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Advice re: the CTA

Advice re: the CTA

I've just finished (and hopefully passed) my ATT exams and am eyeing up the CTA now cautiously due to the horror stories people tell me about how hard it is.

Basically I've just had a glance at a paper and was suprised how I could see how to answer most of the questions even now (ie before I even looked at a CTA text book). So is the CTA similar to the ATT in question complexity (obviously more the upper end) but you have to really get the points to get marks (as in, if stating an item was ignored for IHT due to it being outside the UK would get you 2 marks in the ATT, the CTA would give you most of the first mark)?

I'm also a full member of the ACCA and was hoping the finals of that would be of comparable difficulty to the CTA, but I'm told it is much harder. Is that just the person I spoke to trying to big up the CTA or is there really such a leap from ACCA finals to CTA? I was told the ACCA was comparable to a Masters, what does that make the CTA?!?

Lastly now that you can do them in bits, what would you say is the manageable happy medium? Is it two exams every 6 months, one every 6 months? I have now till December free, then can't do anything till after June 2010 (my wedding, surely once I get through that the CTA will be a doddle!), then the rest of my life free (until the patter of tiny feet), so logically 2 in December and 2 in December seems best, but if I fail in December 2009 it will be a year till the resits.

Any and all advice gratefully receieved!
Thomas Peterson


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15th Jun 2009 11:07

How much does it cost to get the ATT/CTA study materials?

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10th Jun 2009 18:34

Did not mean to start the who's-better debate.

Not sure if that is what Lizzie meant.

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10th Jun 2009 17:09

To Arnold

Thomas (the original poster) was a full ACCA member, who had worked in tax since starting work but felt it was necessary to do the ATT exams, and was apprehensive about sitting CTA. Perhaps he can answer whether they were too basic for a qualified accountant?

I'm not going to get into any discussion about whether the ICAEW is better than ACCA since I'm not a member of either!

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By Anonymous
10th Jun 2009 10:36

Read the Question!
The best advice I was ever given is read the question, those writing the latest postings cleaarly never heard of that advice.

I passed my ATT and CIOT

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09th Jun 2009 16:00

Thanks Marcus
Would ATT not be too basic?

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09th Jun 2009 10:52

On your level of tax knowledge and practical experience, plus your devotion to personal study, and how long it is since you passed ACA.

As a previous poster said, there is no substitute for the hard learning of practical tax work - preferably in a mixed tax environment, and I heartily concur with this. If tax is not your main area of work then i would think about sitting the ATT exams first.

On a more general level, if you have an interest in tax you should think about attending some of the events organised by your local CIOT/ATT branch - contact details are on the CIOT website. Usually these are free or minimal cost - depending on area.

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09th Jun 2009 09:38

Sorry to hijack this thread...
How difficult would it be for a sole practitioner ACA, who does not have much contact with other accountants, to pass the exams without attending any revision classes?

Are there any classes or tuition that are delivered on-line?

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05th Jun 2009 17:13

It's hard but not impossible

As someone who has lectured on CTA courses for a very long time I hope the following is useful.

People tend to fail for one of two reasons
1) they did not do enough studying PRIOR to a revision course so even their basic knowledge is lacking (example: they read that someone has gifted something and cannot recall that both CGT and IHT may be relevant and what reliefs are available)

2) They make daft decisions in the exam - some people refer to this as poor examination technique as if it is an inherited disability. They spend way too long on some questions in trying to finish them and then miss most or all of other questions out . This is guaranteed to produce a sub-optimal result.

Some people can display both tendencies.

I agree with a previous poster (Penny?) that there is precious little time to look up lots of things in the legislation but knowing where to find them is clearly helpful.

Like all exams, you need to prepare well, practise questions (not read through notes) and do yourself justice on the day.

One critical thing in my opinion is to have a good all round knowledge across the breadth of the syllabus. I have met lost of candidates who specialise in one area of tax or another (which in itself is not a problem) who seem to lack the belief that they need to learn an awful lot about areas they do not come across. Reliance on a specialism is not going to lead to exam success.

It is too late to register for the November 2009 sitting so perhaps set your sights on May 2010.

I am sure your family and future in-laws will be happy you are trying to better yourself and if your wedding is like mine, your opinions will be politely ignored anyway (apparently Kenilworth Road, Luton is not a suitable venue for a wedding and party.......).

Get on a revision course for sure, but otherwise you might find some introductory courses for May 2010 that haven't started yet. I think all the tuition providers have correspondence courses if that isn't possible.

Do all the practice questions they suggest and all the practice exams (strictly to time).

