Double Exit

Back to School!

September marks the beginning of the academic cycle once more and with it starts the process of new timetables, book collections and lectures! Whether you are a new CAI student or returning for another year, it is important to get a good start to the academic year. There have been many examples of students who were slow starters or let other commitments get in the way of their studies, only to find themselves in an uphill struggle once the new year came around.

Although summer 2018 may seem like a long way away, there will be many important hurdles to get over in the intervening months (e.g. interim assessments, mocks, etc.) so hitting the ground running will be important to ensure a successful year. The purpose of this post is to give students some tips and advice on how best to get a good start to the academic year. I will focus first on some more general points and then discuss some specific tips for CAP1, CAP2 & FAE students.

General Advice

Basics – Get these sorted ASAP

  • Book collection typically occurs over a number of evenings – if doing all subjects at a level, you will have a lot of books to carry so come prepared & with transport arranged
  • Ensure you get set up and have access to the CAI website, notes, recordings etc.
  • The Learning Journals (LJs) are a relatively new initiative which are very helpful at outlining all the relevant sessions for each of the modules at CAP1, CAP2 & FAE, where relevant. They also detail the relevant preparation and after class work to get the most out of the sessions. Make sure these are at the front of your folder and brought to each lecture. These will either be distributed in hard copy when you collect your books or available online in soft copy.
  • The competency statement (one for each of CAP1, CAP2 & FAE) is a very important document and the one the examinations team work off when drafting exam papers. Ensure you have the relevant syllabus details printed off for each module you are sitting and in the front of the relevant folder. You can access them here.
  • For those of whom it will be your first year with CAI, it is a good idea, once you have your timetable, to take a walk around where the lectures are due to be held to get an idea of location, timings etc especially on weekends. Getting used to new venues, lecturers, online notes systems and exam systems will take time.

Balance – Work, Study, Life

  • Balancing work, study and personal commitments will present a new challenge to some. Having a full time job, evening and weekend lectures along with your own personal events can be challenging and will take time to adjust to. Consider creating a new personal calendar with key events/lectures to let you set out what is coming up over the next few months. See an example below of how one might look in excel – you could of course use your email related calendar in Outlook also.


  • Timetables are already live – see here. These outline all your relevant lectures for the year and also detail the relevant dates for interim assessments, mocks etc. Use these to prepare your calendar for the year. Don’t forget to include the week of the final exams also!
  • You should also be realistic in terms of your time. It is unlikely you will get to every lecture due to various reasons (e.g. work commitments etc.) but it is important that you have the discipline to set time aside to catch up on things ASAP. While online recordings are available, they can provide a false sense of security for students. (See below for more re this)


  • The lecture materials and sessions are standardised across lecture centres and lecturers – thus regardless of what group you are in or lecturer you have, you will cover the same material.
  • The cumulative principle is a core part of CAI exams. What you will cover in CAP1 will be important for both CAP2 & FAE exams. With that in mind, it is important to ensure you comprehensively cover the material (i.e. avoid cramming last minute) as it will be important for three sets of exams. This is particularly important when you are coming in with exemptions from some exams.
  • While all the sessions (or the majority at least – some tutorial type sessions may not be recorded to encourage attendance) are available as online recordings, you should avoid over relying on these and using it as justification to miss lectures.


  • The professional examination structure is different to university. There is a clear separation of the education (i.e. lectures) and examination team (i.e. authors of papers and examiners) meaning the lecturers have no insight as to what will be on the paper. Thus you should take all hints with a pinch of salt as the lecturer has not set the paper unlike university. You should assume everything is examinable, avoid cherry picking areas, and pay particular attention to past examiner reports.
  • A useful resource for CAI students are the past examiner reports which each examiner publishes with the suggested solution after each sitting. This is particularly aimed at future students to provide guidance as to where students have performed poorly in the past and to avoid such mistakes in the future.
  • Watch out for subjects that have no interim assessments (e.g. Finance @ CAP1, Tax @ CAP2) – there is a tendency for students to leave these subjects to one side until study leave well into the new year and often it can be too late to catch up on all the material missed to date.
  • Many students find that forming peer groups for study purposes very beneficial, particularly during study leave when it can be a long time (e.g. up to 12 weeks for some firms at CAP2/FAE level) on your own studying without people to bounce ideas etc. off. This can be easier in larger firms but it is also important (if not more) for students in smaller firms who may not have many colleagues sitting the exam. Online forums such as and your past third level classmates could be useful sources to find peers to form study groups.


