ACCA Exam : Balancing work and study

This is an interview with Laura Murchie who is studying for the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) examination.

At Core-Asset Consulting, we work closely with a number of candidates studying for professional accountancy qualifications while working full time. Achieving the perfect balance between the two is no easy feat. Even more so when the full-time role is a demanding one.

If you’re considering undertaking the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification or other accountancy qualifications you will have to make some sacrifices over the next few years.

Laura Murchie, our in-house Finance Business Partner, qualified with her ACCA qualification in 2018. We asked Laura what her secret is to balancing work and study.

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Laura, when did you begin studying for the ACCA and how long do you expect it to take?

I joined Core-Asset Consulting in March 2014 and sat my first ACCA exam, Management Accounting, in May 2015. All going well, I’m planning to complete the course at the beginning of 2018.

What’s the ACCA been like so far?

It certainly hasn’t been easy, but at the same time I’m enjoying the challenge. Getting back into the routine of studying after finishing university was particularly difficult – even more so when you’re also working full-time. Sitting through a three-hour lecture after a full day of work isn’t the most exciting thing!

Do you find it difficult trying to balance work while studying for your exams?

Yes, but you do get into a “routine”. Being organised and managing your time effectively is crucial, particularly making time for yourself. My manager has been very supportive, and having been through all the exams herself, is always on hand to offer advice. Having some flexibility around my working hours also helps, allowing me time to study or travel through to Glasgow to sit the exams.

When you do have the time, how do you “unwind”?

It’s easy to lock yourself away in your room for hours on end but I always try and make time to relax and socialise. It would drive you crazy otherwise. I try and get to the gym at least a few times a week, either swimming in the morning or doing a class in the afternoon. A couple of months ago I also took up guitar lessons. It helps you to re-energise and regain focus.

What’s been the toughest module on the course so far?

Without a doubt “Performance management”. It was focused more on the manufacturing industry and involved studying variance analysis and other models. I didn’t find it particularly relevant to my role at Core-Asset and it’s difficult when you can’t apply anything you’re learning to your everyday work. I like being able to put what I’ve learned into practice.

And your favourite module?

Strangely it would have to be “Law”. Understanding the finance world from a legal stand point wasn’t something I had really covered before, and it’s relevant and applicable to almost anything finance related. I’ve obviously got to be vigilant in my role and this helped to make me more informed when it comes to certain situations and decisions.

What advice do you have for accountancy students or any other candidates considering undertaking the ACCA or a similar qualification?

I think firstly you have to be 100% certain that it’s what you want to do and see it through to the end. You do have to sacrifice quite a lot, so if you don’t enjoy all or at least some aspects of the subject, it would be very difficult.

ACCA has changed the format recently, allowing candidates to take four exams per year rather than two, so you can pass the course within a couple of years. But I prefer to take a more steady approach, especially when working full-time.

Make sure you communicate your goals and objectives to friends and family and also spend some time researching the various course providers too – when the going gets tough their help and support can prove invaluable.

Which provider are you studying the course with?

I decided to study the course with BPP Education, Europe’s leading providers of industry-leading professional qualificationsThey have been very supportive and the tutors have all studied the course themselves, bringing real world experience to the lectures and classes. Upon joining you’re provided with lecture notes, free guides and exam techniques. The exam techniques in particular have really helped me to gain extra marks by managing my time in and out of the exam room.

Lastly, is it worth all the effort?

Absolutely. I’ve felt like throwing in the towel many times now but I always manage to pull through in the end. It’s important to keep my sights focused on the long term goal of becoming fully qualified and treat myself when I do pass. A massage or bottle of wine makes all the effort and sacrifice worthwhile!

After speaking to Laura, the takeaway message for candidates seems clear: It’s essential you find a schedule that works for you and commit to it.

The ACCA, just like any other professional qualification, takes time, commitment and discipline. But the career opportunities it opens up to you, makes it definitely worth the effort.

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Chris Donald
Senior Business Manager – Accounting & Finance
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