Good luck - I look forward to hearing a posting next July from a newly qualified CTA.



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05th Jun 2009 15:09

I have worked in tax since I graduated from Uni in 2004 :)

However my experience is limited in respect of IHT, CT and Trusts. I have worked on them, but none of my employers have had much dealings in it.

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05th Jun 2009 13:07

I'm really not trying to be big headed here, honestly
...but I find this thread quite interesting.

I took the ATT in 2001 and passed that first time with the only real study being a two week revision course before the exams. Other than that i probably did 15 hours total home study not per week.

I took the CTA in 2005 and again passed first time in one sitting, again with hardly any home study, but a two week revision course before hand.

But my main difference to many on here, I believe, is that I have only ever worked in tax. Started as a tax junior in 2000 straight from school, and I really feel that really was my main asset. If the exam questions relate to something you have had experience with in practice, it makes them so much easier to remember.

So that would be my advice, see if you can take a position in tax, maybe within your current employer or a new position altogether (although maybe difficult in current climate). Having even 6 months dealing with tax issues on a day to day basis will be more valuable to you than any amount of study.

Good luck. I hope you get there.

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By Anonymous
05th Jun 2009 13:01


I completed the CTA November 08 exams, all 4 papers at the first sitting.
I studied non stop for 12 months and did about 16-20 hours per week on average, but double that in the weeks beforehand.
I am also ACCA qulified 6 years.
ACCA is now too simple to pass in my opinion and pretty much derided by quite a lot of people actually becasue of this, so CTA is harder, yes. I ignore all of their correspondence because so mnuch of it is totally irrelevant for general UK practioners.
My tips would be:

1.Go on courses (Kaplan or Tolleys)
2. Understand the legislation and where everything is.
3. Do loads of practice questions. ( I also had the Tolleys Taxwise which are good).

Finally, I hope that CIOT are not downgrading the qualification (like ACCA did) by splitting the four papers up.

best of luck.

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By jdhiman
05th Jun 2009 12:31

oh my god..... is it hard?
is this course hard or what... I would say yes! I did the corporate tax route. i have friends who did the personal tax route also.

i read the summary and have to agree that you really need structure and need to be in tax preferably in the area you are studying for.

I passed all ACA exams first time around and I thought how much harder could the CTA be? It's a completely different animal! And when I sat everything in one go I got a 42% average (pass mark is 50%).

The syllabus has changed from 2008/9 and is more modular now. Personally I would take full advantage of that. Some people say sit everything once, but the volume has increased due to the modular nature I think and I think it puts even more pressure on you. Some people would argue it may be harder sitting a million exams in one go and to a certain extent it is.

If you have been working in tax (personal/corporate) for about at least a year that is going to help so much too! just to get to grips with the basics again, deadlines etc.

I am sitting down with my mate who is thinking of sitting the exams and I really want to open her eyes to the exam technique and approach!

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05th Jun 2009 10:29

Do as soon as you can
Personally i would recommend that you do it as soon as you can. There are a number of reasons for this:-

1. The boost it will give your career in terms of prospects, and salary - far more than qualifying either ACCA or ATT did. In current climate its the easiest way to gain a substantial rise, which you will need if you are getting married!
2. You are still in a reasonable study orientated frame of mind having sat the ATT recently. its very much harder to get back into studying after a big gap.
3. if you leave it too long your employer may not be so amenable to further study - the higher up the ladder you go the less time there will be for study.
4. Future family commitments - once you get tied down the less likely the better half will agree to you doing so much study on top of a full-time job. If you spread the fifteen hours a week over five nights, thats three hours a night every week night! And when the kids come along......

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05th Jun 2009 09:39

As far as I know...
... they will pay for tuition and revision for the first attempt.

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By Anonymous
05th Jun 2009 09:17

study support?

I realise there are probably not that many other jobs around at the moment, but what kind of study support will your employer offer?

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05th Jun 2009 08:02

One last question before I let this topic die
If I were to never take the CTA, would I really regret it later? And if I waited till I was older (I'm 27 at the mo btw) would I wish I had done it now?

I'm thinking that given my pitifull salary and position, any new employer would look at my salary combined with my name (which by then would be Ba(Hons) ACCA ATT CTA) and think I must be a useless worker! So perhaps it would be better to wait until I was actually on a grown up's wage and then do the CTA.

Basically would you recomend against waiting until my career reaches a stage where the CTA is more expected than it would be at my current level, or is it a case of the earlier the better.

I realise I should be adressing this to psychiatric-web...

