Top tips on passing a CTA advisory exam

Nitin Rabheru, a senior tutor from BPP Professional Education, gives some tips on passing a CTA advisory exam

  1. Knowledge

    At the advisory level it cannot be denied that there is a lot to learn. But learning what you need to know is just the first stage on your pathway to exam success.

    For many students this can often be the first hurdle.  Some spend too much time using the study manuals without minimal question practice, others tend not to cover all areas of the syllabus.

    Sadly, students’ assumed is often not good enough . Perhaps this is down to you sitting your previous paper a while ago, or even having been exempt, but you cannot expect to be successful if your basics are weak.  Take time to nail down your fundamentals.

    Students must have a good understanding of all areas of the syllabus and allocate more time to topics they find difficult.

    I recommend that all my students create a revision folder from day one of the taught course. The folder should be divided into all key areas to ensure you have sufficient technical coverage by the time they get into the exam.

  2. Structured question practice

    The key to success is being able to identify key issues, scenarios and tax problems within a question. Not knowing where to begin or how to start a question is a very common barrier to passing.

    No matter where you are in your studies, you need to start reviewing, annotating and planning/practising questions and continue doing this until the exam. Many students underestimate the importance of reviewing past exam questions and examiners’ reports.

  3. Learn to give advice

    It is important that you do not simply knowledge dump, you need to think about the tax impact on the client.

    In addition to having the technical knowledge, you must be able to apply your knowledge to the scenario given in the question. In fact, the Examining Team do not like it when students simply ‘brain dump’ knowledge into their answers. Rather than listing out your knowledge apply it directly to the facts in the question.

    The more times you use the word ‘because’, the better – you are demonstrating that you are applying your knowledge to say why, for example, a particular relief may be available, or why you would (or indeed wouldn’t) recommend claiming it.

    When giving advice in the exam, you need to use the correct format as well as stating the general position and applying your knowledge you have worked so hard to learn to the actual scenario/question. Remember to also state due dates and timings of any relevant elections, together with a reason as to why you think that election is or is not beneficial.

    Try and provide a recommendation stating what the client should, or should not, do.

  4. Be prepared

    Create self-made pass cards, crib sheets or model answer plans, as well as practising writing sentences out in full too. Work through calculation questions and prepare computational proformas. The more mistakes you make during the study phase the better. Be sure to make a note of these mistakes to avoid repeating them in the exam.

  5. Rehearsal

    I would recommend practising at least one full paper before the real exam, ideally a few. This will enable you to think about skills such as time management, as well as the application.

  6. Plan your question before you start writing

    A little time invested in reading and planning can really maximise your marks; by enabling you to identify all of what the examiner has asked you to do, and the relevant information you need to complete those tasks.

    The best approach is to actively read the question, starting with the requirements. The requirements give you an idea of how you will be using the data in the question, and what to look out for.

    Annotate the question, or if you prefer, draw a quick diagram; key facts about the individual(s) or companies in the question, with a group structure if it isn’t given to you.

    Having the key information in one place will save you time re-reading the question. Key facts should be (depending on the type of advisory paper) are things like: dates of all relevant events, ownership percentages of companies, ages of individuals, and residence status.

    Where necessary break each requirement down into parts (perhaps with different coloured highlighters?) – note that each ‘and’ gives you another job to do, then you can tick each part as it’s done. That way you’ve hit the whole marking grid.

  7. Exam Technique is CRUCIAL

    This is another area frequently mentioned in the Examining Team’s comments. Key points to consider here:

    • Timing
      • Stick carefully to the time allocation for each question, and for each part of each question.
      • You must keep to time across the paper - 1.8 minutes per mark.
    • Answer the question asked, not the question you wanted to be asked
      • Always read the requirements twice.
      • Once before you read all the information so that you know what has been asked before you start to plan and then once more before you write up your answer.
      • There will be no marks available in a marking guide for something technically correct if you are not answering the question asked!
    • Clear, concise writing style
      • If you have the knowledge, it is amazing how much you need to get down in a short space of time!
      • Practise: using headings and sub-headings, ensuring you give adequate explanations of calculations and that you make each point clearly.
      • Think before you write. Then write whatever is necessary to satisfy the requirement.

Good luck!