Taking a real-life approach to the ITP qualification
Fiona Winter, a director in the CA Education team updates us on the ways in which assessment, particularly the final case study, takes a real-life approach for the ICAS tax professional qualification.
For those of us who sat exams a decade or two (or more!) ago, memories of producing pages and pages of handwritten script, based only on our recall of the facts taught to us in the lecture theatre, may still fill us with dread.
Whilst some things don’t change – the need to be able to work quickly, recall key facts and present these to the examiner – ICAS continues to be at the forefront of developing methods of assessment which reflect real-life practice. This is particularly true with the final assessment of the ITP qualification – the case study.
To excel [students] will have to demonstrate not only technical knowledge but professional skills of judgement, analysis and communication.
ITP is examined over three levels, moving from foundation knowledge of the key principles of tax, accounting and law, through the application of deep technical knowledge to provide tax advice.
It culminates in a case study, demonstrating the student’s ability to use this knowledge in a practical situation where integration of different taxes and a commercial approach will be required. To excel they will have to demonstrate not only technical knowledge but professional skills of judgement, analysis and communication.
Ethics often features prominently in this paper. In addition to this, students use work experience to demonstrate the competencies expected of a tax professional.
So, what makes the final case study different?
Time to get to know the client
Short case studies are used throughout the qualification but the volume of information about the client or taxpayer will be more significant at the final level. Students are provided with pre-seen information approximately four weeks before they sit the final case study, giving them time to understand the structure of the business and the likely issues it may face.
Students will need to use a variety of credible sources to draw a conclusion.
This information will also contain a short research project to be completed and submitted before the exam. When we developed the qualification, research skills were identified as crucial for a tax professional.
In completing this first part of the assessment, students will need to use a variety of credible sources to draw a conclusion, taking into account the challenges that may be posed by others with opposing views.
Bring all your notes
Professional level assessments seek to assess so much more than recall of fact. As students move through the ITP qualification they can use more resources to assist them. Whilst the early exams require key principles to be known without prompt, legislation books can be used at the second level of the qualification.
The aim is to replicate the working environment where we evaluate a situation.
When candidates reach the final case study, they may bring whatever material they wish into the exam hall – on paper or on their laptop. This could include all notes from prior studies (indexed as they wish) their own summary notes, and even pre-prepared formats of calculations and reports.
The aim is to replicate the working environment where we evaluate a situation, assess the issues and seek commercial solutions. Even with every textbook in the world at our disposal this can only be done with the skills and judgement developed through our studies.
No pen required!
In keeping with the final case study in the CA qualification, students bring their own laptop to the exam hall, and complete their exam using Word and Excel packages, uploading their answer at the end of the time.
Not only does this remove the hand cramp, it allows students to structure their answer by moving text around and editing as they write. This should lead to more focused answers, with prioritisation of recommendations, contributing to assessment of professional communication.
We continue to aim to make the final assessment as real life as possible, whilst ensuring a consistent and fair environment for all students. In doing so, we’ll be keeping an eye on emerging work practices, in particular considering the impact of technology on the roles of the future. We are not quite at the stage of using virtual reality to test knowledge and skills… but watch this space!