Top ten tips for ABS

Abstract image of networks and systems at fingertips
By Anna Cameron, tutor

4 December 2017

Our tutors share tips for Assurance and Business Systems on day one of class or revision day, but they are useful for everyone sitting ABS. Use these advice gems to get ahead in class and studies.

1. Use a table.

ABS markers love a dataset. Where you can, especially where there are connected requirements, think about whether a table would be an appropriate layout for the question. It helps you to be more concise, ensure you cover the different requirements for each point and it is much easier for a marker to understand your answer.

In some analysis of a classes' mock results, the average results of students who used a table versus those who didn't, varied by 10% in favour of those who used a table.

2. Be succinct.

Explaining yourself clearly and succinctly is the key to an ABS exam. You want to get the best use of your time and remember it's about quality, not quantity. Saying the same thing over and over in different ways doesn’t mean you will get more marks, in fact, it may be picked up as poor communication!

3. Use checklists and note them on the script where appropriate.

Throughout the course, there are a number of helpful checklists and mnemonics. When reading through the question requirements, if you think of a checklist or mnemonic that is relevant just quickly note it down next to the requirement.

4. Be wary of 'ensure' - the key is 'how'.

Make sure it is clear to the marker what you are talking about. Generally, I am wary of the word ensure. For example, ‘ensure that invoices are accurate’ doesn’t really tell me how I am going to make that happen. 

I would prefer to see ‘Have invoices reviewed by a senior member of staff, with a sign off as evidence of review, to check invoice details are accurate and VAT is applied correctly’. It is clear in the second item what it is that I am trying to achieve and HOW it should be done.

Take a fact from the scenario and explain the impact of that fact.

5. Accurately explain the topic to someone else.

This links in nicely with point four. A good check of your answer is ‘Can someone else understand what I am saying’. Particularly, for questions where you are recommending controls, test of controls or substantive tests, a good check is whether you could give what you have written to a junior member of staff and they could carry out the required task.

6. The rule of one.

The ABS course is all about risk: audit risk, acceptance risk and business risk. The format for answering these types of questions is generally the same. Take a fact from the scenario and explain the impact of that fact. You will only need to explain one impact for each fact to score the full mark. If also asked for a recommendation give one clear recommendation for your fact / impact.

7. The contents page is the key to using the book.

The ABS textbook is neither small nor light and can be a heavy resource for both students and tutors. Navigating that many pages can be a challenge, particularly if you have lots of tabs. It might sound self-explanatory but always use the contents page. 

Helpfully, a lot of the standards have useful names like ‘Going Concern’, ‘Subsequent Events’ or ‘Fraud’. So if you are looking for something that you know you have tabbed in relation to Going Concern, check the contents page for where that standard is within the book and just look at the tabs within that small subset of pages. I actually have my contents page highlighted for keywords such as’ fraud’ and ‘groups’ so I can find the standards really quickly.

Please don’t ignore topics such as regulation, internal audit or quality control – they do come up in exams.

8. It is not always fraud or going concern.

Whilst fraud and going concern are often issues in a scenario, it can sometimes mean that other risks are missed along the way. Also, marks are usually capped for these areas so there’s no point repeating them multiple times.

If you have a scenario where a client has a number of customers going into liquidation and their sales are falling as a result. Yes, this may be a going concern issue depending on other indicators in the scenario, but there will also be risks that debts are not recoverable or that stock is obsolete, that you should consider as well.

9. Don’t neglect any parts of the course.

Some of the course is pre-course or self-study. This is usually because the topics are more straightforward and, therefore, as lecturers, we can’t add as much value to those topics. It doesn’t mean they are less examinable. Please don’t ignore topics such as regulation, internal audit or quality control – they do come up in exams.

10.  Help the marker give you marks.

Remember, the markers want to be able to give you marks. However, if you don’t provide enough detail or appropriate coverage of the requirement then this becomes very difficult. 

As a simple rule, if you are asked to provide analysis, advice, recommendations ask yourself this simple question - if I was the client/audit partner would I pay for/accept this? If you think the answer is no, then why shouldn’t the marker?


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