Guidance on answering Section A questions in Advanced Taxation - United Kingdom (ATX-UK) (P6)

Part 1

The two questions in Section A of the ATX-UK (P6) exam are important because they represent 60% of the marks on the exam. Question 1 will be for 35 marks and will include four professional marks. Question 2 will be for 25 marks and, since there will be no professional marks, answers for this question will not be required to be in a specific format. 

These questions usually contain quite a lot of information and tend to involve a number of requirements and a combination of taxes, such that they could appear to be somewhat overwhelming. In order to be successful in the exam it is important to have a structured approach to these questions and to have practised as many of them as possible.

The guidance in this article is likely to be similar to that provided by lecturers on revision courses and so is particularly aimed at those of you who are unable or have chosen not to attend such a course.

This article is about exam technique as opposed to technical knowledge. However, it must be emphasised that you will not be able to pass the exam on the basis of good exam technique alone; strong technical knowledge, across the whole of the syllabus, is the vital foundation on which to build your exam success.

Time management

There are 117 minutes available in the exam to answer the two Section A questions. The management of this significant period of time is likely to be crucial to your exam success or failure.

Time management in the exam is more than simply moving on to the next question when the time allowed for the current question has elapsed. It is about getting to the end of each question in the correct amount of time. This requires you to manage your time throughout the question and not just at the end; to be aware of how much time has elapsed and how much time remains for each particular part of each question and to tailor your answers accordingly.

If you start the 35-mark question with the thought that it needs to be finished in 68 minutes you are in danger of being too expansive at the start of the question (when there is more than an hour to go) such that you may find yourself rushing the final parts of the question or missing them out entirely. In order to avoid this potential problem, you need to identify the tasks that need to be performed, the time available for each task and then manage the time to ensure that all of the tasks are carried out.

You should approach the first task in a question with the aim of finishing it in the appropriate amount of time before moving on to the next task and so on. This can only be achieved if you monitor the time continually throughout the question while recognising what still needs to be done in order to complete the particular task. This monitoring should prevent you from spending too long on a particular point, thus ensuring that all of the tasks are carried out in the time available.

However, this is not easy to do. Accordingly, you should practise this approach such that, by the time you come to sit the exam, you are confident in your ability to start and finish a question in the correct amount of time.

The requirements

Marks are awarded in the exam for satisfying the requirements and not for other information (regardless of how interesting or technically accurate it may be). Accordingly, it is vital to identify and then address the particular requirements in the correct amount of time.

The requirements of a Section A question may be presented in one of two different ways. They can either be given in full within the formal requirements at the end of the question or a brief overview can be provided at the end of the question together with a reference to the detailed requirements in the body of the question. In the latter situation the formal requirements are still important as they indicate the number of marks available (and, thus, the time available) for each of the broad areas of the question.

The detailed requirements should be seen as a list of tasks, all of which need to be performed. You may find it useful to number these tasks so that you can ensure that you address all of them. Where there are a number of tasks within a particular area of the question, some initial thought will be required to determine the time available for each task. This requires you to identify the relative size of each of the tasks by thinking about what needs to be done to carry them out.

When planning what needs to be done to carry out a task you should take into account:

  • any guidance provided by ‘the manager’ in the question and
  • the verb(s) used in the requirement.

The guidance from the manager may suggest a particular approach to take, a good place to start or simply point out matters that do not need to be addressed. This guidance is intended to help you carry out the tasks within the time available.

The verb(s) used in the requirement have been carefully chosen. They provide an indication of the level of detail required. For example, ‘state’ requires no explanatory detail, ‘outline’ is asking for something brief, whereas ‘describe in detail’ expects, not unsurprisingly, a detailed description. ‘Calculate’ requires calculations in order to arrive at a figure; it does not require explanations unless they are asked for separately. The verb used in the requirement is another way of providing you with guidance to help you complete the answer in the time available.

Before starting to answer part of a question, you should have determined the amount of time available for that part and an approximate split of that time between the various tasks.

In the next part of this article we will review a past exam question and outline an approach to take when answering Section A questions.

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