  • Watch out for the subjects with no interim assessments (Finance, Law, Tax) – do not leave these aside to focus on other subjects too much as you may leave yourself with too much to do to catch up come study leave
  • If you are completely new to accounting it will likely take a while to get settled into the area – consider using peer groups for study (perhaps other people in a similar situation) and do not be afraid to ask questions – that is what lecturers are there for and the majority are more than willing to have a chat during breaks or after lectures to help you on your way.
  • The double entry bookkeeping (DEBK) is likely to be the first exam you will sit in your professional exams. There are a number of available windows in which you can sit the exam however you should try to get this out of the way as soon as possible to allow you time to focus on the management accounting interim assessment and to provide sufficient time to get ready for the final exams in the summer.
  • If you are doing all the CAP1 exams (five in all), do not underestimate the commitment this requires in term of time. Make sure you are realistic in terms of your planning and how much time you commit to study etc.
  • Review your timetable to identify when the mock exams are scheduled for. Although they might seem very early in the academic year, you should make it an objective to have a realistic attempt at these. The mock exams give you a great insight into what the CAP1 exam conditions will be like and the style of paper etc.


  • The CAP2 exams are very heavy with technical content and this can be a slog if doing all four subjects in one sitting. You need to be disciplined with regards your study and to ensure you spend some time throughout the year at it as opposed to leaving it all until study leave.
  • As discussed above, the cumulative principle is a core part of CAI exams. For CAP2 you need to be comfortable with the relevant CAP1 syllabus – regardless of whether you came through CAP1 or are coming in from third level with exemptions.
  • Watch out for the subjects with no interim assessments (Tax) – do not leave these aside to focus on other subjects too much as you may leave yourself with too much to do to catch up come study leave
  • Once the new year comes you will have a busy period with both FR & SFMA interim assessments in January and then the Audit interim and mocks in March/April. This period will also likely coincide with busy season for many trainees so it will be important you plan ahead in terms of your schedule.
  • Review your timetable to identify when the mock exams are scheduled for. Although they might seem very early in the academic year, you should make it an objective to have a realistic attempt at these. The mock exams give you a great insight into what the CAP2 exam conditions will be like and the style of paper etc.


  • The FAEs will be a new concept in terms of education and examination for most so it is important to spend time at the outset understanding how you will be examined and marked.
  • You should pay particular attention to the CAI guidance in terms of required attendance levels to be allowed to sit the FAE exams.
  • You should also read the CAI guidance in terms of choosing your elective subject and talk to people who have completed the FAEs before you about their thoughts on each elective.
  • The AAFRP exam is now being held in early December which means it is crucial you get a good start to study for the outset. Financial reporting is a significant part of the overall FAE syllabus and getting a good result in the AAFRP exam can be a big confidence boost ahead of the main exam. Similarly, the relatively new elective interim assessments in April are a great chance to force yourself (some people need a push!) to study as well as getting some marks on the board before the final exam.
  • As the FAE has been running a number of years at this stage there will be a forest of cases circulating and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times trying to keep track of them all. Keep an excel file (or something similar) from the outset and a corresponding folder on your desktop (and back it up!!!) to track all the cases you come across and note the key areas covered etc. This can be a great aid when you get to the business end of the year and want to recap on particular types or cases and/or areas.
  • Much of the technical material for FAE will have previously been covered off at CAP2 level (so make sure you are up to speed with this particularly if you are coming from a Masters). The FAE will typically provide a recap on this material and then look at it in a case context.
  • Balancing work and study can be a particular challenge when coming to FAE. As most students sitting FAE will be at least 1-2 years in their job, they will be taking on additional responsibilities which will result in additional time commitments. It will be a delicate balance but it is important you are focused on your exam commitments from the outset in terms of prioritising your calendar and schedule to ensure you invest sufficient time in your studies.

Happy Studying!

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