The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, known as the ICAEW for short, was founded in 1880 and is, according to their website, “a global professional body for chartered accountants”.

In the UK, it’s worth noting that an “accountant” is not a term that is specifically regulated. This means that, in practice, anyone can claim to be an accountant, even if they have very limited numerical skills and have no awareness of accounting standards such as UK GAAP or IFRS.

Thankfully, there are bodies such as the ICAEW in the UK that operate as regulatory bodies and provide qualifications that lead to a chartered accountancy designation for successful individuals. Members of the ICAEW are known as an ACA (Association of Chartered Accountants).

Having such a designation means that the individual has completed all examination, practical work experience, and other membership requirements of the ICAEW. What’s more, it means that the individual is sufficiently experienced and trained in matters relating to accountancy.

Having such a qualification can really help an individual to stand out from the pack and can really help boost your career prospects within the accounting industry.

What’s more, having a chartered accountant designation also helps the general public to determine whether an accountant or accounting practice is suitably qualified and as such it provides an extra level of reassurance to potential clients.

Which ICAEW Exams Do I Need To Pass To Become A Chartered Accountant?

Becoming a chartered accountant with the ICAEW is no easy feat. This is because there are a lot of exams that qualified accountants have to pass in order to exam-qualify for the ACA. However, once you have passed your final exams, you are one step closer to becoming an ACA chartered accountant, which can make huge inroads in terms of your career.

The types of exams you face during your ACA qualification will vary, as the ACA aims to equip students with a depth and breadth of knowledge when it comes to a number of topics, including:

  • Accounting and taxation;
  • Audit;
  • Business strategy;
  • Management accounting; and
  • Finance.

This means that anyone with an ACA qualification should be well-rounded in terms of their accounting and business knowledge, which is crucial in today’s business environment.

In total, students undertaking the ACA qualification would be expected to sit and pass 15 exams. Understandably, it can take students time to study each examination module, and it’s not uncommon for students to take a few years to complete all the exams, especially if you are also working with your employer while studying.

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An image of a clock face. It can take time to pass all of the ICAEW exams.
It can take some time for students to pass every single exam from the ICAEW if they are looking to obtain the ACA qualification. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, jairojehuel, Pixabay)

Breaking Down The ACA Exams

As noted above, there are 15 exams to complete as part of the ACA qualification. These exams are split across three separate levels:

  • The certificate level;
  • The professional level; and
  • The advanced level.

The certificate level is the first set of exams that students will usually tackle. There are six exams at this level, including:

  • Accounting;
  • Assurance;
  • Business, Technology and Finance;
  • Law;
  • Management Information; and
  • Principles of Taxation.

These exams, as their titles suggest, cover a wide variety of topics that form the basis for subsequent exams at the other levels.

Even if you’re not sure if you would like to complete all of the exams required in order to obtain the ACA, then it’s useful to know that completing the six exams at the certificate level will put the student one step closer to obtaining the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (CFAB).

Although completing the CFAB on its own does not entitle you to call yourself an ACA or a chartered accountant, the CFAB certification is still an internationally recognised qualification, which shows potential or existing employers that you have knowledge of a broad range of areas, including accounting, finance, and business.

The CFAB can also usually be completed within a 12 month period, which is good for those who may not have the time commitment available to continue with the full ACA course of study.

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What Happens If I Fail An Exam?

It’s important to note that, while you are permitted to re-sit examination modules if you fail an exam, exam sittings only happen at set times each year. What’s more, if you are able to pass every ACA exam first time, this can be a real selling point on your CV when the time does come to find a new role.

That is an excellent reason to work with an accounting tutor!

However, don’t be disheartened if you aren’t able to pass your ACA exams the first time – they are tough to get through, and having passed all of them, even with re-sits, is still a major achievement in itself!

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An empty examination hall. You have to pass a lot of ICAEW exams to exam-qualify for the ACA.
It's great if you can pass all your ICAEW exams the first time, but don't worry too much if you do fail one or two - there are a lot of exams to pass in order to become ACA exam-qualified! (Image Source: CC0 1.0, PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay)

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Practical Work Experience

Even once you’ve passed the above exams, the hard work to become ACA qualified doesn’t stop there.

This is because there are other requirements that students must meet in order to apply to become a member of the ICAEW.

For instance, in addition to the examination requirements, there is also a requirement for students to complete a set amount of relevant practical work experience. This helps to ensure that ACA chartered accountants have enough experience working within industry or practice before carrying the ACA title.

The amount of relevant practical work experience you’ll need to have accumulated prior to applying for membership to the ICAEW is significant but very achievable. This is because the number of days of work experience is in excess of a year’s worth of experience.

For example, if, alike many ACA candidates, you find yourself working for an employer that offers you an ACA training contract, you’ll find that often such training contracts run for a period of three years or so, however, the exact length of any contract will be dependent on the individual and their employer.

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Many ACA students find that, within this three year period, they have plenty of opportunities to accumulate the required amount of work experience by the ICAEW, even when combining their work with time out of the office for examination revision and study.

In terms of the nature of the work that you have to perform for it to be considered relevant, the type of qualifying work from the ICAEW’s perspective is very broad and can involve tasks such as undertaking audit work or completing a client’s corporation tax return.

Ultimately, if you have any concerns about the practical work experience requirement, it’s best to raise any issues you may have with the ICAEW, as well as your employer if possible so that you can get the answers and the reassurance that you need.

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A silhouette of a man with a white tie jumping in the air in an open field with the clouds behind him spelling "success." You should feel very proud if you've managed to pass every ACA exam from the ICAEW!
Becoming a member of the ICAEW can be great for your career prospects. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, geralt, Pixabay)

Why Study A Course From The ICAEW?

Whether you’re looking to become ACA qualified, or would prefer to complete a less intensive certification such as the CFAB, the ICAEW is an internationally recognised and highly-regarded body that has equipped hundreds of thousands of its members with the knowledge, skills, and continuing professional development tools needed to be successful in their careers.

If you are considering a career in accountancy, the qualifications offered by the ICAEW are certainly worth exploring in further detail. In fact, if you know of someone who has studied the ACA or the CFAB previously, it may be worth speaking to them to hear what their thoughts and experiences of working towards the qualifications were.

Although it's worth noting that the syllabus of some of the exams may have changed, particularly if your friend or contact studied the ACA a while ago, it's still worthwhile hearing what their experience was of getting the qualification and whether they would recommend that you pursue it.

If you think that a career in accounting may be for you, but you’re unsure of whether you have the mathematical or accounting skills needed to succeed, then you can always check in with an online accounting tutor at Superprof for any help you may need to improve your mathematical prowess.

Equally, if you're currently studying accounting at a university as either an undergraduate or a postgraduate, then an accounting tutor can help answer any questions that you have, or provide you with helpful study tips for how to approach your exams in a calm but focused way.

Whether you’d like to have a one on one lesson or would prefer working with a tutor in a small group, Superprof offers a range of study formats to suit students. Just enter your postcode to find a mathematics or accounting tutor near to you. Equally, if you prefer to have tuition lessons online, perhaps through a channel such as Skype, there are also Superprof accounting tutors near me who are happy to provide lessons remotely.

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.