Unfinished business

If you are thinking about taking a break from your ACCA studies, consider all the pros and cons carefully

Iwona Tokc-Wilde, writer

Most ACCA students start their studies with the best of intentions, planning to qualify within three to four years.

‘But even the best laid plans are often punctuated with events that make it difficult to focus on your exams,’ says Rob Sowerby, director of professional courses at London School of Business and Finance.

Sometimes students put their studies on hold because they find themselves in situations out of their control.

‘Last year, a Syrian student contacted us to say that he was in a refugee centre in Greece and that he needed to defer because the centre offered limited internet access,’ says Martin Lukavec, senior lecturer in economics, statistics and finance at Study InterActive.

‘Another student located in Gaza struggled because he had to make understandably difficult trips to Israel, because delivery services through which we send study materials don’t deliver to Gaza.’

Lukavec adds: ‘These stories are inspirational and humbling when you realise the strength of our students and their drive to obtain education.’

More often, though, people defer because they struggle to combine working and studying.

‘The majority of our ACCA students mention workload as the main reason for putting their studies on hold – most of them have full-time positions and they feel overwhelmed by the course’s demands,’ says Lukavec.

Kyoto-based Joanel Atome had two study breaks, a year-long one halfway through his studies and then a break of nine months before he sat his final exam in March 2017.

He says: ‘I was studying in Ghana when I took my first break. I had just landed my first job and wanted to prove my worth so I was working hard, often till 10pm. I could not study effectively; I tried, but I was tired and couldn’t concentrate.’

His second break was as a result of moving to Japan: ‘I needed time to settle down and adapt to my new environment.’

Some students put off further studies when they have failed an exam.

‘Those who juggle too much can be especially hard on themselves if they don't pass, which adds to the stress and reduces the chance of success next time,’ says ACCA Council member Sharon Critchlow. She thinks taking a break is fine and can be part of the plan. ‘Athletes often take a break from training,’ she points out.

But everyone’s circumstances are different, so there is no one-size-fits-all advice.

‘Sometimes students just need encouragement to continue; a little break can be more helpful. You might need to find some balance in your life, or rediscover excitement for your studies,’ says Lukavec.

Lost momentum

Atome has mixed feelings about his study breaks: ‘The breaks gave me time to re-assess and correct what I was doing wrong, they helped me put things in perspective. On the other hand, I took a long time to finish because it was difficult to go back to studying, to get into the right rhythm. Frankly, getting back into doing it again was painful.’

Loss of motivation and momentum is a significant issue for those who decide to put their studies on hold, especially if it involves skipping more than one exam session. ‘The longer you are out of studying, the more difficult it is to go back,’ says Sowerby.

Loss of motivation and momentum is a significant issue for those who decide to put their studies on hold, especially if it involves skipping more than one exam session

Chukwuemeka Okereke from Nigeria will be taking his final ACCA exams this year. He says: ‘I’ve not taken a break in my ACCA journey but I know a few guys who practically stopped ACCA in the process of “taking a break”.’

As you get older, your life will get busier too.

‘You will be taking on more and more responsibility, either from a work perspective or domestically. This means the window for studying is reduced and fitting studies into your life becomes more and more difficult,’ says Sowerby.

There are also practical limitations to consider.

‘Any change of syllabus puts you at a disadvantage, either because the material you previously covered is no longer exam-relevant or because you have a gap in assumed knowledge going forward,’ says Sowerby.

Also, you now have seven years to complete the Professional level before your results will expire. Previously, students were removed from the register if they had not completed the exams within 10 years of their initial registration date.

The new time limit starts when you pass your first Professional level exam. If you do not pass all the Professional level exams and reach affiliate status within seven years, you will lose any Professional level passes achieved more than seven years ago and you will need to re-take the ‘expired’ exam(s) to complete the qualification.

Power on

Desmond Britland FCCA is based in Australia. He says: ‘The ACCA is a fantastic qualification, but a very challenging one to obtain. It's a catch 22 – no pain, no gain. My vote is to power on, even if it means taking just one exam per session.’

Anna Pernicheva from the United Arab Emirates obtained ACCA affiliate status in June 2016. She completed all exams while being a mum and having a lot of commitments to her family. ‘I do think taking the exams at a steady, slower pace is better and advise against taking a break. Having the Fundamentals courses material fresh in your mind will greatly help you with the Professional level exams,’ she says.

Mahadi Osman, an ACCA member from the United Arab Emirates, persevered and did not take a break even though he failed P3 seven times. He attempted all his exams as a self-study student.

‘The repetitive failure caused me pain but it also had value,’ he says. ‘I gained a lot of business analysis knowledge, which led me to take another certification (the Certified Business Analysis Professional) that is currently reshaping my career.’

His advice for those who fail repeatedly is to focus on the ‘process’ rather than the ‘prize’: ’Your prize is a pass, but when you fail several times there must be something wrong with your process or how you go about getting that prize. This could be poor preparation or poor exam technique – you need to identify what it is and fix it.’

Once Osman discovered his problem was his exam technique (his scores for the seven attempts were around 41–49), he took an online revision course with Kaplan. ‘This was more than enough to secure me a pass,’ he says.

But if your circumstances are such that you feel you have no choice but to suspend your studies, make sure you have a plan for how and when you resume your efforts.

Sowerby advises: ‘Commit mentally to a sensible date at which you restart. And when you go back to your studies, restructure your life around it. From a structured approach comes success and from success comes motivation.’

Tejan Ibrahim, ACCA member and tutor from Nigeria, took a long study break due to family and work responsibilities.

‘When I was planning my comeback, I reminded myself of the benefits of ACCA qualification and drew up a realistic plan to get there,’ he says.

There are many different study options available and you may find that switching to another method is now right for you.

‘Online ACCA courses allow you to fit studying around work and home commitments, meaning that you can learn whenever and wherever is most convenient,’ says Paul Kirkwood, ACCA lead tutor at online learning provider AVADO.

‘A lot of students come to us when they are returning to study after a break, after a change of work or having had children.’

Read also...

Our profile with Pan Fouli, who recently passed his final ACCA exam, on the importance of keeping up the motivation and sticking to a study plan.