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How to Study ACCA While Working: A Tutor’s View

In this tutor interview series, we ask two expert ACCA tutors Peter Woolley and Mary Farmer for their thoughts!

In this tutor interview series, we ask two expert ACCA tutors Peter Woolley and Mary Farmer for their thoughts on studying for the ACCA while working.

  • Should I study for the ACCA while working?
  • How can I balance work and study?
  • How difficult is it?

These are some of the most common questions ACCA students ask us, so we thought we’d get the answers from people who’ve been there, done that and got ACCA membership to prove it!

We asked two of our top ACCA tutors, Peter Woolley and Mary Farmer, for their advice. Peter was in practice with a Big 4 firm for nearly a decade and Mary is an experienced accounting & finance trainer with global financial services experience in London and New Zealand. Between them they’ve been helping ACCA students pass their exams for more than two decades.

What challenges do students face studying ACCA while working?

The biggest challenge students face if they study for ACCA while working is time management, and both tutors agree. In particular, if students have other time commitments aside from working and studying – family, for example – you’ll find time is very tight. You’ll be managing a heavy workload, and you’ll find you have very little free time.

Most students find it important to stick to a regular routine, so if you have irregular hours that can make your life more difficult. Little things like your daily commute can have an impact on how much time you have available to study. Balancing work pressure with study can be a real challenge, Peter points out. You’ll be under pressure in the workplace to perform well, and under pressure in your own time to study well. If you choose to study ACCA while working it’s fair to say you’ll be under pretty much constant pressure – you need to be able to handle that.

Is studying ACCA while working a good idea?

Studying for the ACCA while working

It comes down to personality, personal preference, and personal circumstance. There’s no definitive answer. On the downside, studying for ACCA while working is hard work for a good few years. Your leisure time will suffer, and the workload is intense. If time management is a weakness for you then you might struggle.

Studying for the ACCA while working is hard work. Studying full-time is a bit more relaxed and gives you more time to get to grips with the material. If you study before working, at University, for example, you can benefit from a broader experience that can be useful. On the other hand, relevant workplace experience can help you better understand how the theory and the practical side of the ACCA fit together. This understanding can help you do better in your ACCA exams.

“…relevant workplace experience can help you better understand how the theory and the practical side of the ACCA fit together…”

Peter says that studying ACCA while working can be mutually beneficial because your day job helps you learn while your learning helps performance in your day job. It can be a real positive on your resume as it demonstrates to future employers that you’re committed and can manage your time well. Studying for ACCA while working also has the big advantage that you’re earning money while you study. For many students, studying without working is difficult, if not impossible.

You’ll also likely earn your ACCA qualification more quickly if you study while you work, so you can start building your career more quickly. If you’re ambitious and can commit to managing a challenging workload, you’ll likely prefer to study while you work. On the other hand, if you struggle with time management you could find juggling both means you don’t leave enough time to study. If this is the case, you’ll be less likely to pass your ACCA exams.

I’m studying for the ACCA while working… How can I manage my time more effectively?

It’s essential to plan your study time and stick to it as much as possible, Mary says. If you don’t plan your time, you’re unlikely to get everything done that you need to. ACCA students should create a study plan as soon as they enrol for the exams, leaving enough time to study all the materials in-depth and revise them too. As the exams are approaching, you should create a revision timetable as well. You should ensure you go over information multiple times to maximise your understanding.

Saying that one mistake that ACCA students commonly make is to spend all their time studying or working. You need to build in planned breaks and ensure you still have some free time because you can’t be effective if you work all the time. Don’t burn out!

A person holding a glass of wine

You need to make time to relax if you don’t want to burn out. It’s really important to make sure your boss knows what you’re up against. Find a mentor who’s been through it and ask them to talk to your boss if needs be. Plenty of people study for the ACCA while working, but your life will be much easier if the people around you appreciate the challenge you’re undertaking.

And be as efficient as possible when you do study. If you’re studying for the ACCA while working, you don’t have time to waste. Peter recommends that students study by setting volume targets, not time targets as this is much more efficient. In other words, “I’m going to do these three questions” not “I’m going to study for two hours”. ACCA students should be aware of how, where and when they study best and tailor their study accordingly. Study technique, environment, and timing are all important.

