Read an honest review of ACCA, what makes the ACCA exams more difficult for some students than for others and what you can do to make it easier for you.
If you’re considering accounting, you’ll have come across ACCA, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The ACCA is the world’s leading global body for professional accountants, with almost 227,000 members and 554,000 students worldwide.
Several qualifications are available but the most popular is the ACCA qualification, which earns you Certified Chartered Accountant status and ACCA membership.
As an ACCA member, you’ll hone your skills, build your professional credibility and unlock better career opportunities worldwide – but it’s a big time, effort and financial commitment.
With pass rates on some papers are as low as 30% you don’t want to commit unless you can pass, or your investment will be wasted.
How difficult is the ACCA?
First, let’s look at what the ACCA involves. For more detail, check out our article on Becoming a Chartered Accountant: How to Pass the ACCA.
How many exams are there in the ACCA?
To pass the ACCA you must complete 14 exams, a professional ethics module and three years of professional experience. These exams are broken into four parts.
- Applied Knowledge
- Applied Skills
- Strategic Professional/Options
Depending on your previous qualifications you might have exemptions from any or all of the 9 Applied Knowledge or Skills papers, and can start at Professional level.
Get your free interactive study plan today to pass your exams. This plan not only tells you what to study each week, it also gives you a question to practice on each topic.
How long does the ACCA take?
You have ten years to complete the qualification, but students can complete it within three years. You can either study full-time, or study part-time while working.
So, that’s what the ACCA involves.
But is the ACCA difficult to pass? There’s no simple yes/no answer to that question, but let’s look at the factors that matter.
Why is the ACCA difficult?
Different students will find the ACCA more difficult than others, depending on some of these factors:
#1 – Previous experience
If you’re starting the ACCA with only the minimum requirements you’ll probably be totally new to accounting, so you’ll likely find the course more difficult to learn.
That’s not to say you’ll find ACCA more difficult to pass – but you might find it takes a little more work to get your head around.
On the other hand, students that study ACCA from scratch often get a better foundation in the subject matter and ACCA exam technique than more experienced students with exemptions, which makes the professional level easier.
Many students take the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualification as an introduction to accounting, but the ACCA is a significant step-up from this.
If you have a Bachelors and/or Masters degree in finance and accounting or similar, the material will be more familiar. That doesn’t necessarily mean easier though, especially if you claim exemptions and don’t re-cover earlier material in enough depth.
Finally, you might be a practising accountant coming to the ACCA to validate your skills. Your practical context might make the ACCA easier – but it might also mean you have to 'unlearn' certain ways of doing things, which can make ACCA more difficult.
#2 – How you study
Studying for the ACCA while working is a popular option because it allows you to continue your career, earn money and apply your learning in practice to satisfy your professional experience requirements. Plus your employer will often cover the costs of ACCA qualification.
This has upsides and downsides. Working while studying can make the ACCA easier because you have practical context to help your understanding BUT it can also ramp up the pressure.
You’ll have to balance a full-time workload with studying, and with your personal life too. This is one of the main reasons students find the ACCA challenging.
#3 – How quickly you want to pass
Although you have ten years to complete the ACCA, many students aim to complete in 3 or 4 years.
To achieve this, you’d need to be working while studying so you could meet your professional experience requirement. You should aim to take one exam each sitting throughout a year to complete in 3 years. Just remember, if you're unsuccessful in one exam you may need to take a re-sit during the year too.
Every student is different, but the ACCA recommends an average of 150 hours study per paper. In total, then, you’re looking at around 900 hours of study per year for three years, while holding down a full-time job.
Even if you’re very familiar with accounting, studying for the ACCA under those conditions is difficult. Especially since many students still adhere to the archaic classroom training format, trying to squeeze after-work lectures into an already-hectic schedule.
#4 – Your commitment
Anyone can pass the ACCA, but not everyone will. Is that because the ACCA is difficult? Not really.
The ACCA course material is difficult, yes. Especially if, as above, you have limited previous accounting exposure. And you’re trying to qualify within three years. And you’re working full-time. All of those things make the ACCA more difficult. \\
But it’s not beyond your ability – if you’re absolutely committed. The reason some students find the ACCA difficult is that they’re not putting enough time, effort and energy into studying.
If you put in the time and are dedicated to passing, you will be able to pass exams and keep going until you are ACCA qualified!
#5 – Your support network
It should be clear from the above, the ACCA is time-consuming, and sometimes stressful. That means your support network is crucial. Without a strong network around you – friends, family, employers, colleagues, other students – you’ll hit a wall eventually, and those people can help you push through.
You’ll find ACCA easier if you proactively create that network. Help the people around you understand the pressures you’re under. Explain to friends and family what the ACCA involves, and ask for their support. Build relationships with other students, either in real life or online, who understand what you’re going through.
Your learning provider is also critical. Study with an approved learning provider who can help you pass the ACCA, or you’ll make life much more difficult.
Make sure to choose a provider that prioritises student support such as 24/7 access to a tutor or webinars that allow you to engage with other students to get advice and tips.
The ACCA is as difficult as you make it.
So, how difficult is the ACCA? Surely, with such low pass rates, the ACCA is really hard? The short answer is no. The ACCA course material isn’t easy, sure. It’s professional accounting – it’s not meant to be easy. But it isn’t incredibly difficult. A pass isn’t unattainable.
What is difficult is studying for the ACCA. Like any professional qualification, the ACCA is a big time commitment, especially if you’re working. It demands sacrifice. Sometimes you’ll be tired, and frustrated, and struggle to balance different areas of your life. Sometimes you’ll be unmotivated. Sometimes you’ll wonder if you’re ever going to pass.
That’s why the ACCA is difficult. But that’s the journey. Every student experiences those feelings, and faces the same challenges. Instead of asking how difficult the ACCA is, ask what you can do to make it easier for yourself.
Don't focus on pass rates or how hard it is. Instead, follow a guided study plan and strive to manage your time so you can juggle study, work and your personal life with limited stress.
Give yourself the best chance to succeed in your upcoming ACCA exams with a free interactive study plan that will help guide and support you right up to exam day.