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Let’s get synoptic

Nick Craggs explains how the new synoptic exams work, and advises you on how best to tackle them

May 2017

In this article there will be no jokes about farmers, no references to Arsenal players from the days when they actually stood a chance of winning something. This is a serious article about a serious subject – the AAT synoptic exams.
It is likely that AAT students who started their AQ2016 studies in September 2016 are coming up to sit their synoptic exam. This is pretty much a test of everything you will have studied at that level.
The first thing to think about is when you will be ready for the synoptic exam as, unlike the individual unit assessments, these are not on demand. For the Foundation Certificate in Accounting, it is more of a case of when is it not on offer, as it is available for three weeks in any four-week period. However, the Advanced level and Professional level synoptic exams are only available for a one-week period roughly every six weeks.
Once you have decided which synoptic window you are sitting at you need to plan your studies, and this will vary depending on which level you are undertaking.
All synoptic exams have some element of human marking so it will take up to six weeks to get your results. When you come to the written questions you should always try to relate it back to the scenario. You should think about the wider impact of whatever is happening, don’t look at everything in isolation. I always like the acronym PEA.
P – Make a point
E – Explain your point
A – Apply your point

The individual exams
Foundation level: The Foundation level synoptic will examine you on your knowledge of the Bookkeeping Transactions, Bookkeeping Controls, Elements of Costing and Working Effectively units. It does not test you on the Using Computerised Accounting Software unit, so you may want to leave this until after the synoptic.
There is no individual assessment for this unit, so once you have studied this you will need to return to your notes for the first three units, and revise them.
Then you should be ready to attempt the synoptic exam. This is split up into seven different tasks. These will not be individual tasks specifically on individual units. You will find that each task will draw on different units, and will have a combination of written and numerical tasks.
This is meant to make it more like the real work place, where you need to think of the wider picture, and not just look at subjects in isolation.
Advanced level: What’s worse than a synoptic exam? Two synoptic exams!
However, that is what the advanced level synoptic exam effectively is. It is split into two sections, each of one-and-a-half hours. When you move into the second section of the exam, you CANNOT move back to the first section. So when you move to the second section, you need to be happy with your answers to the first section. Also, you cannot carry any time over, so even if you finish the first section with 10 minutes to spare you will not carry that time over into the second section.
The first section is where the Advanced Bookkeeping, Final Accounts Preparation, Management Accounting: Costing, Indirect tax and Ethics units are assessed. There are four tasks, and again they will each test you on a variety of units, and they will test both numerical and written aspects. So, for example, you may be asked if a VAT error a client has made can be corrected on the next return (bringing in knowledge from Indirect tax), then ask you for the journal to correct the records (Advanced Bookkeeping) and then ask you to explain what will happen if the client refuses to correct it (bringing in Ethics).
The second section is purely spreadsheets. This works in similar fashion to the AQ2013 spreadsheets exam, in that you download a spreadsheet, work on it, and then upload your final answers back into the exam software.
Professional level: At the professional level students still have to sit two optional units, but the optional units do not form part of the synoptic exam. The units assessed in the synoptic exam are the Management Accounting: Budgeting, Management Accounting: Decision and Control, Financial Statements for Limited Companies, and the Internal Controls Material.

Pre-release material
I would suggest that you leave your optional units until after the synoptic exam, as that means your knowledge of the mandatory units will be relatively fresh, as you will need this for your synoptic exam.
You will be sent some pre-release material for the synoptic exam, which you should read thoroughly. You should:
• Familiarise yourself with the industry and organisation.
• Consider topics from Budgeting and Decision and Control, and how they could apply to the scenario.
• Review the financial information, calculate ratios and consider the standards and how they apply.
• Consider any recommendations you might make.
• Evaluate the systems weaknesses and their impact on performance, staff and organisation future.
When you attempt the exam there will be six tasks, and again, these will be a combination of numerical and written tasks.
• Nick Craggs is a lecturer at First Intuition

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