• Kieran Doe

How to Pass the ACA Business Planning: Tax (BPT) Exam


This article offers some of our top 5 tips on how to pass the ACA Business Planning Tax (BPT) exam. The advice contained in this article is taught as part of our popular BPT classroom course which has seen several attendees scored over 95% in the BPT exam. Written by a multiple ICAEW prize-winning ACA tutor, this is a must read for any student preparing for their BPT exam.

Tip 1 – When starting your BPT preparation, ensure that your TC knowledge is at least at the same level as when you passed TC

The ACA Business Planning Tax (BPT) paper requires students to advise individuals and businesses on UK tax matters. Clearly, this requires a good understanding of UK tax rules and the majority of these rules were already covered in the Tax Compliance (TC) exam. In fact, around 60-70% of the marks in the BPT exam are for technical matters already tested in the Tax Compliance (TC) exam.

It is therefore strongly advised that your preparation begins with re-learning of the TC technical content for each tax. In fact, because we consider this to be such a fundamental part of BPT preparation, we provide all of our BPT students with access to our TC tutorials to give them a head start on other students. Our experience is that students who complete this preparatory work find the advanced BPT content much easier to understand and apply. This then enables them to focus on exam technique from an earlier stage which leads them to higher marks.

Tip 2 – Identify which ‘scenarios’ are commonly tested

The BPT exam requires students to advise individuals and businesses on UK tax matters in ‘real-world’ scenarios. In practice, there are several tax matters which individuals and businesses frequently need advice on, such as:

· Whether a start-up business should incorporate or operate as an unincorporated business

· Whether an existing business should incorporate

· How an incorporated business should distribute returns to shareholders tax efficiently

· How to pass assets to children without triggering a tax charge

· How a large corporate group should best use a tax loss

· Whether an expanding business should set up a subsidiary company or a branch overseas

These common ‘real-world’ scenarios are also the scenarios examiners use in the BPT exams. Unlike TC, BPT does not usually require students to calculate the tax liability for a single tax. Instead, BPT requires students to advise on all tax matters. Therefore, by practising lots of past exam questions you will soon start to see which scenarios are commonly tested and which taxes apply to each. This should enable you to develop a broader understanding of tax and an ability to identify tax implications of various scenarios.

Tip 3 – Practice several exam questions of the same scenario one after another

After using lots of past BPT exams to teach our students the optimal exam technique for a particular type of BPT exam scenario, we send our students away to practice lots exam questions on a similar scenario. For example, after being taught the exam technique for Incorporation questions, our students then practice several other past paper Incorporation questions one after another.

This has the following benefits:

- It enables you to apply the exam technique demonstrated during tuition

- It familiarises you with how the examiners structure scenarios and questions

- It enables you to identify patterns in how the scenario is examined

- It improves your efficiency when using the open book notes

- It enables you to identify weakness areas so that you can focus your technical learning and exam skills

- It familiarises you with the ICAEW CBE software

- It enables you to improve your speed so that you don’t exceed your time allocation

As an example, you can view our BPT exam technique masterclass for Corporate anti-avoidance below. Having watched this tutorial, you can then go away and practice other similar questions on Corporate anti-avoidance.

Tip 4 – Structure your open book notes so that they can be used effectively and time-efficiently in the exam

Open book exams present both a golden opportunity and fatal time trap. The BPT exam is incredibly time pressured so any time spent looking something up in your notes is time which could have been spent typing a mark scoring point. Therefore, your open book notes need to be concise and structured in a way that you can quickly look up information should you need.

Given the technical nature of tax, we advise that notes include a summary of the key technical points for each tax. As the same scenarios come up time and time again in the BPT exam, it is highly recommended that you also have a reminder of common points to include/consider for each scenario. The example below, taken from our open book notes, demonstrates what we mean by this. Our students have found the common exam scenario section of our open book notes to be an incredibly valuable resource as it enables them to include lots of mark scoring points covering the full breath of taxes.

As mentioned above, any time spent looking something up in your notes is time which could have been spent typing a mark scoring point. Therefore, you should aim to build your tax knowledge and to the point where you use the open book notes sparingly as this will enable you to write more mark scoring points. Personally, other than the common exam scenario reminders, I only use the open book notes if a very technical matter comes up, such as whether a company repurchase of shares should be treated as capital or income on the individual shareholder.

Tip 5 – Bag the relatively easy ethics marks

Ethics is examined in all the ACA exams and whilst ethics questions do get harder as the ACA progresses, the ethics marks remain comparatively easier to the technical marks. BPT exams include up to 10 marks for ethics which equates to 18% of the marks needed to secure a 55% passing grade. Therefore, comparatively easy ethics marks offer the opportunity to bag 18% of the marks you need to pass - in what our opinion is - the hardest ACA Professional Level exam. The most efficient exam strategy is to ensure that you have an exam technique which will ensure that you make the 10 mark scoring points needed to get maximum marks for ethics.

Further guidance

Details for our BPT classroom tuition, our BPT exam masterclass video series, one-to-one tuition and our learning materials can be found here.

About the author

Kieran Doe is a Senior ACA tutor at ACA Masters. Kieran won prizes for Professional Stage (Financial Accounting and Reporting, Tax, Financial Management, Audit, Business Strategy) and Case Study prize (highest score in the world). Kieran has been tutoring his specialist ACA subjects for several years and his student pass rate is considerably higher than other tutors. Kieran’s tuition is based around the learning techniques and exam strategies which enabled him to win prizes for all the exams he teaches.

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