Congratulations! You’ve scaled your first ACCA mountain, and passed all your fundamental level exams – that’s a massive achievement. Only now you’ve climbed the peak, you can see a slightly bigger professional-level mountain rising out of the mist ahead of you.

Don’t panic. This isn’t anything to worry about. You’ve made it this far, and with some careful planning and astute decision-making you can set yourself up for continued ACCA success.

So the first hurdle: deciding which order to take your professional exams in.

First we’ll look at six important principles to consider when making your decision. Then we’ll summarise each professional paper in turn, and how it relates back to the fundamentals papers you’ve taken.

Which professional papers should you take and when?

The Professional level is divided into two modules:

  1. Essentials papers (P1, P2, P3)
  2. Options papers (P4, P5, P6, P7)

You have to complete all three Essentials exams and choose two Options.

Here are six things you need to know before you make your decision.

  • Consider taking Ethics now

To qualify as an ACCA member you have to complete the Ethics and Professional Skills Module. An ideal time for this is after your fundamental papers and before you begin your professional papers. The module introduces you to concepts and approaches that will help throughout the professional level.

  • You can’t avoid theory

Be careful not to jump headlong into papers  because you think they’re “numbers papers”. At professional level, you’ll need to master numbers and theory: there’s no way around that.

In reality there will probably be more numbers than theory, but the difference isn’t huge. You definitely need a more complete skillset than for the fundamental papers.

  • Don’t over-commit

Consider how many exams you can really take per year. ACCA give you the opportunity to take your exams four times every year, but this won’t be right for everyone.

Think honestly about your experiences in the fundamentals papers, and don’t commit to more sittings than you can sensibly and fully prepare for. Sometimes slow and steady really does win the race.

  • Think about Strategic Business Leader

In September 2018 ACCA are launching the Strategic Business Leader (SBL) exam. This will replace exams P1 and P3, but it’s not a direct mapping of both papers.

We wrote a three-part blog series on the upcoming 2018 SBL exam. Start with Part 1, here. 

If you are just starting the professional level now, you should strongly consider taking the Strategic Business Leader paper from September instead of P1 and P3. That’s because you have to pass both P1 and P3 no later than the June 2018 sittings, or your results will be erased and you’ll have to start again with SBL.

For example, if you pass P1 but fail P3 in June 2018, your pass for P1 won’t count towards your ACCA qualification.

If you do choose this route, there’ll be plenty to come on the SBL exam from us later in the year, so don’t panic.

  • Exam technique is as important as ever

One thing that doesn’t change from fundamental to professional level is the importance of exam technique (although your exact technique will need some tweaking depending on which papers you choose, but we’ll help you with that).

The importance of good exam technique can’t be overemphasized. Practice is everything. Do as many past questions as you can and you’ll be more likely to pass your ACCA papers. Full stop.

  • Ignore the numbers

The papers might be labelled P1 to P7, but you can take them in any order. In fact, the ACCA is removing the numbers from the papers altogether in September 2018.

So which order should you do your professional papers in? One thing you should definitely think about is the relationship between these papers and fundamentals you’ve taken, so you can choose areas you’re already familiar with.

Let’s look at each of the professional papers in turn, to help you weigh up your options.

How do the professional and fundamentals papers overlap?

 

P1 – Governance, Risk and Ethics

As we said above, the Ethics and Professional Skills module is really important for the professional papers. That’s especially true of P1.

There’s also a lot of common ground between P1 and F8 on internal audit and corporate governance, which will help you in this paper.

And again – the same warning as above – if you don’t pass this paper along with P3 by June 2018, you’ll lose your results. If you’re just starting your professional papers now, we strongly recommend you take the Strategic Business Leader exam from September instead.

P2 – Corporate Reporting

P2 shares a lot of common ground with F7. If it has been a while since you took F7, you should think about refreshing your knowledge for P2. Examiners often comment that students make basic mistakes on material they should know from earlier papers. Don’t be that person!

P2 is also a very large syllabus, so be careful what else you take on. This is definitely a paper not to over-commit on.

P3 – Business Analysis

P3 uses knowledge from F7 and F5. It’s assessing your strategic skills, your understanding and, most importantly, your ability to give advice.

If you haven’t started P3 or P1, you’re likely better advised to leave the P3 exam and take Strategic Business Leader from September 2018 instead.

So those three are the Essentials – but what about your Options? You have to choose two from the following list. Most students make their choice based on:

  1. Which you think you’re more likely to pass
  2. What will most help your future career

Let’s look at each paper.

P4 – Advanced Financial Management

If F9 was your thing you’ll probably be well suited to P4 too. P4 is an extremely tough course because it’s a highly specialised paper on a technical area… but it does link really nicely back to F9. You’ll benefit a lot from previous knowledge on F9, so this is one to think carefully about if you excelled on F9.

P5 – Advanced Performance Management

P5 is probably a technically easier paper than P4, BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good choice for you. The negative to choosing the P4 paper is that it has a strong relationship with F5, which you probably took a long time ago (if at all, if you had exemptions).

If you do choose P5, the skills you gained in P1 and P3 on tackling questions will also help. You should also refresh your knowledge of the F5 syllabus.

P6 – Advanced Taxation

P6 and F6 have a direct relationship. The difference is that P6 expects you to apply the skills and knowledge you have gained and provide professional judgement.

This is a real love-or-hate paper – but it tends to be best suited to people who’re regularly involved in tax already, or plan to build a career in tax. Be wary of choosing this paper if you have little experience or interest in taxation.

P7 – Advanced Audit and Assurance

If you’ve already completed P2, this could be a fantastic paper to take immediately afterwards. The calculations from P2 don’t come up in P7, but the basic principles from P2 are crucial to a successful pass on P7.

Taking P7 also means you need to reassess your exam technique a little. The examiner expects a vast range of points and wide knowledge of many other papers.

Again, the breadth and scope of the syllabus here means P7 might be a paper to sit alone. Then you’d have plenty of time to study, and not risk jeopardising your performance elsewhere.

Conclusion

Choosing which ACCA professional papers to take is a big decision, and one you shouldn’t take lightly. But hopefully this has given you a little information to help you weigh up your options.

Remember, your LearnSignal subscription allows you to refresh your knowledge of the fundamentals papers anytime while taking your professional papers. Just head back to the video library for each course to bring your skills back to scratch.

Get your free trial now, if you’re not already a LearnSignal member.