Beyond the balance sheet

How to become an accountant with the AAT qualification

Henrietta Hale 27/6/2016 5 minute read

Henrietta Hale explains how the AAT helped at the start of her career as she progresses towards full qualification as an accountant.

For many a student in the final stages of their school education, the next logical move might appear to be further study at University. Either that or, some other form of higher education. We’ve blogged about this before but when considering a professional career as an accountant, going to University is far from your only option.

Another very viable path you could pursue would be to not go to University and work in a firm while studying towards the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualification. We’ve had several employees who went down this route and they have enjoyed very successful careers. Henrietta Hale is one of our more recent recruits doing exactly that. Here she explains how to become an accountant by studying for the AAT at the start of your career.

How did you get going with the AAT?

I started at Wellers Oxford office in September 2012 shortly after completing my A Levels. Being a school leaver I joined on an AAT contract whereby I’d have to complete the training within 2 years. School were very pro University but I just didn’t feel like it was for me. I already knew that I wanted to be an accountant, so it was then a case of looking at how to qualify.

I knew University wasn't for me because:

  • I didn’t want to move away
  • I didn’t want to take on huge student debts
  • I wanted to start working towards my career as soon as possible

Describe the structure and what it was like studying AAT?   

To complete the AAT qualification I went to Abingdon and Witney College for 1 day a week. This required me to pass the Level 3 and Level 4. I didn’t have to take Level 2 as I had already completed A Levels and was working in an accountancy environment.


Level 3 comprises of 6 computer based exams, and you obtain your results instantly. Level 4 requires 5 exams and a work related or case study project. These exams are also computer based but they include written elements. That means a 6 week wait for the results. To pass you need to achieve 70% or over, meaning there isn’t much room for error.

What exact skills does it equip you with?

Studying AAT provided me with a solid understanding of how an accountancy system actually works. Because we use computers to provide services to clients, if I hadn’t done the AAT and thus learnt the basics I think I’d have struggled to get my head around key concepts that are now second nature to me such as double entry bookkeeping!

As AAT was only one day a week, compared to block release for ACCA/ACA, it meant that I could really develop my skills at work whilst also learning at college.

Why move on to ACA/ACCA?

To further enhance my knowledge so that I can assist clients and other staff with more complicated tasks and projects.

How does that improve your skill set?

AAT is a good basis for information, however it does not go into as much depth as ACCA.

What does ACA/ACCA training include?

In total there are 14 ACCA exams – 3 of these are the ‘foundation’ modules and as I had taken AAT I get exemptions from them.

There are then the fundamental papers know as ‘F’ papers and the professional papers known as ‘P’ papers. These consists of 9 F papers and 5 P papers. Once you’ve passed all of the F papers you are part qualified and once you have taken the P papers you are exam qualified.

There are also performance objectives which you have to write which are essentially objectives set by the ACCA you must demonstrate you are fulfilling. Once you have achieved all the objectives and passed all your exams you are then fully qualified. The study for this includes a set block release of time at Reed Business School where we take 2 exams every 6 months.


How useful is on the job experience to all this?

Extremely helpful! It puts what you’re studying into a real life concept. For me that meant I could apply what I’d learnt in client work and it also helped me to then remember certain concepts and workings when it came to the exams.

How far have you got to go?

I’m half way, I hope to be part qualified by the summer and fully qualified by the end of the following year.

What is your goal/ambition with all this?

To pass all of my exams first time and to be fully qualified as soon as possible.

I also aim to have a good rounded knowledge of accounting and tax so that I can help clients with a variety of complex tasks and queries.

What will it mean for you at Wellers?

There's the obvious career development. But I also like the thought of helping new starters train up and qualify much like those who have helped me with my training.

What is your advice to those finishing AAT and considering their options?

To make sure that progressing with studies is actually what you want to do. For me, ACCA requires a lot of study and if your heart isn’t in it then you won’t be dedicated enough to pass the exams.

Look into the different qualifications to see which one you think would suit you and your career goals. Then contact various employers and see what their views are on each qualification. Finally, consider the exam structures of each qualification and think about which one is most suitable for you.

What's been the hardest part so far and why?

Definitely the fine balance that has to be struck between work, study and having a social life.

What have you enjoyed the most and why?

Putting knowledge learnt at college into practice at work. That's because it gives a real life situation of what you have learnt and shows that it was worth all that investment of time and effort in learning it!

And of course when you’ve worked really hard and applied yourself, you then get good exam results!

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The content of this post is up to date and relevant as at 27/06/2016.

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