit related profession this paper can be very difficult as you are required to have a broad understanding of all stages of the audit and be able to plan, consider procedures and tests, and report, as would be expected by a professional auditor – if you don’t do this as part of your job, it can prove very difficult for students.
Furthermore, it is important that you complete the Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) course ahead of AAA, as it is essential that you have a strong financial reporting base and knowledge of the accounting standards for this exam, as the standards within SBR are also examinable in AAA.
Strategic Professional Option papers follow the same format. You get a total time of three hours and 15 minutes to complete the AAA exam and the pass mark, like all other exams in the ACCA qualification, is 50%. AAA is both paper-based and computer-based. This is dependent on the region you are sitting it in; you don’t have the option to choose one or the other.
The AAA exam consists of two sections with all compulsory questions. The breakdown of these is as follows:
Section A comprises a 50 mark case study question (which includes 4 professional marks) set at the planning stage of the audit.
Section B contains two 25-mark questions. One of the questions in section B will be predominantly focused on the completion, review and reporting stage, with the other question may come from any area of the syllabus.
As touched upon previously, the aim of the ATX syllabus is to apply relevant knowledge and skills, and exercise professional judgement in providing relevant information and advice to individuals and businesses on the impact of the major taxes on financial decisions and situations.
In order to achieve this goal ACCA outlines the 4 main capabilities that candidates should be able to do upon completion of this exam:
- Recognise the legal and regulatory environment and its impact on audit and assurance practice.
- Demonstrate the ability to work effectively on an assurance or other service engagement within a professional and ethical framework.
- Assess and recommend appropriate quality control policies and procedures in practice management and recognise the auditor’s position in relation to the acceptance and retention of professional appointments.
- Identify and formulate the work required to meet the objectives of audit assignments and apply the International Standards on Auditing.
- Evaluate findings and the results of work performed and draft suitable reports on assignments.
- Identify and formulate the work required to meet the objectives of non-audit assignments.
- Understand the current issues and developments relating to the provision of audit-related and assurance services.
Download the complete ACCA Advanced Audit and Assurance study and syllabus guideto review in depth.
You might also want to read these technical articles addressing syllabus areas for Advanced Audit and Assurance.
AAA Exam Study Tips
1. Refresh your assumed audit knowledge
As we said above, AAA is a continuation (albeit quite a large step up) from Audit and Assurance at the applied skills level. It’s definitely worth reviewing the previous syllabus before jumping into this course, to ensure you’re completely confident on the assumed knowledge from this paper.
That applies even – or especially – if you had exemptions on this paper. You might have covered the material at an equivalent level before enrolling for AAA, but you might not have covered the same areas in the same depth.
This is one big reason students fail ACCA exams, because the paper assumes foundational knowledge that some students just don’t have. There’s nothing worse than discovering your weak on important concepts when you’re mid-way through the exam, so if you notice this when studying don’t shy away from going back and reviewing material and questions from the AA course – a good foundation of knowledge will give you a base to build on for success in the advanced paper.
2. Ensure you have a good knowledge of financial reporting standards
The AAA exam tests the knowledge of accounting standards that you should have developed when completing both the Financial Reporting and Strategic Business Reporting courses. Therefore it is essential that you have completed SBR before attempting this paper.
An understanding of accounting standards is essential to an auditor, and this exam is no different. You will not be able to pass the paper if you cannot understand the appropriateness of financial reporting decisions, and recommend suitable adjustments as needed. If you have this knowledge and can display it in the exam you will demonstrate to the examiner that you have the required knowledge of an audit professional and your grade will reflect that.
3. Give yourself 12 weeks of preparation
At Strategic Professional level the exams are very complex and the syllabus is long and deep, therefore we recommend using a full 12 week study cycle to prepare for this.
This allows you to follow our recommended study plan which includes 8 weeks of reviewing the content and learning through question walkthroughs, enabling you to get through the full syllabus as noted above; and 4 weeks of our exam technique phase which includes which focuses on exam and question practice through our Mock Exams, webinars and Revision Bootcamp.
Having this structured study in place will give you both a strong foundation of knowledge and god exam technique to give you the best chance of passing the paper.
4. Assume the role of an auditor in the real world
The key to the AAA exam is to get into the role and demonstrate the skills that would be required of a real professional auditor. You must approach each question as if you are an auditor in the real world, as you are required to apply your knowledge in different scenarios and at different stages in the audit cycle, or in non-audit engagements.
