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Study Zone

AQ2016: what’s changed?

Crystal Haygreen and Nick Craggs outline the major changes to the AAT qualification brought about by the introduction of the new AQ2016 syllabus

November 2016

The AAT accounting qualifications are highly regarded for giving students the core technical skills they need to embark on a career in finance. For some students it is an end in itself, for others it can act as a springboard into other professional accountancy qualifications. To make sure they continue to be aligned with the needs of employers and the ever changing working environment the AAT update their qualifications every three years. On the 1 September of this year the latest new syllabus was launched.
The key changes in AQ2016 are:
• A change to the qualification names.
• The introduction of synoptic assessments at each level.
• Grading of student performance.
• Re-sit restrictions that will affect some students.

New AQ2016 qualification names:
There are still three qualifications, but with new names:
• AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting (was previously AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting).
• AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting (was previously AAT Level 3 Diploma in Accounting).
• AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting (was previously AAT Level 4 Diploma in Accounting).

What are the new synoptic assessments?
The synoptic assessments are a new element at each level of AQ2016. As well as attempting individual assessments in most of the units at each level, students will need to complete a synoptic assessment before moving on to their next level. A synoptic assessment can be thought of as an ‘end-of-level-test’ of the knowledge gained throughout the level which will mirror what employers will want from potential employees in the workplace. This will make retaining knowledge of units already passed far more important for students since the tasks in the synoptic assessments will be similar in style to tasks that have already been seen in the individual unit assessments but applied to new content.
Some units will only be assessed within the synoptic assessment and will not have an individual unit assessment of their own.
The duration of the synoptic assessments will vary depending on the qualification:
• Foundation synoptic assessment: two hours
• Advanced and Professional synoptic assessment: three hours
Students should sit the synoptic assessment for the Foundation and Advanced qualifications after completing all other units in the level. For the Professional qualification students can sit the synoptic assessment after completing the three compulsory units.
Synoptic assessments for the Advanced and Professional qualifications will be available to sit at six fixed times of the year and they will have an element of human marking, so it will take up to six weeks for students to receive their result.

How the new grading system works:
Another major change with AQ2016 is that grading will be introduced for the new qualifications. When students complete each full level they will be awarded a final grade for the level. All unit and synoptic assessments within the qualification will count towards this final grade, and depending upon the level involved each unit and synoptic assessment will make up a different proportion of the overall qualification grade.
Students will continue to be awarded ‘competent’ or ‘not yet competent’ for each individual assessment they sit, but will now receive a percentage mark for each unit. These marks achieved will contribute to the overall grade for the qualification.
The grades will be:
• Distinction 90-100%
• Merit 80-89%
• Pass 70-79%
• Unclassified 0-69% (failure to pass one or more assessment).
Students will be able to resit assessments if they wish to improve their mark for a particular unit and their highest mark will count towards their final grade. It is worth noting that grades can’t decrease as a result of a resit.

What are the resit restrictions?
Firstly, it’s probably easiest to look at who will not be affected by the new resit restrictions.
If a student falls into one of the following categories they will not need to worry about any restrictions to the number of times they can sit an assessment:
• They are an apprentice.
• They are aged 19 or over.
• They are studying level 4.
• They are completing under AQ2013.
• They live outside the UK.
If a student is not in one of the above categories they will now be allowed a maximum of two attempts for each individual assessment or synoptic assessment within a 24-month study programme period. The 24-month re-sit restriction period will take effect from the 1 September prior to when the student registers with the AAT. All re-sit restriction periods run from 1 September for 24 months.
If a student has two attempts at a particular assessment within the 24 month study programme and is unsuccessful at both, then they will need to wait until after the end of the study programme period to sit again.
So, should students stay on AQ2013 or should they transfer to AQ2016?
If a student is part way through a level they can choose to complete the level under the old AQ2013 syllabus or transfer to AQ2016.

