ACCA Qualification: Guides in planning your exam to qualify faster!

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

Putting ‘ACCA’ letters after your name is probably your dream before joining the professional qualification program.

The benefits to be a member of a global professional body is to improve your career progression and more important is to have the potential to earn a high salary.

But there are so many exam papers to attempt and many of them are hard to pass (with less than 40% pass rates!).

How can you start and complete them fast?

The purposes of this article are –

  • Sharing how to plan your route to pass all exams faster under the new structure; and

  • Advices to you in selecting ACCA optional papers in Strategic Professional level.

New ACCA Exam Structure

Effective from September 2018, a new ACCA exam structure or ACCA qualification structure takes place.

Three are three levels of ACCA exams –

Applied Knowledge – Provides you with a broad introduction to the world of finance and develop your essential understanding and techniques in accounting.

Applied Skills – Builds your existing knowledge and understanding and develop strong, broad and practical finance skills required for future strategic professional accountant in any sector or industry.

Strategic Professional – It helps you to prepare for future leadership positions, develops your strategic vision using your unique blend of technical, ethical and professional skills (2 essential exams). You can also specialise in areas that best suit your career ambitions (2 optional exams).

If you have already taken the exam towards ACCA qualification, you have to find the new abbreviations so that you can link it up to your past exams.

The advices below are from my teaching and student consulting experiences. Even they are true in many cases, you have to understand different backgrounds and situations can come up with different advices.

If you have any concern, you can ask question below or email to us in which we try to help.

Start from Accountant in Business

For those starting from scratch, my first golden rule to you is to start the paper with highest pass rate!

There are three papers in Applied Knowledge level, namely,

  • Accountant in Business (AB),

  • Management Accounting (MA) and

  • Financial Accounting (FA).

You have to pass all these three papers, no option to you.

Why do I suggest to go for the highest pass rate paper to start?

It is because that paper is something more students can do well or it is simply easier than others.

So, let’s check the pass rates in recent sitting (June 2018)

ACCA F1 (Accountant in Business) 83%

ACCA F2 (Management Accounting) 67%

ACCA F3 (Financial Accounting) 71%

Golden rule #1 is to start the paper with highest pass rate.

So, I suggest you to take Accountant in Business (AB) first.

From my teaching experience, I saw a lot of students are passionate and optimistic when they start ACCA program.

They are also very serious in finding reference materials, tutorial courses and study buddies.

In addition, I saw students spending more time in preparation in their first ACCA paper because they don’t know what ACCA exam is.

Other than pass rate, another reason is Accountant in Business is the fundamental of many papers and module, such as Strategic Business Leader (SBL) and Ethics & Professional Skills Module.

Spending more time in this paper can build a solid foundation for your future exams.

Bridging between Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills Module

The paper suggested to follow AB is Financial Accounting (FA), and then is Management Accounting (MA).

Why do I suggest taking FA before MA? Simply pass rate is higher?

Well…… not exactly.

Two papers are more or less the same in terms of difficulty but what I look at is how they link to other paper in Applied Skills Module.

ACCA Exam Structure: Relational Diagram of Papers

Management Accounting (MA) is directly linked to Performance Management (PM) and indirectly linked to Financial Management (FM).

Financial Accounting (FA) is directly linked to Financial Reporting (FR).

Given your knowledge in MA and FA is valuable in your next module exam, it is more important to look at PM and FR pass rate before suggesting either MA or FA to go first.

PM is popular of its low pass rate while it’s pass rate dives to 38% in June 2018. FR pass rate is relatively high which is at 50%.

Since the relationship between MA and PM, I suggest to take PM right after passing MA as your memory is still there.

Approach in Applied Skills Module

As said above, the suggested first paper to take in Applied Skills Module is PM if you pass MA.

Even PM pass rate is low, your knowledge learnt from your recent sitting in MA can definitely help you to pass PM.

What if you are exempted from MA, should you start PM in Applied Skills Module?

My answer is no.

I simply refer to my golden rule, start with the highest pass rate paper first.

So, you can start Corporate & Business Law (LW) as it’s pass rate is at around 80%.

Probably you heard someone telling you that if you would like to take Advanced Taxation (ATX) or Advanced Audit & Assurance (AAA), you need to plan in your study in Applied Skills Module.

My advice is it’s too early to think about it, just pass all of Applied Skills Module papers first!

Therefore, you can consider to take Taxation (TX), Financial Reporting (FR) and Financial Management (FM) after LW as their pass rates are relatively higher than PM and Audit & Assurance (AA).

However, I suggest to plan your AA exam right after FR as a lot of knowledge learnt in Financial Reporting are examinable in Audit & Assurance.

If possible, take FR and AA in the same sitting is also a wise choice because knowledge in financial reporting can be shared in your AA exam.

In the past, Financial Management (FM) scared a lot of students for its lengthy syllabus.

But in recent sitting performance, I find the pass rates and examiner comments both show more and more students can pass as students and tutors know how to do it.

