Barden Focus: Get the inside track on the FAE Core exams from Lisa Hughes (ACA)

In Summer 2014 I was in your seat – only a few weeks to go before my FAEs. I was always good at taking exams but the FAE Core exams were like nothing I had studied for before. Give me a technical question and I would have no problem with it. However, the Core felt like a whole different ball game; and it was.

I got my FAE Core exams 1st time round. It wasn’t just luck; it was preparation and planning.
August will come around quickly. The FAEs are not an exam you can cram for – you have a challenging few weeks ahead. Here are a few things that I learned in 2014 that might help you out over the next few weeks:

The build up to the Core exams:

  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t procrastinate on getting started – time is not your friend.
  • Practice makes perfect – look at mock papers, sample papers throughout the course of study leave and do past papers in real time in the last 2/3 weeks before the exam. Be strict with yourself. Time yourself. Bring snacks which are quick to eat, allow yourself a toilet break half way through, but mimic exam conditions exactly. Getting used to working at pace in a real time setting and figuring out the little times savers that work for you will be critical for the day itself.
  • Be able to spot an indicator from a thousand yards. The faster you are at spotting them, the faster you can get to the crux of the case study.

Try using different colour highlighters for the various indicators/subjects. Get used to this system and you will be will able to retrieve relevant information at a glance, rather than wasting precious time on the day.

The night before and during the Core exams:

  • Get sleep
  • Go for a walk to clear your head
  • If you don’t know it by now you aren’t going to pick it up by cramming (sorry!)

The day of the Core exams:

  • Arrive with ample time – you will have to unpack before you get started. I even heard of someone with an Ikea book shelf in the exam on the day – that took a while to construct!
  • Know your folders inside out – don’t change it up the day before. Bring in what you are used to working with.
  • Make sure you allocate time appropriately to the number of indicators identified – if you are not strict with yourself on this, you will end up not having enough time for another indicator and stress levels are likely to rise.
  • It is not all about Day 1. You can make it up on Day 2 so the most important thing is not to panic.
  • Do a review of Day 1 with a trusted friend that is at least as smart as you are. If you missed an indicator/subject, do not write it off. You will know what indicators/subjects to focus on in Day 2 and the indicators which you should do first.
  • If one area of a subject is covered on Day 1 it is less likely that it will come up again on Day 2. This does not always hold true but it is worth considering.
  • Bring your highlighters, make sure they are inked-up and use the same colours as you are used to.

If these tips help just one of you in the Core exams then this will have been worth writing. The next few weeks are going to be very important in your professional future. Pass them 1st time and you are set. Miss them 1st time then it is not the end of the world. Do not expect to pass exams just because you are strong academically – give these exams the respect they deserve.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy – getting your FAE Core exams is most definitely worthwhile. Be the very best you can be and make yourself proud in August.

PS – the results night out is literally the best night ever! Well worth the slog!

Lisa Hughes, Siobhan Sexton and a lot of the team here in Barden are practice trained/Chartered accountants, so when the time is right for you, we would only be too happy to help you plan your future, best of luck with the exams in the future.

At Barden we invest our resources to bring you the very best insights on all things to do with your professional future. Got a topic you would like us to research? Got an insight you would like us to share with our audience? Drop us a note to and we will take it from there!

Sign Up to get new
Insights in your inbox

At Barden we invest our resources to bring you the very best insights on all things to do with your professional future.
Share this articleShare on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Tweet about this on Twitter