The examiner makes it very clear that writing generic theory won’t be enough to pass. Furthermore, simply learning off past paper answers will not suffice, as you have to demonstrate your knowledge by applying it to the scenario provided – candidates who fall into this trap of rote learning will not perform well in the exam. Candidates who think like an auditor throughout the cycle, and suggest actions accordingly in the context of the scenario will be far more successful.
5. Practice Makes perfect
There is no escaping the fact that the only way you will get a grasp of the concepts in this syllabus is through question practice. Therefore this should be the cornerstone of your study – practice, practice, practice. It’s the only way you will develop the exam technique to pick out the key information in the scenario and answer accordingly using your knowledge of the syllabus.
Don’t get disheartened if this is difficult at the start – remember, you learn more from your failures then your successes, so even if you struggled with a question, review the solution, go back and review the content as needed, and then try that questions again to see if you’ve made sense of what was required. If you can keep working through questions in that manner, you will start to develop a very good understanding of both the content and how it is examined.
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Find out what you get with learnsignal membership in this article.
AAA Exam Technique
1. Plan your answer before jumping in
The exam is all compulsory questions, therefore planning for the paper as a whole is vital, and you need a time management system in place throughout.
With a 3 hour 15 minute paper, we recommend spending the first 15 minutes reading through the paper and determining the order you want to approach it. This leaves 3 hours, or 180 minutes for you to complete the 100 mark paper – so you should spend 1.8 minutes for every mark.
From a planning perspective for each individual question, I would recommend splitting the requirements into smaller sections, especially
for the 50 mark question in Section A. Also make sure you read the question carefully and take your time in thinking about an approach and solution. Often in the audit paper the analysis you will have done in a previous requirement (around materiality or audit risk analysis, for example) is necessary in your conclusions later in the question.
If you start writing too quickly, or before you have done the necessary calculations or analysis, you will miss key points and marks, so take time to ensure that you have understood the context of the question. Remember, always answer the question asked.
2. Good layout and structure will help the marks roll in
Ensuring that you maintain a concise and professional structure to your answer will make your points clear to the examiner. To do this, you must be organised and have a systematic approach to answering the question.
You should have built this skillset up during your question practice leading up to the exam.
Once again, the best way to structure your answer to earn professional marks is to assume the role of the auditor in the scenario and replicate the deliverable in your answer (i.e if the questions requires you to prepare briefing notes, this should be the format of your answer). For example, if asked to prepare something for an audit partner in the questions, think what would be an appropriate document to present in line with the requirements of the question.
Planning will enable you to produce logical, well thought out and organised answers that hits all the key points. Your answer should be concise with value-adding statements, and you should not waste time on lengthy general introductions and conclusions.
3. Make sure you are applying your knowledge to the scenario
Remember the expectation at this stage is synthesis and evaluation so make sure you are always linking your analysis back to the scenario. You need to consider the scenario given before you start writing an answer and not simply state general risks, procedures, etc.
Each company has their own particular set of circumstances and you will have to tailor your audit planning, procedures and tests accordingly. Similarly, when making conclusions on ethical issues or audit report opinions you need to always use the information you are presented with in the question, and make your conclusions accordingly..
Remember, the sentences you write should be on topic at all times and add value to your answer – don’t waste time trying to provide additional information to show off your knowledge that is not related to the scenario and instead move on to the next requirement.
What the Examiners Say
To finish let’s look at some points from the person who you need to please the most on the day of the exam – the examiner!
They highlight our previous point that financial reporting is essential:
“Candidates should note that all the financial reporting standards which are included in the examinable documents for SBR are examinable in AAA. Candidates should ensure that they are fully conversant with the financial reporting standards covered by SBR to maximise their ability to effectively identify how audit risks may arise from these issues and propose effective procedures to address those risks.”
Even more important they highlight the areas that candidates who were unsuccessful in the most recent exam sitting fell down in:
“A common feature of weaker answers in this subject is the use of rote learned knowledge without application to a specific scenario. Such an approach does not demonstrate the skills which are required at this level to demonstrate audit competence. Producing answers to a past question which do not address the specific issues in the examination will take up valuable time without resulting in marks. Past question practice should be used to develop technique, analysis skills and time management rather than with the aim of producing the same answer in an examination where the scenario will be different.”
If you can avoid these mistakes, and take on board the advice given in this blog, you’ll have a really good chance of passing your Advanced Audit and Assurance exam!