Improving your performance in Paper P6 (UK)

This article is relevant for all candidates preparing to sit the Paper P6 (UK) 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 and the first 15 minutes
  • The importance of question practice

These articles (listed under 'Related links') 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.

The importance of thinking

When marking the Paper P6 (UK) exam, it is quite clear that many candidates would benefit from spending more time thinking and less time writing. A lack of thought is demonstrated by answers that:

  • are longer than they need to be by reference to the number of marks available
  • start by addressing the requirement but then digress into irrelevant areas
  • indicate a failure to obtain a clear understanding of the facts of the question
  • do not cover a sufficient number of points
  • include unnecessary or inefficiently prepared calculations.

Minimise lost marks

A tax exam is as much about the marks you fail to earn as it is about the marks you earn. Marks are ‘lost’ due to lack of knowledge, lack of care when reading the question and lack of thought when answering the question.

The marks that you lose through lack of care/thought are the ones you cannot afford to lose. This is because there will always be some technical points in the exam that you do not know, such that you cannot earn the marks in respect of those points. Because of this, you need to do as well as you can in relation to the technical points that you do know. It’s a terrible waste of hard work to have understood and memorised the rules in relation to a particular technical area and then to fail to earn marks for it due to poor exam technique.

Maximise relevant points addressed

The questions in the exam are detailed and may be quite complicated. They are not as complicated as real life but, given the pressurised nature of the exam room (and the fact that there no reference books or colleagues to refer to), they are quite complicated enough. Accordingly, in the same way that you wouldn’t expect to be able to respond immediately to a real life client situation without first thinking about it, you should not expect to do so in the exam.

Thinking before you start your answer gives you time to be clear as to the facts of the question and what you have been asked to do. It then gives you the chance to identify as many of the relevant implications as possible, and the various aspects of each of the implications, such that you maximise the number of points you make and the number of marks scored. Also, by thinking before you write you should avoid covering irrelevant matters that will not score marks. Remember, marks are only given in the exam for those parts of your answers that satisfy the requirements and any time spent writing about other matters is time wasted.

Work efficiently

When writing an explanation you may be able to increase the number of marks per page considerably by thinking before you write each point. You will not have to think for very long each time; just long enough to identify the best, most concise way of making the point. Recognise that, as most points are only worth a single mark, it should only take one or two sentences to make each point. Many candidates’ answers take a lot more than two sentences to make each point, such that time is being wasted. As part of this process, you should also focus on making each point once only and avoiding repetition.

When preparing calculations it is important to stop and think before you start. Preparing calculations is time consuming, such that you want to prepare them in the most efficient manner. For example, it may be that the client will be a higher rate taxpayer regardless of proposed changes to levels of income; the income tax implications can therefore be computed at the margin without the need to prepare full income tax computations.


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

  • 'Examiner’s approach to Paper P6 (UK)’, which explains the structure of the P6 (UK) exam and the skills required of candidates.
  • 'Stepping up from Paper F6 to Paper P6’, which provides guidance on the progression from Paper F6 to Paper P6 in terms of the syllabus, the style and format of the exam, and the approach necessary to maximise your chance of success.
  • 'Guidance on answering Section A questions in Paper P6 (UK)’, which provides detailed guidance on the approach to be taken when answering Section A questions.

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 'Paper P6 (UK) – Summary of available articles' (see 'Related links') for details.

Written by a member of the Paper P6 examining team