Meet Nicki Berrange

I registered at the last minute for the UCT APC course. This was not because I didn’t know which board course to do because as soon as Paul pitched it to my firm, I knew there was actually no choice for me, as who can pass up the opportunity of having Paul impart his wisdom weekly! My delay was actually because the thought of studying again filled me with dread. The CA(SA) path is a long one, with studying a minimum of 4 years, many studying for 5 years, you finally graduate and celebrate for a while and then it’s back to the books for ITC. And as you start finding your groove in the working, no-longer-studying world, your firm springs on you the fact that you have to register for a board course – 7 odd months before the exam! Finally, as it was nearing the deadline, I registered for the APC UCT Board Course!

Despite the feeling in my stomach, I decided that the final exam was far enough away for me not to panic and that I would use the time to mentally prepare myself for the final exam, focusing on the ultimate goal – passing! There were four of us in my group – we had all studied together and knew each other well, but we were in different departments/sectors: I’m in banking, the others in financial services audit, general and retail auditing. Across the group, we had good exposure to various industries and knowledge and we could leverage off each other – particularly in the auditing-based questions which to me, were so foreign! I’d recommend forming a group of people with whom you know you can work, as well as ensuring that you have a variety of disciplines across the group – if you’re doing the TOPP route, I would highly recommend having members from audit firms in your group.

I elected to do online lectures. I’m based in Johannesburg and the thought of fighting peak-hour Sandton traffic was enough to encourage me to go to the virtual lecture route on the VLE. In the week that the first lecture was held, I set aside an evening after work to watch the introductory video – ensuring that I didn’t miss out on anything vital as well as allowing for me to get into the right headspace. Whenever new content was loaded onto the VLE, I would download the transcript and take the time to read through it, filing it in my file to refer to at a later stage if needed. The transcripts are informative but brief, making for easy reading and highlight the pertinent points, helping me remember the knowledge from my honours and undergraduate years. Lectures aren’t for everyone; some people learn by reading, not from listening, so I’d recommend doing what suits you and not being swayed by those around you.

My first submission for the Course was not great. I had heard that you must not write too much and I did the complete opposite – my answers were far too brief and didn’t show the marker my thought process. It did, however, show me what not to do! When the marking grid and best practice examples came out, I took the time to go through the answers and focused on the thought process and method of answering as opposed to the content. With each subsequent submission or example that we received, I focused mainly on the way in which the question was answered and could see slight improvements in my answers. I think that this is one thing that is often overlooked. The APC exam will never have the same question or even, probably, content, so going through past papers or questions and trying to look at the content won’t necessarily assist you. However, looking at the style and the way in which the question is answered is so beneficial.

For the mock exam, I only took the two days before the exam off, and so the time period is not really comparable to the final exam. Additionally, we received the pre-release a lot more than 5 days in advance. However, for the entrance and final exam, we had similar strategies. On the morning of the release, I read through the case-study at least twice, identifying the potential triggers. I compiled a list of the triggers and started researching the more obvious ones – these included articles to which the case study referred or certain IFRS or ISA statements. I met with my group on that Friday afternoon where we discussed the triggers and divided them up amongst us. Regardless of what was triggered, we always prepared a SWOT, Porter’s 5 Forces and some form of risk register. I would also print the Integrated Report of a comparable company to keep in my file, just to reference in case something unplanned came up. Friday evening and Saturday morning was filled with covering the triggers I’d been allocated – exploring all possibly disciplines and possible questions, trying to cover all bases. Once I was happy with the trigger, I’d share with my group and they’d do the same. For the other triggers, I preferred to cover the work myself and refer to my team’s work afterwards. This is just my style of learning – I learn from doing, not just from reading. That way, it was more engrained in my brain and meant I didn’t have to keep referring to my file. I would use my groups work to boost mine and let them know if there was any points that I had identified which perhaps they had overlooked.

On Sunday, my group got together to discuss the triggers and explain them to one another, ensuring everyone fully understood all triggers. This was so useful and I would highly recommend it as it facilitates discussion and people come up with different points or possible questions. For all exams, we liaised with another group to make sure that we had the same triggers and weren’t missing anything vital. That being said, we didn’t look at the notes of other groups as it can be information overload and result in panic. Monday and Tuesday were spent going through the file and information but also ensuring that I was well rested and in the right mind set. I made sure that my file was in order by Tuesday afternoon and nothing further was required. Go to the gym, go for a walk or just get out the house. It can become overwhelming sitting at home and thinking about what more you should be doing. If you can keep calm, eat well and rest up, you’ll be more prepared than someone who has memorized every paragraph of ever IFRS!

Exam day is intimidating; it’s this huge venue and everyone is a bit jittery. I prefer to sit in my car until we go in to the exam hall to avoid the ‘what did you say for this?’ people crowding outside the exam hall. Wear comfy clothes, pack snacks and liquids and don’t forget your file at home! Take it slowly, you have more time than you think per question so use your time wisely to plan and properly structure your answer. I enjoyed working on a computer because you can cut and paste and move things around as you see fit – preventing your paper from ending up in a huge mess!

It’s a few more months and then it is all over for you – don’t get yourself into a state over this; do your best with your submissions given your time/work/life constraints but more importantly, go through the marking grid and best practice solutions thoroughly as that is where I learnt the most. It’s been a long road and there’s only a few more hurdles standing in your way before the coast is clear and it’s smooth sailing. Wishing you all the best for it – you’ve got this!

 

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