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Turning PQs into writers

Christine Littler gives tutors some strategies to help their students cope with the increased written content of the AAT qualification

July 2016

With the increased emphasis on written tasks in AQ2016 the AAT will need to turn its PQs into writers. It does, however, understand that learners find this area difficult.
Top tutor Catherine Littler told delegates at the Training Providers’ Conference that students often tell them that they opted for AAT because they are ‘good with numbers’. She felt it was also true to say many tutors are more comfortable teaching the numerical questions, too.
So while both students and tutors are happy get their calculators out for exam practice they are far less happy about expressing themselves on paper. Littler understood that it doesn’t help that the interpretation of calculations can seem obvious.
She said tutors need to have strategies to help build students’ confidence. She finds working in pairs can be a good way to start. Tutors need to pick these pairs carefully and swap people around to ensure one student isn’t doing all the work!
Littler stressed that trainees will often write about subjects they find interesting or have a good knowledge of. To help practice letter writing she asks her PQs to write a formal letter to the England football manager.
Students still resist, she explained, but you have to take away their worries. They will say: “I can’t spell”, “I make a mess because I make mistakes” and “my English isn’t very good”. But computers can help with spelling and can be used to clean up the mess.
She felt creating templates right at the beginning is an invaluable tool for building confidence.
Schools haven’t helped PQs here, she said. They put an emphasis on creative writing, which doesn’t help with writing reports and letters. English teachers will say start a letter with “I am writing to you”, where Littler says they obviously know that you are writing them a letter.
There is a formulae for writing a letter, she pointed out. The opening sentence should state what has prompted the letter. The second paragraph explains the problem and issue. The next paragraph expands on that. And the next outlines what the writer wants to see happen. The concluding sentence says ‘please contact me…’. So, it’s just a question of learning this format.
Littler said the formula for emails is fairly similar, as are other short written communications.
She stressed that students need to learn to use business language. These need not be long words, but slang is a real no-no. Littler has found encouraging short sentences helps build a student’s confidence.
PQs also need to be encouraged to read more formally worded newspapers and online sites too – we are talking The Times (and PQ magazine), not The Sun.
Another key to success is understanding the verbs. Do students really understand what they mean, she wondered. We have ‘compare’, ‘contrast’, ‘describe’, ‘analyse’, ‘evaluate’, ‘interpret’, ‘justify’ and ‘recommend’!
Tutors can use accounting theory to help writing practice. For example, the Financial Performance examiner says students can’t explain the difference between gross profit and gross profit margins. A good exercise is to ask students to describe what they are and how to calculate them and explain how a business will use the information gained from these calculations.
Finally, if students are still struggling with the written side she asks them to answer the question verbally, and then write down exactly what they have said. This can help with confidence, too.

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