We caught up with Zoe Clark, a newly qualified accountant at Alder, Demain & Akers, who recently achieved a Bronze prize in her strategic level ACCA exams, having studied at Reed Business School.
Zoe didn’t have the most conventional of beginnings to her accountancy career, initially training as a vet for five years at the Royal Veterinary College London. After practicing as a vet for a few years, she felt the need for a career change, and joined an organisation that managed student accommodation, in their finance department.
Deciding to properly take the plunge in her new profession, Zoe self-studied for her AAT qualification while working full-time. In her job she’d manage the regular financial processes, using what she’d learned from her course, but it wasn’t long before Zoe wanted to take the next step up.
“I’d become very good at running all the monthly processes and standard elements of the job, but there wasn’t much room for progression, so I looked for a new opportunity where I could learn and grow more.”
Zoe came across local accountancy practice Alder, Demain & Akers in 2016 , where she secured a job, and continued with the next phase of her studies. Opting to begin her ACCA course with Reed Business School rather than continuing her laborious and comparatively slow self-study AAT qualification, Zoe’s journey to professional accountancy qualification began its next chapter.
Time to succeed
Zoe flourished at Reed Business school, and admits that she really enjoyed her spells with us for each module she undertook.
“The level of study is really well-paced and the tutors were all excellent. I really liked the building, which is completely different to all the other colleges I know of, and the small class sizes mean you get to know people and develop a network to share the experience together.”
Rather than completing one module at a time, Zoe generally opted to take four exams a year: two each in June and December. She would normally start studying in March for the June exams and then again in September for the December exams, giving herself a cycle of three months of very intensive study, followed by a three-month break.
“I’d be at the school for perhaps 15-20 days every six months, which I found to be a good balance, even though the run-up to exams would be quite stressful!”
Personal study strategy
As with all of our successful students, Zoe invested in a lot of self-study, but admits she wasn’t always the most motivated:
“I’d do up to an hour of study each evening and quite a bit at weekends, but I would always reward myself with breaks for small achievements in order to keep me going!”
Zoe appreciated the structure of the revision courses at Reed Business School, managing her time between each session to ensure she had prepared the relevant topics and so make best use of each session with the tutors.
“Reading through your own notes is good, but it’s more beneficial to apply your knowledge in question-based scenarios, so I’d do as many as I could. The feedback from the tutors on these was invaluable.”
However, when it came to her own exam preparation and revision, Zoe’s strategy was to batten down the hatches and go all out for 3-4 weeks in advance of each exam to retain as much information as possible.
“I know it’s not a technique that works for everyone, but for me, I found it the best way to make sure I could be prepared for the exam. Thankfully I could rely on my other half to look after the domestic chores at those times!”
Adapting to online learning
The last few months of Zoe’s studying was through our online service, which she admits, while not the same, was still a really valuable and useful platform.
“Of course I was sad not to be able to go to the school, I was a bit apprehensive about online learning at first, but I found all the staff incredibly helpful, and the tutors were always available to provide help when needed.”
Excelling in exams
Zoe’s ACCA Bronze Award is based on her average performance in her final four strategic-level exams, which put her among the very best performers in each sitting. And perhaps what’s most surprising is that it was these papers she found most challenging.
“They are much more about time management and exam technique, with a lot more writing involved than all the other papers. I preferred the more structured papers with definite answers where you could tell straight away whether you had an answer that was correct or not.”
Zoe found SBL case-study paper the most grueling, as it was all written, with less clarity about the marks you were going to get. But she highlights the help of her tutor and being able to take a mock exam as vital components of her success.
“Exam practice is key. The tutors will tell you what’s more important and what’s less important when it comes to getting marks – especially how to write answers in the right way – but you have to practice it yourself. Our tutor gave lots of feedback, and really quickly after our mock, which was fantastic, but mostly they were reassuring, which is what you need to stay calm and level-headed going into the exam.”
Zoe’s advice for others
“I’d definitely say: take it at your own pace.”
As your professional study is going to take up to three, four or even five years of your life, you have to be able to manage your work, life and study balance, and only you know what that looks like for yourself.
Zoe found that taking breaks between papers was important for her to keep that sense of balance, but others may prefer a more consistent path.
Now Zoe has qualified, she’s enjoying a very well-earned break from studying, and isn’t looking too far into the future.
“I don’t have a specific goal yet. I’m happy where I am, and enjoying taking on a bit more responsibility at my firm with some more complex work.”
Zoe values the variety of work she comes across in her practice, which was also beneficial for her studying, but won’t be rushing to specialise in any one area just yet.
Zoe, congratulations on your well-deserved exam success, and keep in touch!