Preparing for success in the P6 (MLA) exam

P6 (MLA) has gained the reputation of a tough exam. In fairness, the truth is that the subject is a complex one. However, like all exams, with a little more preparation and attention to past exam questions, the exam becomes much more manageable.

Through this short article we offer candidates sitting for this exam some tips which they should find useful in preparing for success in this exam.

Prior to exam

Identify your resources
As well as the obvious – study, study, study... – you need to be fully prepared. ACCA offers you many resources you need to prepare yourself for the exam. The following resources are publishing for each sitting:

  • the past exam paper
  • suggested answers
  • marking scheme, and
  • the examiner's report.

Practise past papers
You would be wise to invest time in getting to know the past exam questions. This means not only working out the answers to questions and checking them to the suggested answers provided, but also understanding the nuances of the exam papers, the topics which are being examined, the slant which the examining team like to give to questions, and how marks are allocated.

Study for the whole exam
Candidates who perform well in Section A tend to do well in the exam as a whole.

Candidates are generally better prepared for Section A and less well prepared for Section B, evidenced by the fact that generally candidate performance is stronger on Section A.

It appears, then, that candidates are not preparing themselves thoroughly for the exam as a whole, but perhaps are selecting (mainly Section A-type) topics to study. That's a risky strategy when the syllabus is so rich in material.

Know the P6 syllabus
Section A of the exam tests candidates' understanding of topics core to the syllabus and carries 60 marks. This is why the questions in Section A have been similar for a number of years, albeit at each sitting the examiner seeks to test a different aspect of the subject and to present a different twist for analysis. As the topics themselves are examined sitting after sitting, they should not come as a surprise! It would be a good idea for you to study the topics in depth which means understanding the rules, then understanding when these rules apply and what the exceptions to the rules are.

Preparation for Section B is trickier because the topics are less predictable. This is where it is important for you to be familiar with the syllabus (see 'Related links').

Develop analytical skills
A Professional level tax exam requires you to have more than a good memory to reproduce what you have learnt. You are expected to apply analytical thinking to find solutions to the issues raised.

Analytical thinking requires candidates to break down the issues into smaller, manageable parts, so that solutions can be identified. To be able to identify workable solutions, you need to understand how the parts relate to one another, which means you need to understand the subject thoroughly.

Know the examiner
Having the same examiner for a number of years is a benefit as you can recognise the examiner’s style and his approach to examining the topics ACCA identifies as key to the subject.

I strongly recommend you read the examiner's reports for previous exams, as you will find valuable hints are given in them.

Be aware that the examining team tend to focus questions in Section B on one or two topics, often identifying exceptions to the rules and examining candidates on these. So, when you are preparing for the exam, know the rules, but also make sure you study the exceptions to the rules and know when they come into play.

Remember F6 material
The examiner reports often remind candidates that they should only sit for the P6 (MLA) exam once they feel comfortable with the F6 (MLA) syllabus. F6 topics are often included within P6 exam questions – candidates should find these easy marks to score (yet often don't).

Learn about VAT
The most recent examiner’s reports have highlighted that candidates are not well prepared for VAT questions. Given that VAT is examined at every sitting, candidates are either not studying VAT, or are studying only the general principles. Again, the syllabus show the VAT topics the examining team may test in this advanced paper, and the past exam questions show how this has been done in the past. A good knowledge of the VAT rules is important to your exam success.

Use lectures to maximum effect
Preparation for and attendance at lectures is also important. Preparing for a lecture before you attend it, for example, by reading the chapters relevant to the topics prior to attending the lecture so that you are hearing the subject matter for the second time rather than the first, can be highly effective in improving your exam performance.

The exam

The exam consists of two compulsory questions and three optional questions. Section A which carries 60% of the marks contains two compulsory questions. Section B carries 40% of the marks, and comprises three questions of which you must choose two to answer.

Reading time
In the June 2016 session, candidates are given 15 minutes to read the exam prior to starting. This 15 minutes is precious. We recommend you use this time to read as much of the exam as possible, identify the main issues in each question by highlighting or circling the most relevant parts of a question, and writing one or two-word notes in the margins about the key issues in the questions, and the ideas which spring to your mind as to how to solve the problem.

From September 2016, the restriction relating to reading and planning time is being removed, so the exam becomes three hours 15 minutes in length. This will first apply to the P6 (MLA) exam from the December 2016 session.

Although the reading and planning time restriction will no longer apply, P6 (MLA) candidates are still recommended to take the time to ensure that they read and understand all the question information and requirements and to plan their answers.

Time allocation
The time you allocate to answer each question is extremely important. You have approximately 1.8 minutes per mark. Question 1 carries 35 marks so you have approximately 63 minutes to complete your answer; Question 2 carries 25 marks, so you have approximately 45 minutes to answer that one, and the two questions you choose from Section B each carry 20 marks, giving you approximately 36 minutes to answer each one.

You should attempt all parts of each question too, even if you are not sure of the answers or only have time to answer in bullet or note form. Marks are allocated for identifying the main points – not for essays. Remembering the approximately 1.8 minutes per mark rule, you have approximately seven minutes to answer a four-mark question part, for example.

If you stick to these time allocations, you are likely to complete the whole exam. You might have to write in note form at times, or even run out of time to complete a small element of a part of a question, but that is unlikely to make the difference between a pass and a fail in the exam.

Answer the question
You do need to answer the question the examining team has set, not the one you wish you had been asked!

A number of examiner’s reports have highlighted the problem of information dumping, where a candidate includes information that is not relevant to the question in their answer. No marks can be awarded for this (markers are restricted to applying the marking scheme) so this technique is just a waste of the candidate's time.

The examining team are testing whether you can identify workable solutions to the problems set, and are looking to you to provide relevant information in support of your answer to the question set, which may include information you learned at F6 as well as P6.

We hope you will have found this article useful in spurring you on to invest time in preparing for success in the P6 (MLA) exam. 

Written by members of the P6 (MLA) examining team