ACCA Qualifications: A Guide
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants – also known as ACCA – is a global organisation that describes itself as a ‘forward-thinking professional accountancy body’.
ACCA has a network of more than 200,000 members. A large part of its work is forming partnerships with educational institutions, employers and professional groups to maintain high standards in financial services.
You may have heard about ACCA if you have been looking into taking the ACCA qualification. This qualification is seen as one of the ‘gold standards’ in accounting and is often gained via graduate schemes in accounting, finance or investment banking.
Once you’ve completed the exams associated with the ACCA qualification, you will also automatically become an affiliate member of ACCA and can access all the organisation’s resources.
You aren’t considered a full member until you have completed the final part of the qualification, which is a minimum of three years of supervised and practical accountancy experience known as the Practical Experience Requirement (or PER).
After completing the PER, you will be a full member of the ACCA.
After five years’ continuous membership, you are automatically awarded a fellowship.
The ACCA qualification is an in-depth and comprehensive course that leads to Chartered Certified Accountant status.
It covers a range of different topics from applied knowledge up to strategic professional skills. The ACCA states that over 500,000 students worldwide are currently taking the ACCA qualification.
The ACCA qualification has been designated as the equivalent of a Master’s level degree at university. This means that once you have completed all the stages of the ACCA qualification, you can achieve an optional MSc.
You can begin your study with the ACCA at different stages, depending on your previous experience and education.
This makes the ACCA qualification and training an accessible way to develop your skills and knowledge in financial services.
The ACCA can be considered a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the development of your financial career. Becoming a member of the group grants you access to networks, continuing professional development (CPD), events and more, which can make you a more appealing prospect to an employer.
One of the key reasons for taking the ACCA qualification and becoming a member is you can use the letters ‘ACCA’ after your name, signifying that you are a Chartered Certified Accountant.
This means employers can immediately see your knowledge and experience has been certified to a high standard.
Once you are an ACCA member, you will have access to a large network of almost a quarter of a million members for support and guidance.
As you progress in your career, you can also become a mentor and guide for other more junior ACCA members.
ACCA prides itself on the quality of its resources, such as its annual rulebook, regular reports on key issues in the industry, and the Accounting and Business magazine it produces.
As a member, you will be able to access this information as well as receiving discounts on CPD courses to further your skills.
Finally, the ACCA qualification and membership requires that you learn about and adhere to a high standard of ethical behaviour. This not only gives an extra boost to your CV when applying for roles, but also provides you with the guidelines you need to make sure you are conducting your work effectively and ethically.
Throughout the ACCA qualification, you will take a maximum of 13 exams, complete the compulsory Ethics and Professionals Skills module, and provide evidence for three years of supervised, practical and relevant work experience in a financial or accounting role.
The ACCA qualification is divided into five components:
1. Applied Knowledge
- Accountant in Business
- Management Accounting
- Financial Accounting
2. Applied Skills
- Corporate and Business Law
- Performance Management
- Financial Reporting
- Audit and Assurance
- Financial Management
3. Strategic Professional
- Strategic Business Leader
- Strategic Business Reporting
- Advanced Financial Management (optional)
- Advanced Performance Management (optional)
- Advanced Taxation (optional)
- Advanced Audit and Assurance (optional)
4. Ethics and Professional Skills Module
- Ethics and Professionalism
- Personal Effectiveness
- Innovation and Scepticism
- Commercial Awareness
- Leadership and Team Working
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills
- Data Analytics
5. Practical Experience Requirement (PER)
- 36 months of supervised experience in relevant employment
- Completion of nine essential and technical ‘performance objectives’
The knowledge you gain through the qualification is cumulative, which means each exam must be taken in order and will test the ‘building up’ of your skills and expertise.
Depending on the qualifications you already have, you may be exempt from some of the exams included in the ACCA qualification. However, all students must complete the PER and the Ethics and Professional Skills module.
The ACCA qualification can be studied in face-to-face sessions, online or with a blended learning option, depending on your requirements. You can find out more about the different types of learning available to you here.
You can also study part-time or full-time, depending on your workload.
The exams are predominantly computer-based. A few of them are ‘on-demand’, meaning you can take them at any time you wish. However, the majority are taken at specific dates and times.
ACCA normally runs these exam sessions once a quarter, so you’ll have several opportunities to complete them during the year.
For the PER part of the qualification, you’ll be required to update a digital diary of what you’ve been doing during your day job – and how you’re applying what you’re learning in practical, everyday settings.
For the Ethics and Professional Skills module, you’re asked to complete a case study and a self-assessment.
ACCA recommends you study using one of its approved learning partners, who have been assessed by the group. This is to ensure you get the best possible educational experience with access to specific tools and materials provided by the organisation.
You can see a visual representation of the ACCA qualification here.
The fees for the ACCA qualification are broken down according to the number of exams you need to take, when you need to take them and some baseline fees every student has to pay.
As a minimum, you will pay:
- A £79 registration fee
- A yearly £105 subscription fee
- A £70 fee for your Ethics and Professional Skills training
Because the ACCA qualification allows you to enter at different levels depending on your previous education and career, you will pay different fees depending on your circumstances and how many exams you are required to take with ACCA.
