“Qualifications 2022 is a fantastic qualification which is much better suited to the skills that are required of an accounting technician in today’s modern world. However, there is no getting away from the fact that it is a harder qualification than its predecessor.”
Ali Ryder, AAT Production Manager
In September 2022, the AAT launched its new qualification: Q2022. The previous syllabus had been in place since 2016 and the industry has seen a lot of change since then. As technology has automated a lot of the processes that a trainee accountant would traditionally have started their career doing, our students have required higher level skills and a broader range of skills at a much earlier stage. At First Intuition, we are very supportive of the evolution of the AAT qualification. It is more relevant, it prepares students better for progressing to one of the Chartered qualifications, and it should produce accounting professionals with broader technical, commercial and professional skills. However, there is no getting away from the fact that it is a harder qualification.
Since the launch of the new syllabus, over 3,000 students from across the First Intuition network have sat a Q2022 assessment. We have been carefully monitoring student experiences and results. We have also analysed the worldwide interim pass rates that were recently released by the AAT for some, but not all, of the units:
|Assessment name||Worldwide AAT pass rate|
|Introduction to Bookkeeping (ITBK)||86.60%|
|Principles of Costing (PCTN)||68.80%|
|Principles of Bookkeeping Controls (POBC)||72.50%|
|Business Awareness (BUAW)||61.90%|
|Financial Accounting: Preparing Financial Statements (FAPS)||58.80%|
|Tax Processes for Businesses (TPFB)||52.90%|
|Applied Management Accounting (AMAC)||67.80%|
|Drafting and Interpreting Financial Statements (DAIF)||71.80%|
The AAT have not released pass rates for the remaining units yet because they do not have sufficient data, but we expect full examiner reports to be released later this year. Whilst some of these results look promising (ITBK, POBC, AMAC and DAIF are all on a par with their AQ2016 equivalents), the level 3 units (BUAW, FAPS and TPFB) are proving to be very challenging.
Let’s explore some of the key reasons that the new qualification is proving difficult.
Updated syllabus content
The syllabus content has been updated to reflect the skills that are required of a modern finance professional. The Business Environment and Business Awareness units have broadened the scope of the qualification, and students are now seeing content that they would previously have only seen if they progressed onto higher qualifications. In addition to the core accountancy knowledge, students need to demonstrate skills in communication, analytics and problem-solving, plus technology, ethics and sustainability. These key themes now run through all of the units and are built upon as students progress through the levels
Less doing more reviewing
Again, this reflects the changing role of a modern finance professional. Whereas the old syllabus had a strong focus on doing, e.g. putting the correct figures in a VAT return, the new syllabus recognises that most businesses have automated these processes, so the skills that are required now are reviewing the output of the accounting software, e.g. checking and reconciling the VAT figures and making any necessary adjustments. This requires a much greater level of understanding of a topic area.
For most units, there are fewer marks available in the assessment compared with the AQ2016 equivalent unit, even though there are more learning objectives. This might sound like it would make the assessment easier, but the very opposite is true. As the examiner has fewer marks to award, they are likely to just test the higher end of the syllabus, no more easy marks! Whereas they might have asked a student to fill in a table of workings before, they are now much more likely to just ask for the final answer, which means that they are not helping the student to the answer and there is a higher risk of error. Another thing that stands out is that there is a lot less over-testing of the same skills in the new qualification. Once a student has demonstrated a skill, they will not be awarded lots of marks for doing the same thing over and over again.
In our analysis, we have noticed that we have far fewer “borderline” results than we used to. Students either know their stuff and pass strongly, or they don’t have the depth of understanding required and fail badly.
Some of the key challenges that we have noticed on a unit-by-unit basis are as follows:
The pass rate for Principles of Bookkeeping Controls is noticeably lower than the first unit, Introduction to Bookkeeping. This is a similar story to the AQ2016 equivalent units. The first unit focuses on transactions and processes, whereas the second unit requires a higher level of understanding of reconciliations and error corrections.
The Business Environment Synoptic Assessment is the only synoptic that remains in this qualification. Students are required to learn new content relating to business, as well as remember content from the bookkeeping units.
In the old level 3, the Advanced Bookkeeping unit and the Management Accounting: Costing unit were always challenging, but the two smaller units, Indirect Tax and Final Accounts Preparation, were relatively straightforward.
The new Financial Accounting: Preparing Financial Statements unit has combined the content of two units into one. If students are not confident in basic bookkeeping from level 2, it is a challenge to get them up to speed at the same time as covering all of the new content.
The new Tax Processes for Businesses is at the other end of the scale in terms of difficulty compared with Indirect Tax. As the worldwide pass rate demonstrates, this is now a challenging tax unit that focuses on some highly technical areas for this level of qualification. We would not recommend attempting this unit without any prior bookkeeping knowledge due to the emphasis on VAT adjustments and corrections to errors.
The AAT has not released pass rates for Internal Accounting Systems and Controls or Audit and Assurance yet, but these are regularly coming up in conversations about the challenges of the new syllabus.
Internal Accounting Systems and Controls replace the old Professional Diploma Synoptic Assessment. Although many students were pleased to see the back of the synoptics, what we are left with is an assessment that focuses purely on internal controls, which was always the topic that students were weakest at in the synoptic. This unit has a fairly narrow syllabus, but it requires strong analytical skills, writing skills and application skills.
Audit and Assurance replace the old External Auditing unit. It has a broader syllabus, covering both internal and external audit, but the biggest change is in the assessment approach. The new assessment requires a lot more extended writing and is a lot more unpredictable in the topics that will be assessed.
Our top tips for learners
- Choose your starting point wisely. The default position should be to start at level 2. Unless you have a strong foundation knowledge of the basics, you will really struggle going straight in at level 3.
- Make sure you understand topics, don’t just memorise them. This should mean that you can tackle a range of different questions on the topic area.
- Practice as many questions as possible, including our mocks and the AAT practice assessments.
- The AAT are using more variety if question styles and formats in this syllabus, so if you see a question that you weren’t expecting, take a deep breath and apply what you know. The exams are written to a syllabus so you will have studied the relevant topics, even if you have not seen that exact style of question before.