New exam format from June 2023 and exam technique for ATX-IRL

The aim of ATX-IRL is to ensure that candidates can provide individuals and businesses with the information and advice they require regarding the impact that the major Irish taxes may have on their financial decisions and situations. The emphasis is therefore on the practical application of tax rules to client scenarios and the production of professional documents incorporating helpful, clear advice. This involves an ability to communicate effectively with clients, the Revenue and with other professionals, and, in this respect, it should be noted that communication is one of the four professional skills that candidates taking ATX-IRL need to be able to demonstrate.

The syllabus

ATX-IRL is directly underpinned by TX-IRL. Knowledge and understanding of the technical content of TX-IRL is, therefore, vital if candidates are to be successful at ATX-IRL. It is quite possible that the technical content of an ATX-IRL question could be drawn almost wholly from the TX-IRL syllabus. However, such a question could involve two or more taxes and will require the analysis of information provided, and the application of technical knowledge to address a given situation. An example of such a question would be a revenue audit scenario, where tax issues have arisen over a number of tax heads.

The ATX-IRL syllabus extends the coverage of income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax (CGT) and value added tax (VAT), and introduces capital acquisitions tax and stamp duty. The syllabus is wide, as befits an optional exam at this level. New technical content is clearly identified in the syllabus and study guide and will be examined regularly.

While no part of the syllabus is more important than any other, it should be recognised from the above that knowledge of the technical areas that are exclusive to ATX-IRL will not, on its own, be sufficient to pass the exam. However, candidates must know ALL of the conditions of the various reliefs on the ATX-IRL syllabus (eg retirement relief) as an incomplete knowledge of these can lead to a candidate making an incorrect decision when planning their answer.

The technical areas included within the syllabus are set out in the syllabus and study guide on ACCA’s website. Candidates should always check the website for the latest syllabus and study guide relevant to their exam session to ensure that nothing has changed and, hence, the learning that they are about to embark on is up to date.

Candidates are required to explain, calculate and apply their knowledge of the system of taxation in Ireland. This knowledge must be up to date. Candidates must familiarise themselves with the changes introduced by recent Finance Acts.

The style and format of the exam

The ATX-IRL exam is, similar to all other Strategic Professional Options, a three hours and 15 minutes computer-based exam.

The exam consists of two sections, Section A and Section B. All questions are compulsory.

From June 2023, Section A comprises one 50 mark question, which will include 10 professional skills marks. Questions 2 and 3 in Section B are each worth 25 marks. Each Section B question will include 5 professional skills marks. The whole of the syllabus is examinable throughout both sections of the exam.

The Section A question requires candidates to analyse the information provided and to use any guidance given to help address the requirements. It will deal with a number of different taxes and will generally require a report, letter, memo or meeting notes as part of the answer. The 50 marks will be broken down into 40 technical and 10 professional skills marks – all four professional skills will be tested within this question, namely communication, analysis and evaluation, commercial acumen and scepticism. Candidates should refer to separate guidance on what these skills entail and how best to demonstrate them in the context of the ATX-IRL exam.

The technical marks within the Section A question will include 5 marks in respect of ethics – here, once again, candidates should refer to separate guidance providing more detail as to how this area of the syllabus will be tested.

Because the Section A question is relatively large and is likely to contain a number of exhibits in order to provide all background information relevant to the scenario being tested, careful time management is important, and candidates are advised to use the number of marks allocated to each requirement to determine how much time to spend on each part.

Each Section B question will comprise 20 technical and 5 professional skills marks. The professional skills being examined will be appropriate to the particular question. This will involve a minimum of two per question, drawn from analysis and evaluation, commercial acumen and scepticism. Communication skills will not be tested in Section B. Once again, separate guidance should be referred to in order to fully appreciate and understand how the professional skills are tested within an ATX context.

Throughout the exam, candidates will often be directed on which taxes to consider. However, occasionally, there may be times when candidates are expected to be able to identify issues, as well as demonstrate detailed knowledge of the tax system. In line with this emphasis on practicality, questions may require candidates to address ‘the Irish tax consequences’ of a given situation without indicating which particular taxes to consider. In this situation, it is up to candidates to identify the relevant taxes, and the issues in respect of those taxes, before beginning their answers. It is common for candidates, for example, to identify the CGT aspects of tax planning questions and then overlook the VAT and/or stamp duty implications and thereby lose valuable marks.

Calculations are normally only required in support of explanations and advice, and not in isolation. Again, it is often up to candidates to decide what calculations to provide in order to do this in the most efficient manner. Advice on how to approach a given problem may be provided in the question.