You will also pay different fees depending on whether you book your exam as an early entrant, standard entrant or late entrant. This means it pays to be prepared and book early, as the fees go up significantly with late entrance.
The Applied Knowledge exams are on-demand computer-based exams and fees vary depending on your local provider. ACCA recommends contacting your local provider to find out the cost.
The Applied Skills exams cost:
- £114 for early entry
- £120 for standard entry
- £307 for late entry
The Strategic Professional exams cost:
- £188, £199 or £321 for early, standard or late entry for the Strategic Business Leader exam;
- £147, £155 or £350 for early, standard or late entry for the Strategic Business Reporting exam;
- £147, £155 or £350 for early, standard or late entry for each of the Strategic Professional optional exams.
If you have completed a relevant finance or accounting qualification, or a fully accredited university degree, you can notify ACCA that you are exempt from some of these exams because you have already studied the course content.
If you are exempt, you will be required to pay an exemption fee for every exam you do not need to take. This will be either £91 or £114.
The ACCA has a useful explanation of all its charges on its website, which also shows you the cost for the country in which you are studying.
ACCA says that it takes a minimum of three years to complete the qualification. This is primarily because you need three years’ practical and supervised accountancy experience.
Some individuals have noted that if you already have this experience, the exams themselves can be completed in 18 months to two years. ACCA does have limits on how many exams you can take during a certain period and the exams must be taken in a specific order, as you build cumulative knowledge through the qualification.
The organisation says an individual has a maximum of ten years in which to pass all of the exams.
If you are completing the ACCA as part of a graduate scheme or with an employer, you may find your employer encourages you to take more of the exams earlier on in your career. This is because you will then rapidly develop your knowledge, benefiting both you and the organisation.
However, if you are taking the ACCA independently, you must plan your study and exam-taking to fit in with your lifestyle and other commitments.
For a university graduate, planning for a three-year study period in which you will also gain your PER would generally be considered an average completion time.
The minimum UK entry requirements for the ACCA qualification are two A-levels at A to E grade (or equivalent) and three GCSEs at A to C grade (or equivalent), in five separate subjects including English and maths.
If you begin the qualification at this level, you will take the Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills and Strategic Professional exams.
However, ACCA accepts a wide range of qualifications to begin studying with the organisation. For example, all of the following are accepted as minimum entry requirements:
- One A-level, two AS-levels and three GCSEs
- Four AS-levels and three GCSEs
- Three Scottish Higher passes and two Standard Grade passes
- Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education double award
The best way to see whether your current qualifications would allow you to begin studying with the ACCA is to visit the minimum entrance requirements page on its website and select your country.
This will give you a full list of what entry-level qualifications the organisation accepts.
If you have completed further qualifications, such as a university degree, you can start the ACCA qualification at a different level and may be exempt from certain exams.
ACCA notes that you can be exempt from up to a maximum of nine exams, depending on the course you studied at university.
To be considered exempt from these exams, your university degree or other finance or accounting qualification must have been approved by ACCA. The organisation will also take into account previous knowledge you’ve gained in non-ACCA approved institutions.
The easiest way to find out at what level you will be entering the ACCA qualification is to use its exemption calculator.
This calculator requires you to enter your educational institution and country. You will be asked for your graduation year, or last year of study, and to choose your course.
The calculator will then generate a list of ACCA qualification modules and exams you are exempt from.
It will also generate a list of ACCA modules and exams you may be exempt from if you have studied certain subjects as part of your previous qualifications.
For example, you may be exempt from studying for and taking exams in ACCA’s Corporate and Business Law, if you completed modules on Business and the Legal Environment and Employment Law during your university degree.
Using the ACCA exemption calculator is the easiest way to understand which parts of the ACCA you will need to complete and which exams you will need to pay for.
As a general rule:
If you are entering with the minimum entrance requirements, you will need to take all the Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills and Strategic Professional exams.
If you are entering with a previous financial or accounting qualification, you will most likely take the Applied Skills and Strategic Professional exams.
If you are entering with a fully ACCA-accredited university degree, you will most likely need to take all the Strategic Professional exams and most of the Applied Skills exams (dependent on your specific university modules).
If you are interested in taking the ACCA qualification but don’t have the minimum entry requirements, you can start studying with the organisation through its Foundations in Accountancy qualifications.
These are equivalent to GCSE level and HND or degree-level study; they allow you to progress through into the ACCA qualification.
Bear in mind, if you start at the Foundations in Accountancy level, it will take longer for you to achieve the full ACCA qualification.
Passing the ACCA qualification and achieving membership to the ACCA gives you access to a network of highly-qualified individuals who are considered the ‘gold standard’ of accountants and financial services professionals across the globe.
Completing the qualification cements you as a desirable asset for any employer, as well as boosting your CV and developing your existing skills.
The qualification’s flexible nature means whatever your current lifestyle, workload, career experience or education, you will be able to start studying at a level that suits you.
Because the maximum time for completion is ten years, you can take it at your own pace – or, if you choose, you can focus deeply on studying and complete it in a minimum of three years.
Using the tools on the ACCA website will help you see what specific fees you will need to pay, whether you are eligible for entry and what exemptions you may be able to get. We recommend exploring the ACCA website fully to gain as much information as possible before making your decision.