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ACCA Tutor Interview: How to Pass Financial Accounting

In this tutor interview series, we chat to ACCA F3 tutor Suzanne Richards, get her advice on what you need to do to pass!

In this tutor interview series, we chat with ACCA F3 tutor Suzanne Richards and get her advice on what you need to do to pass the Financial Accounting exam.

ACCA Financial Accounting (formerly F3) isn’t a particularly difficult paper but there are some very specific skills you need to know. Combine the right skills with the right exam technique, says expert tutor Suzanne Richards, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t pass ACCA F3.

We sat down with Suzanne to find out exactly what you need to do to pass Financial Accounting.

Introducing…How to Pass ACCA F3 with Suzanne Richards

Learnsignal: Hi Sue, thanks for making time to chat. So, ACCA F3. What does the paper focus on?

Suzanne: The thing about the ACCA F3 paper is that it’s not too difficult to pass – but there are some specific things students need to know really well.

The whole syllabus relies on a really strong understanding of double-entry bookkeeping, and of the accounting equation as well. Those are the main principles. ACCA F3 is testing the practical skills of a financial accountant.

… ACCA F3 is testing the practical skills of being a financial accountant. The syllabus relies on a strong understanding of double-entry bookkeeping…

Most students I teach have no idea what double-entry bookkeeping is when they first start studying for the course, so it’s important to understand the foundations really well first.

There are a couple of really important concepts in the Learnsignal ACCA F3 videos and students really need to understand those basics before moving on. If you want to pass ACCA F3, it’s absolutely critical not to skip the foundations – even if you think you grasp them.

Learnsignal: Does having practical experience help students pass ACCA F3?

Suzanne: It’s a really practical paper because it’s about how you’d actually go into a company and do their double-entry bookkeeping. Experience is probably useful in that sense.

The thing is though, even if you’re specifically working as a financial accountant your job will be more focused on inputting data into a computer. You can be merrily in putting things into the system without understanding what the system is doing with it. That’s really common, and to pass ACCA F3 you need to know the theory behind the numbers.

Learnsignal: Will all the questions on the ACCA F3 exam be focused on double-entry bookkeeping?

Suzanne: Yes and no. A large proportion of the exam will be testing that, but it might be indirectly not directly. The question might not explicitly tell students that they need that knowledge for the answer, but you’d be expected to call on those principles.

Learnsignal: Which topics are most likely to come up on the ACCA F3 paper?

Suzanne: It’s really hard to pick out specific topics. ACCA F3 is a computer-based exam and we never get to see the papers. The computer randomly generates new questions for each student too, so we don’t have much insight. It’s impossible to question spot, in other words.

calculator and balance sheets
Double-entry bookkeeping is fundamental to ACCA F3.

You need to really have a fundamental knowledge of double-entry bookkeeping to pass ACCA F3. You can’t miss bits of the syllabus – you need to get your head around it because it will come up on the exam.

Saying that, Section B is slightly more predictable. One of the two 15-mark questions will most probably be on preparing the financial statements for a single business – so either a sole trader or a company. Then the other will be on preparing financial statements for a group of companies.

… One of the Section B 15-mark questions will most probably be on preparing financial statements for a single business, and the other will be on preparing financial statements for a group…

Particularly for groups though there are a number of areas where there might be a question on aspects of non-controlling interest; statements of profit and loss; statements of financial position; even elements of each of those combined.

Learnsignal: What is the ACCA F3 question format?

Suzanne: Section A is worth 70%, and consists of 35 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) worth two marks each. Then Section B is worth 30% and consists of two questions worth 15 marks each. All the questions on the paper are compulsory, so you can’t miss out on things you’re not so confident about.

The MCQs give you 4 options from A to D. You might have a question and 4 possible answers, or you might see some statements and be asked to select which are true. Questions like that.

MCQ from specimen ACCA F3 exam.

Choose which statement is correct…

Not all MCQs will take the same amount of time though, even though they’re all worth two marks each. Some might only take 30-seconds because they’re simple, knowledge-based questions, but others might take longer because they require a calculation. It’s about finding the balance so you can answer all the questions in the 2 hours allocated.

Then Section B has the two 15-mark questions, which are split into requirements. One requirement might be worth 8 marks, for example, and then you’ll have two or three other requirements worth three or four marks each. Or you could have four requirements worth four marks each. It can be any combination. Many times, Section B ‘long’ questions are just like longer MCQs.

…. Often, Section B ‘long’ questions are just like longer MCQs, because the 15 mark question is broken into separate requirements which might only be worth three or four marks each…

It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. It’s made explicitly clear on the paper. The question is clearly labelled and split into requirements, with the mark scheme laid out next to it.

What you’ll probably get is one scenario or data set, and requirements relating to that but covering different areas of the syllabus. A might be on non-controlling interests while B asks you to calculate profit attributable to the group owners and C might ask you for the definition of ‘control’, for example.

They’ll likely be independent questions, so if you don’t know requirement A, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on and do B and C, for instance.

Learnsignal: Are ACCA F3 questions narrative-based or numbers based?

Suzanne: Well, a mixture of both but largely numbers based. ACCA F3 is factual and practical, it’s not focused on recommendations or strategy at all. There’s a tiny amount of analysis when you get onto ratios, but it really is minimal.

..the paper is factual and practical: there are specific calculations and theories students must know to pass ACCA F3…

ACCA F3 is a knowledge-based paper. There are calculations and theories students need to know to pass ACCA F3; the answers are definitively right or wrong. For example, a Section B question might ask you to write a couple of lines on what an intangible non-current asset is, but it’s not asking for you to assess, recommend, or interpret.

