Advanced Audit and Assurance – examiner’s approach

This article outlines the approach which will be used to examine Advanced Audit and Assurance (AAA). The article should be read in conjunction with the relevant Study Guide and Syllabus and list of examinable documents.

Exam format and style

The AAA exam is three-hours and 15 minutes and is divided into two sections. Please refer to the specimen exam  and past content for examples of the format. All questions are compulsory.

Section A
This section will consist of one compulsory Case Study style question, for a total of 50 marks, broken down into several requirements. The question scenario will provide a range of detailed information in the form of “exhibits”, and could relate to one or more client companies. The information will come from a variety of sources, and may include, for example, background information about a client, notes of meetings or phone calls held with management of the client company, extracts from financial statements, and extracts from audit working papers.

While the question scenario will be set in the planning phase of an audit, requirements could cover a range of topics, for example relating to evidence, audit quality or ethics. The aim is to place candidates in a 'real world' situation where they would be faced with several very different issues in relation to the one or more clients.

Four professional marks will be available in Section A and will be awarded based on the level of professionalism with which a candidate’s answer is presented, including the structure and clarity of the answer provided.

Section B
Section B will contain two compulsory questions of 25 marks each. Shorter scenarios will be provided as a basis for the Section B requirements. Candidates should ensure that they study the whole syllabus and practice as wide a range of past questions as possible in preparation for the exam.

One of the Section B questions will always be set in the completion stage of an audit, and could focus on topics including the final review of audit evidence,  evaluation of matters and evidence to support the audit opinion, the audit of going concern and subsequent events, the auditor’s report, and reports to those charged with governance.

The other section B question could cover a range of topics – the only exclusion is that it will not be based on an audit completion scenario.

A dating convention will apply to all AAA exams applicable from September 2019. All questions will be set as at 1 July 20X5 and dates in the questions will be appropriately flexed around this. For example in a planning a question a year end of 31 August 20X5 may be used, or for a reporting question a year-end date of 31 March 20X5.

As the basis for the dates will not change from session to session, this dating convention will allow greater certainty for candidates as they should always be able to quickly determine where they are in the audit process.

Key objectives of the syllabus

Audit planning and risk assessment will continue to be examined in every sitting, in Section A. Candidates should be aware that 'planning' covers a wide variety of topics, and does not just mean 'risk assessment'. For more clarity in this area it is essential to read the Syllabus and Study Guide in order to appreciate the breadth of the syllabus in relation to 'planning'. As explained above, planning questions will include wider issues, so candidates might be expected to deal with ethical matters which arise when planning an audit, or issues such as accepting a new audit client.

At each sitting, candidates should also be prepared to tackle requirements relating to obtaining audit evidence. Requirements are likely to focus on specific financial statement balances or transactions, for which candidates will be asked to design the relevant audit procedures. Candidates should ensure that when asked to ‘design’ procedures that they provide the source and purpose for each relevant procedure.

When asked to comment on the 'matters to consider' in the completion phase of an audit, candidates should be aware that one of the key matters to consider is whether the relevant accounting standard has been adhered to, as well as the materiality of the matter, and to consider and explain the audit evidence which should have been obtained in relation to the issue.

Auditor’s reports and reporting to those charged with governance are both important areas. Candidates must familiarise themselves with the most up to date requirements in relation to auditor reporting and have sufficient knowledge and understanding of this area to answer a variety of question types, including providing a critique of a suggested report, or determining the appropriate opinion and form of report to be issued.. It is essential that candidates are confident answering questions on this topic as Syllabus section E will form one of the Section B questions every session.

Ethics and related professional issues are likely to feature in every session, either in Section A or Section B. It is important to appreciate that ethics is not just about independence but also covers ethical issues such as conflicts of interest and confidentiality, as well as fraud and error, and professional liability. Matters such as audit quality and professional scepticism are also important syllabus areas, and may feature in either area of the exam. Candidates should be prepared to evaluate whether an audit has been conducted suitably, including whether the auditor has applied an appropriate level of professional scepticism in a specific situation.

In respect of current issues, candidates should be ready to discuss a current issues topic in the context of the client scenario provided. As current issues can impact on any stage of an audit or assurance engagement, a current issues requirement could feature in either Section A or Section B of the exam.

Candidates should appreciate that they are expected to read around current issues and not rely on manuals from tuition providers. Good quality newspapers, professional journals, as well as ACCA's website, provide sources of information on current developments in audit and assurance. Candidates must not rote learn a provided piece of information on a current issue and then proceed to regurgitate this information verbatim as an answer to an exam requirement. By the time candidates have reached this stage in their professional studies they should take responsibility for developing their own opinion on a current issue, and be able to reach their own conclusion.

Specific competencies

AAA is a challenging and mostly practical exam. Candidates must consider carefully whether they have the required competencies when deciding whether to take this option exam. The competencies necessary for a candidate to achieve a clear pass in AAA include:

  • a thorough understanding of the relevant audit, assurance and financial reporting regulations that fall within the syllabus. The level of accounting knowledge for AAA is aligned with the content of the Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) syllabus and therefore candidates are encouraged to sit and pass SBR prior to attempting AAA
  • the ability to apply knowledge to specific client scenarios
  • the ability to have an independent opinion, backed up by reasoned argument
  • an appreciation of commercial factors which influence practice management
  • an appreciation of the fast-moving developments in audit and assurance practices.

Candidates would be ill-advised to choose AAA as an Options exam if they:

  • have little or no practical audit experience
  • struggled with preceding audit exams
  • are unwilling to take responsibility for their own opinions by reading around current issues
  • are uncomfortable discussing arguments or reaching opinions.

Information sources

Candidates should ensure they are familiar with the wide range of materials available to help them with their studies. In addition to material provided by tuition providers, and ACCA's website, candidates are encouraged, as discussed above, to regularly read up on current issues.

Candidates are encouraged to practise past questions to ensure that that they have good knowledge of the syllabus, are familiar with question requirements and have strong exam technique.

Student Accountant will notify you via email from time to time when new technical articles for AAA have been published. Such articles should be considered essential reading, and will cover both exam approach and technical issues from the syllabus. These articles are also available on the ACCA website and candidates are reminded to visit the site regularly to ensure they are aware of additional resources.   

UK and IRL adapted exams
Following a change in regulatory requirements from September 2019 the UK and IRL adapted exams will show the mark allocations for Question one.


Candidates who have practised plenty of past exam questions, who have taken time to read around the syllabus, and who use sensible exam technique on the day of the exam are very likely to secure a pass. This exam should not be approached as a rote learning exercise, but as a chance to show the ability to think logically and practically, reach an opinion, and demonstrate the application of technical issues to a real-world scenario.

Written by a member of the AAA examining team