The Computer Based Examinations (CBEs) form part of both the ATT and CTA examination structure and have equal standing alongside your chosen written papers. To become a member you must have either completed the CBEs or achieved an exemption from them. Details of eligibility for exemptions can be found here.
There are mock exams for each of the CBEs and these can be found here. It is strongly recommended that you take these before sitting your real CBE, as it is the best way to become familiar with the onscreen examinations, how they work, what sort of questions you may be asked and so forth.
There are three CBEs, each of them are one hour in length:
- Professional Responsibilities & Ethics
- Principles of Accounting
The pass mark is 60% for each CBE.
Please note that for the Principle of Accounting CBE only, you will be able to take in a basic calculator (Non-Accounting, Non-Scientific) into the test room. Please note there is also a calculator onscreen available for use with every single question. A calculator will not be required for every question, but the onscreen calculator it is there as a default for you to click on and open up for all questions as you require it. If you are in any doubt as to what you the rules are for what you can bring with you to any of the CBEs, please look at the frequently asked questions here.
It is essential that tax practitioners have an understanding of the law and the professional responsibilities they have, together with the ethical framework in which they operate. You will learn about these when completing the CBEs in Law and Professional Responsibilities & Ethics.
There are four potential types of question within the examinations:
This is where you have to pick the correct answer from the four available options.
This is where you will have to pick the correct two or three answers from the four available options.
Drop and drag
This is where you will be given a number of answers, typically two, but it may be more on occasion, which you have to drag into the correct “drop zone”.
Please note you will often be presented with two statements and you will have to decide whether each one is true or false. It may be that both are true or both are false, in which case you will need to drag both statements into the "true" drop zone or both into the "false" drop zone. If one of the statements is true and one is false, you would need to drag the appropriate one into the "true" drop zone and the other one into the "false" drop zone.
Select from a list
This is where you have to select the correct answer from those available to you in the drop down box or boxes. Often there will be a missing word or phrase and you need to select the correct answer from the list available when you click on the drop down box, or on each of the drop down boxes, as there may be more than one.
Please note that whatever type of question it is, each question is worth one mark and there is no partial marking. To receive the mark, you have to answer the entire question correctly. For example, if on a multiple choice response question you were asked to pick the correct three options out of four and you picked two correctly, but the third on you selected was incorrect, you would score no marks for this question.
Within these formats, you will encounter questions that test both knowledge (recalling specific facts) and application (applying facts to a new situation).
All of the CBEs are book syllabi based on the manuals below.
- For the Professional Responsibilities & Ethics CBE – the manual is called Professional Responsibilities & Ethics for Tax Practitioners.
- For the Law CBE – the manual is called Essential Law for Tax Practitioners.
- For the Principles of Accounting CBE – the manual is called Principles of Accounting.
The latest versions of these manuals will displayed in the shop and they can be purchased, here.
In the Law CBE, you will study a wide variety of aspects that you are likely to encounter in practice, such as contract law, partnership law, land law and trust law. You will also learn about the regulatory framework of the tax adviser.
In the Professional Responsibilities & Ethics CBE, you will study the Professional Rules and Practice Guidelines, along with the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) that forms part of the laws of the ATT. This will deal with ethical and legal issues that may arise in the workplace. You will also study aspects of key statutes, such as the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and learn about the anti-money laundering guidance.
If you are a Tax Pathway student, you only have to complete your CBEs before you enter for your final CTA written examination. But as for ATT students, one of the conditions to becoming a member of the ATT is that you have fully completed the examinations element, which include all the CBEs, as well as having the relevant practical experience.
Studying for the CBEs
All of the CBEs require significant amounts of study. The level of detailed knowledge required in order to achieve a pass in these examinations should not to be underestimated. It is, therefore, important that you give some thought to when you would wish to sit the assessments.
To give the best chance of success, you may think about sitting each CBE separately, rather than on the same day. You should also try to obtain the study manuals earlier, rather than later.
The volume of information is significant and you will be required to know it at a micro level. However, you should bear in mind that the syllabi have been carefully devised to expose tax students to the accounting, law and ethics you will come across during your careers and it is therefore essential that, to become a qualified tax practitioner, you can demonstrate a full understanding of these areas.
Before booking – there are mock tests for each of the CBEs on the ATT and CIOT websites and the questions have been selected to give you the same spread of topics as you will face in the real exam. The mocks will give you the best indication of whether or not you are ready to sit the examination. Try to attempt them without your learning material and see if you can score 60% within the permitted time. You can find the link to these mocks above.
As you will have realised, to achieve success in the CBEs you will need to remember the material! Everyone has their own method of remembering things, no one way is better than another, and you will probably know from previous exams you have sat which is best for you.
However, here are some tips that may help:
Revisit your notes several times. This will fix them in your mind better than a ‘once and for all’ approach.
Make sure you practice the questions at the end of each chapter in the manuals.
Note down what you think is on a page before you look at it again. What you have forgotten will stand out as you read.
Use trigger words for a topic and then list beside that trigger word the points you need to know. Remembering the trigger word should bring back the full list.
Mnemonics use the letters of a word, or the initial letters of a phrase, to trigger associations.
Mind maps and spider diagrams – start at the centre of the page with a topic or idea and draw branches out from it with the associated information.
Association – this is where you link a number of facts to a journey. As you move through the journey, you recall each point at the landmark you have linked it to.
Listening – some people learn best audibly so you could download online lectures or record your own notes and listen to them on your way to and from work.
During the Examination
Taking a CBE is naturally a different experience to a traditional paper based exam. You will be given questions which have been randomly selected within certain parameters from a substantial question bank. You will have 60 minutes with which to answer the questions.
You also have the facility to skip questions and go back to them later, or to ‘flag’ them for review if you are uncertain of the answer you have given. You will have a ‘scratch pad’ and a pencil to make notes if you so wish as part of your thought process, but please note you will not be able to take any notes with you after the exam is finished as it must be handed back in at the end. Please see the frequently asked questions for more information.
Key features of the CBEs are:
At the top of the screen there is a progress bar showing you how far through the exam you are.
Question list on the left hand side of the screen
This will make it easier for you to navigate between questions and also see which questions you have flagged for review.
During the examination, a Strike Out feature is available to help you visually eliminate possible options from consideration. A struck-out option will remain present as you navigate through the exam, unless you select to remove it.
Right-click an option to strike it out.
Right-click an option again to remove the strikeout.
Left-click a struck-out option to choose it as your response.
You may strike out as many or as few options as you like.
During the examination, you will be able to highlight text in the passage area and in the questions that you feel are important to refer back to as you progress through the exam. The highlight will remain present as you navigate through the exam, unless you select to remove it.
To highlight text, hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor over the desired text. Click on the Highlight button that appears below the selected text. To remove the highlight, move the cursor over the highlighted text and left-click. Note that highlight cannot be applied to answer options.
Good exam technique is just as important for a CBE as for any other exam, but the challenges you face will be different. Here are some tips to help you make the best use of the 60 minutes:
Some questions are longer than others. If the length of the question is daunting, skip it and go back to it at the end when you have attempted the others. You will then, hopefully, be calmer and will know how much time you have left. Try not to skip more than five though, or you might not have enough time to go back over them all.
Try to answer the short questions in 30 to 40 seconds, to give you extra time on the longer questions.
Don’t forget to breathe!