Peter recommends that students make time to study early in the day before you start work. That way you don’t have the chance to put it off later if you’re tired or something has come up, and your study is always your priority. Get up and go into work early, he advises. Find a quiet meeting room and do some work before the day starts: then you’ve always done something, every day.

“…make time to study early in the day, before you start work. That way you don’t have the chance to put it off later and your study is always your priority…”

If you spend a lot of time on the go, you should definitely be using an online revision course so you can study whenever and wherever you are. Lastly, our tutors add, it’s important to look after yourself. It probably sounds trite, but don’t neglect your health. It’s easy to fall into bad habits when you’re tired and busy, but poor diet, exercise or sleeping habits genuinely will have a negative impact on your performance. You’ll likely find some papers difficult without professional experience.

Many ACCA students will find P3 (Business Analysis) easier to pass if they have professional experience as it’s a skills-based paper. The more you’ve seen of the real world, the better your answer will be. It really helps to have a solid idea of how an organisation works and the real-world challenges faced. The same applies to P5 (Advanced Performance Management) for the same reason.

Can I pass ACCA without any professional experience?

People studying together

You can pass the exams without having professional experience, but you still have to get professional experience in order to become a qualified accountant and ACCA member. The exams are only one component. Even if you pass your exams you’ll still need to go on and pass the professional experience requirement. You can read more about the PER on the  ACCA Global website.

What kinds of work experience count towards the PER?

Often ACCA students think that work has to be of a high level to count, Mary says, but it doesn’t.  You could have started off doing something quite simple, like chasing debtors or reconciling bank statements, but this all counts towards the PER. Most bodies consider it quite important to have done these basic tasks at some stage in your career. It doesn’t have to be the work that you would do as a qualified accountant.

Work you did before you registered for the ACCA can still count as long as your (qualified) supervisor at that time can review and sign off on the performance objectives you achieved. That work can be a work placement or internship as long as you had a qualified supervisor. Temporary or part-time work can also count, but you need to be sure you’re getting enough depth of exposure to achieve the relevant performance objectives. The more in-depth your experience is, the more likely you are to pass the requirement and the more beneficial your wider understanding of the ACCA exams. If you’re going to study for the ACCA while working, a full-time job is generally the better option.

“…if you’re going to study for the ACCA while working, a full-time job is generally the better option….”

The ideal role would be one where most of your tasks are finance or accounting related, Mary says. This includes audit, tax, insolvency and so on – you don’t just have to be preparing accounts. Just make sure you log experience early on, to make it easier to submit later on.

For Peter, accounts preparation work is helpful as it allows you to see the whole business through the eyes of the numbers. He also recommends that students get stuck in on the commercial side as much as possible. Advising clients at high-level and getting involved in the likes of mergers & acquisitions – these things give you great commercial experience that skills you up in no time. Commercial experience can help you build your skills quickly.

What kind of organisation is best for the ACCA experience?

Two men laughing

Experience can be gained in all sorts of different organizations, and there are pros and cons to everything. Working in a large company can mean you get the chance to move around and gain exposure to a lot of different areas, while smaller employers might limit your experience. On the other hand, a smaller organization might be more proactive and supportive in helping you gain as much exposure as possible.

“…Practice gives you breadth and depth of experience but working in industry means you get valuable implementation experience…”

Practice gives you the opportunity to see loads of different ways of tackling the same problems – you get breadth and depth of experience. That said, working in the industry means you get valuable implementation experience. Mary points out that students might want to consider working with an ACCA Approved Employer. This is an employer that the ACCA recognizes as having such a strong internal training program that you don’t need to log the performance objectives.

These definitely make it easier for the student as you don’t have to log in as much, but it won’t be right for everyone. It’s more important to choose an organization that you feel is the right fit for you. Ultimately, studying for the ACCA while working will suit some students but not others. If you’re adept at time management and happy to make sacrifices in your social life, studying for the ACCA while working is likely an attractive option. The experience you gain is likely to help you better understand the ACCA exam content, and earning money while you study is appealing to most students. Studying and working can complement each other and you can find you do better in both camps as a result.

However, if you’re not strong at managing your time and don’t cope well with pressure, studying for the ACCA while working can be counterintuitive. While working can complement your studies, it can also undermine them if you’re not disciplined about making time to study. The worst-case scenario is that you end up performing badly on both fronts because you don’t have enough time or energy to commit to either.

Alan Lynch
8 min read

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