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04th Jun 2009 08:02

As someone...
... who did 15 hours a week home study on the ATT I think I can safely say I will be able to do 15 for the CTA. Unless it is REALLY dull, but when is tax ever dull? :)

Are the courses 6 or 12 months (well, not literally, you know what I mean, are they geared to have you examined at the next sitting or the one after)?

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03rd Jun 2009 19:46

Very hard but not impossible
I, too, took the exams a long while ago and clearly remember the year of 15 hours a weeks (or more) studying on top of the day job and no social life. The exams were by far the toughest I took. However, if you are interested, motivated and determined you should get through them and it will be well worthwhile.

Incidentally, to add to the stories, how I managed to pass in one sitting is still a mystery to me because I was not able to study much in the last three months due to all day nausea and extreme tiredness (never trust a fertility specialist when he says you're infertile). The work I put in early on paid dividends it seems.

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By Anonymous
03rd Jun 2009 17:01

Not trying to blow my own trumpet, but
I got married and moved in with my husband in the November and sat the exams (all 4, pre modular) the following May. As I said before, Tolleys Taxwise was my hero. 15 1/2 years on, we're still married, so I must have spoken to him a bit in those first few months.

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03rd Jun 2009 12:50

Depends on the mother in law!
Whether you need to be involved in the preparations etc depends more on the prospective mother in law than your fiancee.... and the level of "refereeing" you need to do between them! of course the more you are around the more you gain brownie points for your stag night!

A November sitting might well be too close, but I would love to see their faces when you tell them that you have decided to sit four exams in May 2010!

The other advantage of a single sitting is that the legislation/case law you need to know stays the same. If you get your stagger wrong you might find that one sitting required knowledge up to a set date (say Finance Act 2008) but the second sitting required knowledge to say Finance Act 2009. With the propsect of possibly two Finance Acts next year....

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By Anonymous
03rd Jun 2009 12:37

Revision Courses
When I did CTA I went on a 3 week revision course with Tolley's before the exams. This course was invaluable, and would definitely recommend a similar course (in addition to all the usual study, of course).

There were students on my course who had failed CTA a year before after taking the revision course paid for by their employers, they tried to take the exams 6 months later with no revision course (as they would have had to pay for it themselves), then for the course I was on decided to pay for it themselves as they found the exams unmanageable without the course. This was before the modular exams.

Pass rates after these courses are so much higher than the 30-35% overall pass rate; something like 70% from memory.

If you factor in that of the pass rates of the students that went on course, the pass rate for those not attending courses must be 20% or less!

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By Anonymous
03rd Jun 2009 12:20

Buy Tolleys Taxwise (both copies)
As well as the training courses, I worked thorugh every example in Tolleys Taxwise for my revision. I am convinced that is what got me through. It was 15 years ago though...

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By Anonymous
03rd Jun 2009 12:09

CTA is very, very hard.

To put it in context, I hold 2 degrees from a British university ranking in the top 10 worldwide. CTA was harder than finals.

Go on a training course. Go on the CIOT revision weekend. And good luck

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03rd Jun 2009 11:40

It was paper 2 I looked at
The IHT one which is the closest thing I have to a forte, so I thought I'd see what the standard was!

With all due modesty I do seem to do well in exams. I think I have the technique and enough brains to absorb what is needed, though attention to detail is a failing of mine which I will need to improve for this I am sure.

I know it will be hard, otherwise what would be the point! (other than to elongate my name further... :) )

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03rd Jun 2009 11:21


I thought ATT was fairly easy but when I downloaded a few CTA papers shortly thereafter I was shocked because I wouldn't have even known where to start!

I suspect you probably looked at Paper I which is passable on good ATT knowledge alone providing you can work quick enough to answer all the questions - I didn't. I still had 10 to go when we had to put pens down!

As others have said, technically it is very difficult but as long as you put in the effort and get a good strategy in place for passing then it will be as difficult as you want to make it.

The biggest tip I can give is book a full course with Tolleys. I have used a range of training providers for a range of courses and their lecturers (particularly Steve Sanders who runs the revision courses) are by far the best.

Good luck!

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03rd Jun 2009 10:46

I'm not sure whether to be proud or worried that you remember me Marcus, I have put a fair few posts on the CTA though so I suppose I should expect it :)

Anyway, thank you all for your help. I think I am in a bit of a pickle with the wedding breaking my year up, surely I couldn't study for all 4 exams by November 2009 (isn't it a year long course?)!

I would (and this is really sad) LOVE to try all 4 at once, but I wouldn't want to bite off more than I could chew, and the prospect of doing, say, 1 in November 2009 and 3 in November 2010/May 2011 is appealing.