Often you’ll be asked to prepare a statement of profit or loss, for instance, and that would be entirely numerical. You’d have to know how to set everything out, and they’d give you some of the numbers and you’d have to calculate yourself.

Learnsignal: How much maths do you need to know to pass ACCA F3?

Suzanne: You’ll need to be comfortable with percentages and with rearranging equations. You don’t need to be an A-Level mathematician but you do need a basic grounding. I’d hope students wouldn’t be going into accountancy without a fairly good grasp of maths though! That’s all you need: a fairly good grasp.

You need a fairly good grounding in maths to pass ACCA F3.

Learnsignal: Thanks Sue. I know it’s something students worry about, even if they don’t need to! Let’s talk exam technique. Do you have any exam technique tips for ACCA F3?

Suzanne: It’s less complicated than on the later papers, in so much as it is mainly short, numerical questions. The major issue is to make sure you manage your time effectively – advice I’m sure you’ve heard from every ACCA tutor!

I always tell my students this: read through the paper and pick the questions that are easiest for them first before going on to the more difficult ones. Firstly, if you miss an ‘easy’ question then that’s an easy set of marks you’ve missed out. Secondly, it helps build confidence. You relax into the exam and the harder questions don’t seem quite so hard anymore. Remember that you don’t have to do section A first and section B second too – you can do them the other way around if you’d rather.

…read through the paper and answer the questions that are easiest for you first before going on to the more difficult ones…

Oh, and a really obvious point but it’s a mistake student make all the time… If you’re struggling with an MCQ in section A, please don’t just sit and stare at it. The answer isn’t going to magically jump off the page, and you’re just wasting time. If you don’t know, skip it and address the question last.

And if you really don’t know and you’re running out of time, guess. There’s no negative marking, so you might as well put something down if you really don’t know. After all, you’ve got a 1 in 4 chance of being right.

Learnsignal: What’s the biggest reason students fail ACCA F3?

Suzanne: Oh, 100% that they’re not doing enough practice questions. So many students like to passively learn, without actively doing anything. You know, reading notes over and again. Once you’ve done that initial learning, you need to get onto the questions as soon as possible.

A young girl reading her book
Don’t just passively read notes repeatedly if you want to pass ACCA F3.

Learnsignal: Definitely! Learning something should feel challenging, right? If you don’t feel like you’re testing yourself, you’re probably not learning anything.

Suzanne: Exactly. And if it feels difficult and you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. You just have to learn from your mistakes each time. I say to my students, you should be doing each MCQ at least twice. The first time, to test your knowledge. The second time, to check the first time wasn’t a fluke. If you get it right both times, great. Move on, you know that area. If you get it wrong the second time, do it a third. And so on. It’s all about learning from your mistakes.

Break up the questions you have into chunks of, say, ten. Sit them, see how you get on, and then do them again a week or so later. Obviously, you need to leave time between each attempt – if you do them back-to-back you’ll just remember the answer instead of testing your knowledge.

….the basics are quite straightforward but you need to practice. If you do enough practise questions, you definitely can pass ACCA F3…

The critical thing is to be as time-efficient as possible. Reading notes endlessly isn’t effective; self-testing is. It sounds crass, but it’s fundamentally not too difficult to pass ACCA F3. The basics are quite straightforward but you need to practice. If you do enough practise questions, you definitely can pass ACCA F3.

Learnsignal: Where can students find practice questions for ACCA F3?

Suzanne: Well, there’s an ACCA F3 sample paper available on the ACCA Global website but that only has 35 MCQs. That’s why students should study with someone who can offer practice questions. At the same time though, you wouldn’t just want to practice questions. Students need someone to teach them the core knowledge, and then they need to do practice questions.

That’s how Learnsignal online courses are structured. A tutor – me, for instance – will create a video course, but there are also a number of questions for the students to practice. Tutors write debriefs to help walk the student through the questions where necessary too.

Learnsignal: Which ties nicely into the next question! Why do you think online learning is becoming so popular? And learnsignal, in particular?

Suzanne: Well, both online learning generally and Learnsignal specifically offer amazing flexibility. It means students can dip in and out when they want to, so you’re more likely to make time to study.

Learnsignal works across any device too, so you can fit in study whenever and wherever you have time. You don’t have to spend a whole evening in a traditional class when you’re shattered from work, and you don’t have to give up your entire weekend. It’s not sustainable, to learn like that. It’s more of a slog than it needs to be.

…short and sharp bursts of learning are really effective because you can take in information more easily…

Learnsignal videos are only between 5 and 15 minutes or so, so they’re really convenient. You could stick your headphones in and watch a video on your lunch break, for example, and then do the corresponding questions that evening when you get home. Short and sharp bursts of learning are really effective because you can take in information more easily.

It’s all about effectiveness and efficiency. So when I write a Learnsignal course, I’m focused on being as concise and exam focused as possible. It’s giving you everything you need and nothing you don’t need if you want to pass ACCA F3. And it’s encouraging that active style of learning. It’s not just endlessly reading notes – it’s getting you to do questions, and to actively learn the material. Ultimately, you’re much more likely to pass the ACCA if your learning is flexible, concise and active.

Learnsignal: Sue, thank you so much. Amazing! We’ll look forward to seeing more ACCA course content from you in the Learnsignal library soon.

Suzanne Richards is a qualified chartered accountant with 15 years’ teaching experience covering everything from AS Level Accountancy through to AAT, ACCA, CIMA and ICAEW courses. Her specialist syllabus areas are management accounting, investment appraisal, budgeting, bookkeeping and financial accounting.

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