There is no specific allocation of numerical calculation versus narrative balance within TX-IRL and ATX-IRL. However, in practice, TX-IRL is weighted towards numerical calculations whereas ATX-IRL is weighted towards narrative explanations. In both exams, the ability of candidates to be able to explain their treatments and opinions is vital. It is important to note that this does not mean that candidates need to have perfect grammar or spelling; it does, however, mean that they need to make themselves clearly understood.

With regard to the professional skills, it is important for candidates to realise that there is no need to address these separately when answering a question. Instead, these marks will be awarded for the way in which questions are answered – ie by reference to the approach taken, the manner in which the work is carried out and the particular technical points which are identified and discussed.

Candidates will therefore earn the professional skills marks by:

  • following any instructions and responding to all of the requirements
  • taking time to think about the information provided and how the relevant technical rules apply to the specific scenario which is under scrutiny
  • taking care to make it as easy as possible for the intended audience (ie for Q1, the manager/director/partner or client to which the memo or report, etc, is addressed; and for all questions, ultimately, the marker) to follow and understand what has been done.

Specimen exam

A full specimen exam, including questions, answers and marking scheme, demonstrating the new structure and clearly showing the professional skills marks, is available for candidates on ACCA's Practice Platform.

Approach to the exam

Irrespective of whether a candidate is preparing for TX-IRL or ATX-IRL, there are a number of stages that they need to go through in order to be successful. The approach to be taken is as follows:

  • Acquire the knowledge and obtain a solid understanding of the subject area. At both levels within the taxation stream, a good understanding of the Irish system of taxation is vital to a successful exam result. Knowledge can be acquired using a range of different options, and candidates should select a method which is appropriate for them.

  • As all three questions in this exam are compulsory, it is essential for candidates to have a good knowledge of the entire syllabus as detailed in the syllabus and study guide.

  • To improve exam technique and approach, candidates should practise exam‑standard questions. All of ACCA’s exams require candidates to apply their knowledge at an appropriate level for the stage of exam. Candidates who attempt exams without practising exam-standard questions are unlikely to pass as they are unlikely to have mastered the required exam technique or technical understanding.

  • ACCA’s website includes past exam questions and answers. Note, however, that these past exams are based on the legislation that was in force (and was therefore examinable) at the time of the exam session. This may mean that some of the content of a question or answer may be out of date.

  • Candidates should also ensure that they engage with the past exam questions and answers on ACCA's Practice Platform, as well as the new specimen exam, in order to simulate real, computer-based exam conditions.

  • The examiner reports are available on the ACCA website and should be read, as these highlight the common errors made by candidates on the particular exam.

  • When practising exam-standard questions it is vital for candidates to spend time reviewing their answers against the model answers to learn what was done well and where mistakes were made, so as not to repeat those errors. It should be noted that the model answers for written questions are likely to contain more than a candidate needs to write in order to achieve a good pass.

  • Finally, when actually attempting the real exam, it is important to follow the instructions of the exam and answer all the questions. Achieving a pass is much harder if key parts are left out.

In the exam

Candidates should pay particular attention to the following in order to maximise their chances of success in the ATX-IRL exam.

Address the requirement:

  • Read the requirement carefully – in the Section A question, the detailed tasks that candidates are to perform may be set out in one of the documents within the question. It may be helpful to tick off the tasks as they are addressed. Marks are awarded for satisfying the requirements and not for other information, even if it is technically correct.

  • The requirements of each question are carefully worded in order to provide guidance as to the style and content of answers. Candidates should note the command words (calculate, explain, etc), any matters that are not to be covered, and the precise issues they have been asked to address.

  • Candidates should also note any additional guidance given in the question or in any notes following the requirement regarding the approach that should be taken when answering the question. 

  • Attention should be paid to the number of marks available – this provides a clear indication of the amount of time that should be spent on each question part.

  • Candidates should be aware of all the additional guidance which has been provided around the professional skills in order to understand what it is they need to demonstrate in order to earn these marks.

Candidates should not provide general explanations or long introductions:

  • If candidates are asked to calculate, there is no need to explain what they are going to do before they do it; they should just get on with it – explanations should only be provided when asked for.

  • Candidates should think before they write. They should then write whatever is necessary to satisfy the requirement.

  • Candidates should apply their knowledge to the facts by reference to the requirement.

Candidates should think before they start and manage their time. This will:

  • ensure that they allow the correct amount of time for each question. It should be noted that the professional skills marks are not earned separately but are awarded by reference to the technical work which is done. This means that, from a planning perspective, candidates should treat the exam as being out of 80, rather than 100, marks and thus, when organising time, they should work on the assumption that they have 2.4 minutes per mark

  • provide candidates with an opportunity to identify the relevant issues, and the calculations necessary, to support their advice

  • enable them to consider the most efficient way to carry out the necessary calculations.

Written by a member of the ATX-IRL examining team