What do students need to consider?
First up, will their training provider support them to complete under the old syllabus?
If they are attending a classroom course they can speak to their training provider to find out whether they are offering courses and support for the old and new syllabus.
Distance learning students should look at the materials they have. If they are for AQ2013 the student may need to purchase new books and course materials if they wish to switch to AQ2016.
Secondly, which units have they passed already?
Existing passes for some units will not transfer to the new syllabus. At level 2, a pass in the Working Effectively unit under AQ2103 receives no credit under AQ2016, so students could end up sitting this unit again as part of the new synoptic assessment. Similarly at level 3, neither the Spreadsheets unit nor the Professional Ethics unit transfer over, and at level 4 the Internal Controls and Accounting Systems project will not transfer over. Other units passed under AQ2013 will receive credit under AQ2106.

Benefits of switching to AQ2016:
Students will complete the most current qualification and benefit from knowledge of the most up-to-date syllabus.
The new grading system will allow stronger students to show potential employers that their abilities are better than merely ‘competent’.
Students won’t need to worry about completing their level by the end of December 2017 when AQ2013 will disappear.
At level 3 there is one less assessment compared with AQ2013. This is because the Spreadsheets and Professional Ethics units are both assessed as part of the synoptic assessment rather than as two separate assessments.
At level 4, the new synoptic assessment means that students no longer need to complete the Internal Controls and Accounting Systems project. Over the past few years many students have found this project quite daunting and it can take many months to complete. The new synoptic assessment will only assess material that students are already familiar with.
All units will be assessed by the AAT rather than by training providers ensuring consistency in the quality and timeliness of the assessment and results process.

Benefits of staying with AQ2103 syllabus:
There are plenty of resources available to support you for AQ2013 assessments, with blogs and lectures available widely online. It can also be good to ‘stay with what you know’ in terms of how the assessments work and how to prepare. Students may have colleagues who have already completed under AQ2013 who are helping and advising them.
There are no restrictions on resits. The new syllabus will restrict some students to two attempts at each unit in a 24-month period.
If students have been studying their current level for some time, they should bear in mind that under the new syllabus the synoptic assessment will be assessing a number of units. For example, if they sat Accounts Preparation some time ago and then decide to transfer to AQ2016 they will not need to resit Accounts Preparation, but the knowledge from this paper will be tested as part of the synoptic assessment.
Under the new syllabus there are set times of the year that the final synoptic assessments are available which may prove inconvenient for some students.
To stay on AQ2013 until December 2017 students must:
• Not let their AAT membership lapse.
• When booking their assessments they must make sure they inform the assessment centre it is for the AQ2013 syllabus. 
• When requesting new material from their training provider they should specify that they would like AQ2013 material. They can check on MyAAT which qualification they are registered to.
• Complete their level before 31 December 2017 at which point no further assessments under AQ2013 will be available.

Registering for the new AQ2016 syllabus:
If a student registers with the AAT after 1 September 2016 they will be automatically registered to the new AQ2016 syllabus.
Training providers can transfer existing students from AQ2103 to AQ2016 if they are asked to.
At First Intuition we are excited with the changes being introduced for AQ2016 and think that they will be of great benefit to students and their employers in coming years. However we believe that students should be allowed maximum flexibility in their study choices so we are going to be supporting both AQ2013 and AQ2016 over the coming months.

Some key dates to be aware of:
• 1 September 2016 – The new AQ2016 was launched. All new/lapsed student memberships with the AAT will be AQ2016 from this date.
• 1 April 2017 – We would recommend this date as a cut-off for anyone starting a new level under AQ2013 as it would give them nine months to complete and pass all exams (although even nine months to complete a level will require a lot of hard work!).
• 31 December 2017 – This is the last date students can take assessments for the current AQ2013 qualifications. We would recommend students who stay on AQ2013 sit their last exam at least eight weeks before this date in case they need to resit.
• Crystal Haygreen and Nick Craggs, First Intuition

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