To have a brief summary on the approach in Applied Skills Module, my advices are –

1. If you need to take MA exam and pass it, go to PM right after that and the suggested sequence is:

PM -> LW -> TX -> FM -> FR -> AA

2. If you are exempted in MA exam, the following sequence is more preferable:

LW -> TX -> FM -> FR -> AA -> PM

Strategic Professional Level: Understanding your background before choosing papers

Before starting Strategic Professional exam, you are assumed to complete the Ethics & Professional Module. It is not only a requirement but also benefit for you to take Strategic Professional exams.

In this module, students are from various background and it is no one rule to select papers.

For example, some students come from university accounting degrees with exemptions on all Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills Module papers, Strategic Professional paper is the first ACCA exam they take.

Some students just finished Applied Skills Module papers and wonder which Strategic Professional paper to attempt.

In view of this, my suggestions are divided into these two groups of students and hope you can find yourself falling into one of them.

Before going into details, have you thought about is there any best combination of ACCA papers in Strategic Professional Module?

Or which is the easiest ACCA optional paper?

You can find the answers after reading through the following.

My suggestion to you who just passed all Applied Skills Module papers

Do you recall what we showed you above in the relationship diagram?

Never mind, just give you a recap as below –

  • 5 papers (AB, PM, FR, AA, FM) -> Paper SBL

  • Paper FR -> Paper SBR

  • Paper FM -> Paper AFM

  • Paper PM -> Paper APM

  • Paper TX -> Paper ATX

  • Paper AA -> Paper AAA

Given you passed all papers in Applied Skills Module, you are now in the new level of exam.

I don’t suggest you to go directly to SBL right after completing your Applied Skills Module because –

  • You need to take time to adapt from Applied Skills Module to Strategic Professional Module;

  • SBL is paper with a lot of reading in exam and the syllabus is much longer than other Strategic Professional papers.

Even you score very high marks in all 5 papers (AB, PM, FR, AA & FM), you are better to prepare how to work out Strategic Professional exam before attempting SBL.

To suggest which other Strategic Professional exam to take, remember my second golden rule is choosing advanced paper based on your score in fundamental paper.

But you should be careful to apply this rule that, your advanced paper is taken within a year after you passed the fundamental paper.

For example, if you score high marks in FM in September 2018, then, go for AFM as your optional paper before September 2019.

There is a strong relationship between fundamental papers performance and advanced level papers performance.

An article published by ACCA echo my view on this. Article: Making the best options choices

One note to you is when you consider AAA as your option paper, you are advised to take AAA with or after Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) exam.

A lot of accounting standards from SBR will be seen in AAA.

In addition, I heard someone saying that they are interested in Financial Management so even they didn’t score high marks in FM, they would like to take AFM even other fundamental papers score better.

I don’t support this view since you can take any option paper even after becoming member as part of your Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The first priority is to pass all required exams to become ACCA member.

Therefore, choosing the papers (essential or option) based on your fundamental papers results and try to do within a short period of time!

Suggestions to students who are exempted on all Applied Skills Module papers

If you are just graduated with an accounting degree or even a Master degree with exemptions granted by ACCA on all Applied Skills Module papers, the approach in choosing which paper to take first and which optional papers to go is different.

The academic training in university is not only on technical knowledge but also in your writing and communication skills.

Therefore, you should be at advantage to take Strategic Business Leader (SBL) or Strategic Business Reporting (SBR).

Besides, you maybe in a situation finding which area of job function is suitable, public practicing in audit or taxation, or commercial accountant.

You can make your decision on option paper once you are settled in the field of work.

For example, if you work in public practice (e.g. accounting firm), you are in advantage to pass AAA and ATX since you have experiences in your daily work.

Then, I suggest you to take SBL and / or SBR first, and move to AAA and ATX later.

Additional Notes on Strategic Business Leader

As a tutor, increasing the chance for our students to pass exam is our top priority.

With the resources provided by ACCA, we are responsible to advise students not only on technical knowledge to pass but also the study plan to pass.

Strategic Business Leader, as said, is an exam with a lot of reading and lengthy syllabus. You need to take 4-hour to complete the exam.

Therefore, ACCA suggests tutor to prepare longer course duration and students to take much longer study time in SBL than other Strategic Professional Module paper.

In addition, it is suggested to take SBL in March or September session while other Strategic Professional Module papers in June or December session.

It is not only for you to focus on SBL but also some papers variants (e.g. ATX) are in June and December session only.

ACCA Reference: How to structure a Strategic Business Leader course


Even you are allowed to complete all ACCA exam papers in 7 years, the ideal duration to complete them is around three years.

Probably you heard stories about some students can complete all exams in just 1 year, but my advice is to all ordinary people joining ACCA exam need to work and study.

To speed up your route to ACCA qualification, advices on the approach are the most important.

Therefore, I would like to recall two golden rules in choosing exam papers –

Rule#1 Start the paper with highest pass rate

Rule#2 Choose advanced paper based on your score in fundamental paper

ACCA option papers pass rates are low relatively to all other papers, they are your last hurdle you need to complete to qualify.

It is very important for you to make the right choice of which two Options papers to take.

If you have any question on your route to ACCA qualification, just leave your questions or comments below and I will try my best to answer you with my experience.

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