When approaching a challenging task, I recommend you follow Stephen Covey’s advice in his landmark bestseller, ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Stephen recommends that you should always start with the end in mind.

Applying this to a challenging subject like ‘ACCA Advanced Tax ‘or ICAEW ‘Business Planning taxation’ means that you first need to take a detailed look at a recent exam paper. I call this ‘mapping out the terrain’ and involves doing some detailed reconnaissance prior to starting the mission.

When you look at the exam, read it in a relaxed fashion noticing how the exam question is written. At this point, you do not have the technical knowledge to fully understand the question. However, what you are doing is learning application skills, so you are able to pinpoint what the examiner is looking for.

In these high-level professional exams, the examiners try and simulate the real work environment by giving you several documents such as client letter, an email from your tax manager and schedules of detailed information such as group structures and companies being bought and sold, use of trading and capital losses and the potential sale of assets such as buildings or shares.

Other questions will involve setting up or selling an unincorporated businesses and personal circumstances of clients or family members such as residence and income levels to appreciate the different tax implications of gifts or inheritances.

One of the hurdles in the exam is learning how to navigate through all the documentation gleaning snippets of information so you can create a ‘mental picture’ of the clients’ circumstances to determine their circumstances.

This will also enable you to appreciate some of the easier parts of the syllabus that you can do without high level technical information such as ethics, presentation, and generalised areas such as VAT returns. National Insurance or stamp duty. You can pick up these easy marks to help you achieve the targeted 50%

Another analogy which is useful is planning a military campaign for a battle. By you understanding the adversary, you can then allocate your resources (time and energy) in the most efficient way.

In a military campaign, it is then useful to take stock of your equipment. Here, your tools are the technical material such as your study notes, the ACCA or Institute support resources and most importantly, your lecturer, who I hope will be me. In a military context, I am like a seasoned team leader that has successfully mounted many campaigns and guided hundreds (in fact, thousands) of students to success in the past.

Another aspect which is of great benefit is to review your notes from the basic tax paper you have covered earlier so you can have a head start. Think of the high-level tax papers as building a structure which rests on the foundation of the basic tax knowledge you gained earlier. One of the key reasons for students stumbling in the heat of the exam is their basic knowledge lets them down and they cannot process the information quickly enough to gain a pass mark. Try and spend a few hours looking back at the material from the first tax paper so when you start dealing with the high-level professional tax exams, you are building on a strong foundation.

Finally, review the tax rates and information available to you in the exam. If you understand the information provided, then you do not have to learn this information. However, you must be able to quickly access this information in the exam.

Credit to ‘Beast Thinks’ for the illustration attached.