I became a full member of the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) in December 2015. My three year study marathon was over. The truth is I never thought i’d fall into the world of finance. When I was asked what I wanted to be at School I always said a vet or a teacher. I never even thought of an Accountant. It’s been a great experience for me and i’ve learnt more than I ever dreamed.
From my experience so far, having the financial knowledge I now possess has proved invaluable to my career. The AAT qualifications have helped me progress in ways I couldn’t imagine. So for anyone looking to enter the world of finance, here is my experience. I hope it provides an insight and encourages more people in the world to enter an industry stuck with the stigma of old men in suits!
AAT Level 1.
A great taster course which gave me an introduction to the world of accounts. This is the Introductory Award in Accountancy, also called AAT Access. It’s a short course lasting no longer than about 12 weeks to complete. I found this was an ideal starting point to see if Accountancy was right for me, plus it introduced me to some basic terminology that helped me further down the line. I think I paid around £250 to do this as an evening course with my local college, that included my exam fee and all the learning resources. I had no previous experience within Finance and was unsure about pursuing it, but this gave me the confidence to go ahead and continue with my studies and also reassured me that I could go back into studying after working. The Level 1 qualification covers the basic mathematics in Accountancy, this was great for me as I had always struggled with maths at school, but when you start to use it in a real situation I became confident doing it. It also goes over the types of documents you would encounter as an Accountant and the different types of ledgers. Even after completing a Business Administration apprenticeship, I felt this gave me even more knowledge of how businesses operate.
AAT Level 2.
The Level 2 Certificate in Accounting is the first intense hit of Accounting exams on the way to becoming a member of the AAT. At this point you start to learn the workings of accounts and the reasons behind keeping and maintaining records. I completed this qualification in 2013, at that point it included the following modules:
- Working effectively in accounting & finance.
- Computerised Accounting.
- Basic Accounting 1.
- Basic Accounting 2.
- Basic Costing.
The course took me 7 months to complete, this included half a day at college each week and another 2 hours studying each week too. Each of the units above would take about 4-6 weeks to cover with a final exam at the end of each. The exam is done online and you receive your results pretty much instantly. I believe the syllabus has now changed so there may be different elements to this course now, but I found it to be the starting point of my finance career. I started taking on a lot more financial roles at work as a result and discovered my keen interest in Accountancy. It is hard work as it’s a whole new topic, plus you will need to commit a lot of time to revision so you are comfortable in the exam. This was my favourite level as I met some great people at college and was on my way to learning a whole new subject. As I was employed when I undertook the AAT qualification, I was able to get funding through the apprenticeship scheme. The level 2 qualification for private study would cost around £600 to £2000 depending on if you chose distance learning or training with a college, although you should enquire about funding too as there may be some available depending on your circumstances.
AAT Level 3.
When you reach the Level 3 Diploma in Accounting, it will become clear that you want to pursue finance further both in study and in a potential or current career. Level 3 contains a lot more content from Level 2 making it a difficult step up. The independent or home study workload increased and I was now attending college for a whole day instead of half a day. That shouldn’t deter you though, the hard work is well worth it in the end and you’ll feel like you’ve gained a LOT of knowledge in the process. Taking the fundamentals you have learnt on Level 2, you’ll be studying:
- Indirect Tax.
- Spreadsheet Software.
- Accounts Preparation 1.
- Accounts Preparation 2.
- Cash Management.
- Costs & Revenues.
- Professional Ethics.
Each of the units takes the basics you learnt in level 2, a step further. Instead of just learning about why things go where they go and basic calculations, you now learn the more intricate workings of the accounts taking it all the way to the preparation of Sole Trader and Partnership accounts. This level can also be funded as part of an apprenticeship but if you are looking to fund this privately you will be looking at around £900 – £2000.
AAT Level 4.
The final level in the AAT Qualification is the Level 4 Advanced Diploma in Accounting. When you reach level four, it’s no longer all about computerised exams and multiple choice questions, this is when you have to start writing and analysing why things are the way they are and what the results of certain actions mean. Each of the exams in this level contain at least 1 written element, so it is no longer just about maths, it’s about you interpretation and explanation too. The exams included in level 4 are:
- Financial Performance.
- Financial Statements.
- Internal Controls and Accounting Systems Project.
- Credit Control (optional)
- Personal Tax (optional)
- Business Tax (optional)
- Auditing (optional)
You can see here that four of the options above are ‘optional’. Along with the 4 core subjects, you also have to choose 2 optional units as well, giving a total of 6 units. Cash management, as included on level 3, has since been moved to level 4 as an optional unit, which is why I haven’t included here. Like the Level 3 qualification, level 4 will set you back between £900 – £2000 depending on how you chose to study. There is also a written report you have to complete, a bit like a University dissertation as part of the Internal Controls unit. We found a lot of people in our group struggled at level 4 because of the vast amount of information you needed to remember for exams, that doesn’t mean it’s ridiculously hard, it just means that with the new added written elements you had to be more analytical and actually understand the reason for certain treatments. I had one full day at college and several hours at home to study which definitely helped.
On completion of all your exams, you will be offered membership to the AAT. You have to pay an annual fee of £147 to remain a member of the AAT and to use the letters ‘MAAT’ after your name. This is an industry recognised qualification which a lot of employers would look for to show a certain standard or work and knowledge. The membership requires regular CPD (Continued Professional Development) to ensure you stay on top of the latest industry news and regulations, the AAT offers a lot of seminars and conferences to help with this. Overall though, my experience has been extremely beneficial to both myself and for my career. I left school at 16 and had a full time job at 17, so hadn’t really pursued a professional qualification until I was 21. The qualification puts the content into real world situations and everything you learn can be carried forward into your own job which makes it all the more important. As I also didn’t find the university route appealing, this was a great alternative. You can study at your own pace and in your own time, complete it as quick or as slow as you wish, plus if you can get funding through the apprenticeship route, there may be a minimal cost to you.