Changes to the Advanced Technical papers from 2021
From 2021, the CIOT is implementing a number of changes to the Advanced Technical papers. You can read the guidance notes, and see examples of the changes, below.
Currently virtually all ADTEC questions start by requiring the candidate to assume that they are a tax adviser in a firm of accountants or something similar. The scenario is then based around a client with a requirement to either produce some sort of document such as a letter or email, or to produce a computation.
When we introduced the new syllabus at the start of 2019, the main change was the introduction of the Application and Professional Skills (“APS”) paper. Broadly feedback was that the Advisory papers were working well and so the only cosmetic changes were made to the paper such as introducing the requirement with “Requirement”. With the new APS paper, we also decided to change the name of the paper from Advisory because we felt that that title conflicted with the new APS paper which had the provision of advice as its main focus. In addition, the focus of the APS paper is not on technical skills, whereas the focus of this paper is on technical skills.
Change to Question Format
Prompted initially by a discussion on the use of “Your address/My Address” or full addresses in model answers, we considered whether requiring candidates to produce a particular document served any useful purpose from an examination perspective. The key things that we want to test on this paper are technical knowledge and the ability to apply and explain it. In relation to a letter for example, it is really only the body that is of interest to us as each firm will have its own style. We also felt that there was a perception that the PHS marks were primarily to reward creating a letter style. This seemed like a waste because this is not really something of major importance: more important is the clarity of explanation.
As a result, from May 2021 no questions will be set on ADTEC requiring a specific format of answer nor will any contain a fiction as to who the candidate is or that the subject of the question is a client. All written questions will simply require a direct answer. Requirements will start directly with words like “Explain”, “Discuss”, “Compare” and “Calculate”.
To be clear however, the underlying questions will essentially be the same as at present. There may still be scenarios where there is no single correct answer or where the answer is not black or white. We will also expect candidates to make recommendations as to actions which should be taken by the subject of the question (i.e. we still expect advice, albeit not provided to a client).
The best analogy is that answers will now be closer to a Tax Counsel’s Opinion: whilst they will be technical, the style, language and clarity of explanation are still important.
No changes are being made to the Application and Professional Skills or Awareness papers.
Presentation & Higher Skills (“PHS”) Marks
Since there will no longer be any requirement to produce answers in a particular format, there will be no PHS marks available for the format of the answer.
PHS marks will however continue to be awarded on all written questions and will exclusively be for the clarity of explanation. On written questions, there will be 1 mark for a 20 mark question, ½ mark for a 10 mark question and either ½ or 1 mark for a 15 mark question.
As at present, PHS marks will not be awarded on computational questions.
References to Legislation and Case Law
Since the focus of this paper is on technical skills and no question will require a document for a client, candidates will never be penalised for referring to legislation or case law. We will not normally penalise candidates who describe the legislation without giving the reference. Similarly, candidates referring to a case by description rather than name (where they have forgotten the name) will not normally be penalised. Marks will therefore primarily be for the underlying technical skills.
As at present, there may be some questions where we specifically ask for an answer by reference to legislation or case law and in such cases candidates who do not provide such references will miss out on some marks.
It is important to note that we still expect the answer to be clear and easy to read.
Provision of Advice
Whilst the provision of advice is not the focus of this paper, it is naturally a part of analysing a problem that you need to reach a conclusion. In the same way that Tax Counsel will reach a conclusion, we will still expect candidates to reach a conclusion and to provide any advice which will be relevant to the taxpayer (even though the advice is not directly to the taxpayer).
Since no question will require something for a client, candidates can always include references to legislation and case law. However, it is important to note the preceding paragraph on PHS marks.
Benefits from Change
The benefits we see from these change are:
- Questions will be shorter.
- Sometimes the need to pretend that the subject is a client can create difficulties, for example over whether or not they have been taken on as a client or where perhaps the question relates to two persons (and so in practice we might not be able to advise both).
- Time will be saved by candidates not having to produce answers in a particular format.
- The PHS marks can be awarded for the clarity of explanation rather than the mechanical format.
- It better reflects the focus of this paper.
Example of Change
Below you can view a question drafted under the pre-2021 format and re-drafted under the Post-2021 format.