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My ICAEW CFAB experience: Zaheer

Zaheer Abbas lives in Dubai and completed ICAEW's Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB) in 15 months as a self-study student. He says that completing the qualification on his own proved to his first employer how serious he was about completing the full ACA qualification and becoming an ICAEW Chartered Accountant. Here, he shares his study tips and insight into how he prepared for his exams.

Zaheer Abbas

Zaheer Abbas Associate 3 – Consumer and industrial markets, KPMG


Industry: Corporate finance

Location: Dubai

Zaheer's story...

I didn’t go to university and had my mind set on doing ICAEW’s ACA qualification.

As ICAEW CFAB is the first six exams of the ACA, I decided to do this first. It helped prove to my first employer that I was dedicated and that I had already passed quite a few exams. It showed them I was serious about becoming an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

I like the numbers-based exams like Management Information and Tax so I took those first. I then did Business and Finance and the others. It took me about 15 months to complete.

It took me a few failed exams to realise the importance of the question bank in the learning materials.

Question practice is vital. There is no way of passing without it! I would complete each question bank twice, then sit a mock exam and then go for the exam the next day.

I set the exam date first and then I worked backwards from the exam date to ensure I had enough time to complete the question bank. I didn’t use many of the resources that ICAEW provided, but in hindsight I wish I had. It may have saved me a few attempts.

I wasn’t working at the time, but I had a social life I was not giving up on, so I studied quite intensively most days – usually at least three hours a day.

If I was doing the exams again now, I would study four or five hours a day and sit the exams more quickly.

I don’t regret failing some of the exams, but I do regret the time I wasted between the exams. Failing the exams made me respect the ICAEW CFAB qualification so much more and I realised I couldn’t do it half-heartedly and I would have to work hard to achieve it.

For each exam, I completed the question bank in the study manual twice (once under timed conditions) and then did a mock exam before taking the exam.

Timing in the exam is really important, so the more question practice you do and the more familiar you are with the type of questions, the better. If there was something I didn’t understand, I would go back to the study manual and re-read the chapter.

I would take a few days off and then start studying again immediately so it was still fresh in my mind. I made a list of the mistakes I had made in my preparation and was very honest with myself. I then revisited the chapters that I struggled with and discussed them with my friends who were sitting or had sat the exam.

It was more about focus. The multiple choice questions in the exam are very tricky and if you misread or incorrectly interpret the question, you’re bound to get it wrong. And ICAEW will cheekily have an option that matches the misinterpretation.

My advice would be to do the exams that seem interesting to you first as it gives you the added motivation to study. I also wouldn’t recommend doing more than one exam at a time.

The exams are very passable. Just focus, read the questions very carefully and do a lot of question bank practice.

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