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Passing the BPT paper

Jenny Gilbert has some top tips on how to get through this tough exam

December 2017

As the final tax paper in the ICAEW qualification, BPT can seem pretty daunting. It’s designed (along with Business Strategy) as a ‘bridge’ between the Professional and Advanced stage, and involves developing your professional skills, along with learning significant amounts of new knowledge.
As BPP’s subject matter expert on the paper, here are my ‘top tips’ for passing BPT.
Remember that it’s open book
There’s simply no point in committing to memory a detailed list of conditions or facts when you can just look them up as and when you need to. Practise answering questions by using your material rather than what’s in your head; to do this you need to ensure that your open book material is organised in such a way that you can find what you need, quickly. Use whatever system works for you (which won’t necessarily be the same as your friends’!).

It’s all about applying your knowledge:
Merely stating a fact copied from your notes (or, indeed, the model answer to a different question) very rarely gains marks at BPT. You need to use your technical knowledge to help the taxpayer in the question by applying that knowledge to their circumstances. The more times you use the word ‘because’ the better – you are demonstrating that you’re applying your knowledge to say why, for example, a particular relief may be available, or why you would (or indeed wouldn’t) recommend claiming it.

Words are more important than numbers:
Calculations of tax liabilities are what Tax Compliance was all about. For BPT we still sometimes need to calculate tax, but typically in the context of comparing liabilities in order to make a recommendation. There will never be enough marks for just performing calculations to enable you to pass the exam; the calculation should only be performed if the examiner has told you to (by using the verb ‘calculate’, for example), or if the full calculation is the only way to be able to give correct advice. Calculations should be a means to an end, not your whole answer to a question.

Plan your question before you start writing:
A little time invested in reading and planning can really maximise your marks; by enabling you to identify all the examiner has asked you to do, and the relevant information you need to complete those tasks. The best approach is to actively read the question, starting with the requirements. These give you an idea of how you will be using the data in the question, and what to look out for. Annotate the question, or if you prefer, draw a quick diagram; key facts about the individual(s) or companies in the question, with a group structure if it isn’t given to you. Having the key information in one place will save you time re-reading the question. Key facts should be things like: dates of all relevant events, ownership percentages of companies, ages of individuals, and residence status. Break each requirement down into parts (perhaps with different coloured highlighters). Note that each ‘and’ gives you another job to do, then you can tick each part as it’s done. That way you’ve hit the whole marking grid.

Talk about the right taxes:
Very frequently in BPT we are asked to explain the ‘taxation’ implications of a transaction or event taking place. You need to remember that often a transaction will have lots of different taxation implications. Those taxes will be different depending on the entity carrying out the transaction (is it a person or a company?). You might like to try listing all the taxes in the BPT syllabus across the page, crossing off the irrelevant ones (for example, inheritance tax is never going to be relevant to a company), and thinking, then writing, about each of the others. Beware though: sometimes the examiner tells you to ignore a certain tax (for example VAT or NIC). Follow the instructions – you might be writing perfectly correct information, but if the examiner has told you to ignore it you’ve just wasted some of your precious 2.5 hours!

Don’t ignore the ethics:
There will always be an ethical dilemma in the BPT exam, and it will be worth between five and 10 marks. It is typically given as a separate requirement, and is sometimes linked to the tax issues within the question.
The examining team, at their annual tutor conference, always make the point that the candidates who have marginally failed could have passed if only they had produced a better answer to the ethical dilemma.
So make sure you give yourself enough time to produce a fully explained answer along the lines of: what is the issue? What fundamental principles are affected? What actions would you recommend?
Bear in mind that your position, either within the organisation or as an external adviser, may affect what actions you may take.
• Jenny Gilbert is a tutor at BPP Professional Education and subject manager for ICAEW Business Planning: Taxation

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