What is the ACA? A guide to getting professionally qualified
The ACA is a qualification prescribed by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and stands for Association of Chartered Accountants. It is not to be confused with the similar-sounding ACCA qualification. More than 2,850 employers are authorised to provide training by the ICAEW, with around 6,000 training vacancies open each year.
The ACA qualification typically takes three years to complete, though it can take up to five years (generally the maximum length of a training contract). Graduates will often find that the qualification comes as part of finance-related graduate schemes in various firms, though this is not the only route in. There are essentially four parts to attaining qualification:
- 15 ACA modules
- Practical work experience (3–5 years)
- Professional development
- Ethics/professional scepticism training.
ACA modules – exams
ACA exams are broken down into three blocks: certificate level, professional level and advanced level.
You need to complete all of the 15 modules across the three levels, but you could be eligible for exemptions with prior study (for certificate and professional level modules).
The certificate level covers accounting and business essential principles:
- Accounting (40 questions)
- Assurance (50 questions)
- Business and finance (50 questions)
- Law (50 questions)
- Management information (40 questions)
- Principles of taxation (50 questions).
Each of the six modules is tested with a 1.5 hour online assessment, which can be taken at any time. Up to four re-sits per module are allowed (although if your employer is footing the bill, they might insist on less).
Professional level modules focus on your ability to apply your knowledge and understanding to real-life scenarios:
- Business planning: taxation
- Business strategy
- Audit and assurance
- Financial accounting and reporting (3 hours)
- Financial management
- Tax compliance.
Each professional level module is assessed through a 2.5–3 hour exam. There are four sittings each year and up to four re-sits allowed.
At advanced level, it’s an open book examination building on the professional level modules with more complex scenarios and a case study to test your skills and judgement.
- Corporate reporting
- Strategic business management
- Case study.
There are sittings in July and November for the advanced level papers. The two module exams take 3.5 hours and the case study examination is 4 hours long. There is no limit on the number of re-sits at the advanced level (the pass mark is 50%).
You’re advised to sit the case study paper towards the end of your professional development, ethics training and work experience, so that you can draw on that knowledge.
Practical work experience
The practical work experience component of the ICAEW’s ACA training is designed to put your learning into practice through elements of your day-to-day job.
Candidates must complete 450 days of hands-on work (where 'a day' equates to seven hours) experience for the ACA. For most, this will take between three to five years (or 200 hours for the approved two-year scheme).
The practical work experience must be taken in conjunction with one of the ICAEW's 2,850 approved employers in at least one area of accounting, audit and assurance, tax, financial management, insolvency or information technology.
The Professional Development training helps you improve in the key areas essential in your career as an accountant:
- Team working
- Decision making
- Adding value
- Problem solving
- Technical competence.
Professional development training is completed through the ICAEW Professional Development Scheme or your employer’s organisation scheme (if it has been accredited).
Ethics and professional scepticism
The ethics and professional scepticism section of the ACA is delivered as online training, covering the ethical practices and requirements for anyone working as a chartered accountant. Training covers the key principles of integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour.
There are six modules and a devolved assessment (30 multiple-choice questions over an hour) covering:
- An introduction to the ICAEW code of ethics
- Fundamental ethical principles
- Threats and safeguards to the fundamental ethical principles
- Conflicts of interest
- Considerations for professional accountants in practice
- Considerations for professional accountants in business.
Each module has an accompanying webinar recapping your learning and offering scenarios with ethical dilemmas to help you develop your ethics and professional scepticism skills from an accountants’ perspective.
Candidates are expected to review their understanding of ethics in their field with their employer at six-monthly intervals and apply their learning during their practical work experience.