How much planning can a wedding take anyway? I'm the groom, surely I just need to turn up? My fiance should do all the preperation... :)

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03rd Jun 2009 10:02

Its as hard as you want it to be
Thomas, you should not underestimate the difficulty of these exams. it wasnt so long ago that the percentage of candidates sitting who passed was below 30% and even now I think it is still less than 35%. I can even remember one sitting in the late 90s when the pass percentage was 13%. And, if you check the examination requirements, these candidates all had previous professional qualifications.By contrast the CA/ACCA exams usually have about 70% to 80% of candidates passing.

The previous posters give some good advice. Proper, structured training (preferably paid for by your employer) together with a reasonable amount of personal study (recommended amount was 15 hours per week for a year when I sat CTA) should give you a fair chance. The costs of these courses is not insignificant and I think I remember previous posts from you where funding was an issue.

Professionally, it wasnt so long ago that there was only one way to pass these exams, which was all four papers in one sitting. I would have at least one go this way, as the previous poster suggested, because a successful attempt this way will mark you out and boost your future employment prospects even more than passing the CTA exams does.

Getting married is of course a great incentive to have a single go at the exams, either in November 2009 or May 2010 (and a great excuse to stay out of planning the wedding!). November 2010 is probably too soon after the wedding, which makes it May 2011, and kids might be in prospect by then....

Best of luck whichever way you decide to go.

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By Anonymous
03rd Jun 2009 09:43

there isn't normally smoke without a fire....

CTA is as hard as people tell you. It has very low pass rates for a reason.

However, it isn't unpassable, you just need to consider a number of aids to assist.

As a minimum, I would recommend that you:

1. Use a course provider - go on both the taught courses and the revision courses - invaluable - the pass rates for people who go on the courses are massively higher than those that don't

2. Be in a tax environment - people often struggle with CTA because they often don't see in practice some of the more complex areas - eg. Trusts, share schemes, anti-avoidance

3. Know other people who have passed the exams recently as they will have good tips on how to revise and attack questions

"I was told the ACCA was comparable to a Masters, what does that make the CTA?!?" - Answer = PHD

Having looked at some of the question papers, you need to look at the answers to those questions as that will give an indication of the level of detail involved.

With regards to doing separately, you need your tax knowledage for all of the papers, which makes breaking them down into 2 separate sittings difficult. You would probably be better taking all 4 in one go then resitting any failed papers the sitting afterwards. If you pass all four papers in one sitting first time, you will be massively marketable in the job market - trust me.

Hope this helps.

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03rd Jun 2009 09:40

CTA is definitely a huge step up from ATT. The one thing I found was that you could get away with minimal reference to legislation for ATT, but you certainly need it with you for the CTA. For me, the key was realising that I didn't need to know every single thing in the syllabus, but rather knowing where to find it in the legislation.

VAT was always something I tried to avoid in the exams. However, I was told by someone afterwards that I could have got something like 25 marks in the old Paper III, for simply copying out part of the VAT legislation.

From the time I got my ATT results to sitting the CTA exams was just over 15 months, which was ideal, but that was under the old system. Can't comment on the new structure.

I also found it a bit of a shock coming back to studying after a few months off waiting for the ATT result, so watch out for that.

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03rd Jun 2009 09:01

CTA is Tough!!
CTA is very difficult to pass due to the sheer scale of the syllabus.

I can't compare with the ACCA as I am an ICAEW member. However, I found the CTA exams much much harder than the ACA exams.

Given that the ACA and ACCA exams are similar in standard and status I imagine you will find the same yourself if you attempt the CTA exams.

Good luck!

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22nd Jan 2012 11:04

CTA is the hardest exams ever to be invented by human kind. The questions are far too specialised for any normal experience in practice, the examiners have the fun habit of adding bits to questions that aren't in the syllabus (e.g. talking about 30% marginal rates in relation to age allowances when the study manual makes NO REFERENCE to the marginal rate connection at all) and to top it off, you only have 2 sittings a year to attempt them and they are 3 hour written exams which is stupid really as how many accountants write stuff by hand these days, we're in the 21st century we have computers!! 


I'm currently half way through it and struggling on finals but then I always struggled with exams despite having a 1st class degree and ACCA. People suggest reading various books like TAXWISE from Tolleys but that involves spending loads of money and possibly wasting 6 months of your life if it turns out to be a fail.


Frankly mate, it's not worth it if you're in a half decent job and could rise the ranks without it. It's a mental torture fest and I'm seriously considering packing it in and just relying on my inherent knowledge and experience to get me through. Certainly I'm no worse at my current job as a result.

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