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Part 1 of 5: READING EXAM QUESTIONS

This article is relevant for all candidates preparing to sit the ATX-UK (P6) exam. It is one of a series of five short articles on exam technique. The five articles cover:

  • Reading exam questions
  • Satisfying the requirements of a question
  • The importance of thinking
  • Time management
  • The importance of question practice


These articles are likely to be particularly useful to those candidates who are not attending a course with a tuition provider, such that they are not receiving ongoing guidance and advice on exam technique.
 

Reading an exam question is a skill that you should work at and try to improve. This will help you to identify the relevance of the facts of the scenario, and enable you to take advantage of the guidance and help provided in the question.

THE INFORMATION IN THE QUESTION

The questions in the exam are detailed and the facts of a particular situation may be complicated. Although you will feel time pressured, you must resist the temptation to ‘get on with it’ before you have taken the time to understand what is going on. If necessary, draw a diagram or a timeline to organise the information in a manner that is easier to assimilate.

As you read the question you should be thinking about the relevance of the information provided. Almost all of the information in the exam is given for a reason; it is up to you to identify that reason and the tax implications flowing from it. For example:

  • the date on which a company began trading is important because that is the start of an accounting period
  • the level of an individual’s shareholding in a company affects the availability of entrepreneurs’ relief and so on.
     

If you do not identify the relevance of a particular point you may well be giving up the mark(s) available for identifying the tax implications flowing from that point.

THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE QUESTION

The chronology of the question must be treated with care. Events that occurred prior to the date of the exam cannot be altered. The same is true of events that have been contracted to occur in the future unless the question makes it clear that the agreement can be altered in some way.

On the other hand, events that are simply planned for some point in the future can be changed. Tax planning often revolves around the timing of events and changing a particular date may be sufficient to improve the tax implications of a proposed transaction.

GUIDANCE IN THE QUESTION FROM THE MANAGER

You should take careful note of any guidance from the manager (in the Section A questions) and of any notes following the requirements regarding the approach that should be taken when answering the question.

Guidance from the manager is given to help you plan your approach to a question in situations where it may not be obvious how to begin solving the problem. The notes following the requirement will often exclude particular areas of the syllabus from a question or question part, such that you will be wasting your time if you address those areas in your answer.

SECTION A QUESTIONS

Reading the questions in an efficient and proactive manner is particularly important in relation to Section A questions due to the amount of detail presented and the length of the questions. It is strongly recommended that you read the article ‘Guidance on answering Section A questions in ATX-UK (P6)’ (see link below).

WHICH QUESTION SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT FIRST IN THE EXAM?

This question is part of the bigger question: in what order should you attempt the questions in the exam? The answer to this question will vary from one candidate to another. When deciding what is best for you, there are two main issues to think about.

(1). The difference in style between Section A questions and Section B questions
Section A questions are more difficult to assimilate, contain more information and are worth more marks (and therefore take more time) than Section B questions.

(2).The technical content of the particular questions in the exam you are sitting
It is very easy to identify the technical content of Section B questions as it is outlined in the opening paragraph of each question. However, it is difficult to identify the detailed technical content of Section A questions without reading through the whole question.

Your first decision should be whether you are more comfortable starting with Section A or Section B. This is likely to depend on the style of question you prefer and whether you would rather start with a longer or a shorter question. You may also have found that your ability to think clearly and work methodically varies during the period of an exam. For example, you may not be at your best during the first half hour. So you should bear that in mind when deciding which section you choose to start with.

You need to decide on your own personal strategy here and then practise it and ensure that it works for you.

Once you are in the exam you will already know which section you intend to start with. So all you need to do is identify your first question by reference to the scenario or technical content that most appeals to you.

Whichever question you start with you must manage your time carefully so that you finish it in the correct amount of time.

CONCLUSION

Good exam technique will help you perform to the best of your abilities in the exam and to maximise the number of marks you earn. As a result, you will be able to earn the marks that all of your hard work prior to the exam deserves.

Accordingly, as you prepare to sit your exams, in addition to adding to and refining your technical knowledge, you should be aiming to continually improve your exam technique.

FURTHER GUIDANCE ON EXAM TECHNIQUE AND TECHNICAL MATTERS

There are four other non-technical articles that focus on the structure of the exam and exam technique (all of these are accessible on the ATX-UK (P6) technical articles web page).


Although exam technique is important, and can even be the difference between failing and passing the exam, it is clearly not as important as technical knowledge. Excellent exam technique on its own will not be sufficient to achieve exam success. Accordingly, there are technical articles to support you in your studies – access the article 'ATX-UK (P6) – Summary of available articles' for details.

Written by a member of the ATX-UK (P6) examining team

Last updated: 22 Feb 2018