‘Pass Go. Or Game Over.’ Tackling Exam Pressures at Accountancy Firms
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‘Pass Go. Or Game Over.’ Tackling Exam Pressures at Accountancy Firms

Dr. Chris Brown, an R&D Tax Credits expert at GrantTree, explores the pressurised and draconian attitudes many accountancies have towards gaining qualifications and passing exams.

Accountancy firms often take a pretty tough line on professional exams (ACA, ACCA or CIMA). You get your tuition. Your exam is paid for. But you better hope you pass. Because if not, it’s a meeting with HR the next day for you. And probably the job centre the day after.

It’s pretty rough. But it’s the best way of doing things, isn’t it? Nothing like the fear of losing your job to focus your mind on getting that pass?

Well, perhaps. This is a system that has served the accountancy world for the past two decades. And through it, a reasonable number of students every year reach their heady goal of becoming qualified accountants.

But at what cost, in terms of mental health and time invested, to those students? Working as a junior accountant is not the same as attending university. For many trainees, the stress of doing their 9-5 job, and then spending their weekends and evenings revising, is pretty demoralising. Not to mention ghastly.

This is why, at GrantTree, I enacted a policy around exam failure. We, as a company, put our junior accountants through the CIMA course, which is more modern, and less audit-intense than either the ACA or ACCA. So it is more aligned to the work both we and our clients do.

The CIMA course has its easy exams and its hard exams. All of them need to be passed. But if  one of our employees fails an exam – and there are quite a few of them – there is no discussion with HR. Nor are there written warnings or firings. The employee simply books themselves another exam, when they feel ready to do so.

The only thing that we ask is that the employee pays the fee for the next exam (usually about £70 – £95). This is fair to the GrantTree, and fair to the employee.

Why do we do this? Because failing an exam is rubbish enough as it is. And we want to support learners, not put the fear of the P45 into them.

Surprising as it might seem, we’ve found that removing this unnecessary pressure actually improves pass rates. So much so that, over the course of 2018, not a single person at GrantTree actually failed a CIMA exam!

I hope accountancy firms follow our lead, and for the good of everyone, remove this horrible practice from their operations. Because those that don’t risk losing their talented accountants, or accountants in training, to companies like us!

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