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ANALYSIS: Assessment of professional competence

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The objective of this series of articles is to provide stakeholders with updates on the new assessment and respond to some frequently asked questions about the new form of assessment. the focus of this article is on the pre-release period

The Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) will be written for the first time in November 2014 and replaces the two separate Part II examinations (Public Practice Exam and Financial Management) that were written between 1999 and 2013.

WHAT IS THE APC?

It will take the form of a single integrated and multi-disciplinary case study based on a real-life scenario. The main objective of the APC will be to assess a candidate’s professional competence. This means that there will be less focus on “what you know” and more on “why” and “what to do with the information”. The APC will also focus on pervasive skills and in particular the ability to communicate effectively. This assessment will aim, by means of a simulated case study, to assess the candidate’s ability to use knowledge and skills gained in real life. Real life encompasses integration of all disciplines, critical thinking, problem-solving, identification of relevant versus irrelevant information, synthesis of information, and specifically the application of pervasive skills. Pervasive skills comprise ethical behaviour, professionalism, personal attributes, and professional skills.

KEY CHANGE – pre-release period

Old Part II APC
All information provided on the day Information will be released in advance of the assessment and candidates will have time to prepare and work through the material. Additional information and the required section will be provided on the day

What is the pre-release period?

The pre-release period is the five-day period prior to the assessment being written. At this time candidates will receive some information relating to the case study, thus providing them with the opportunity to prepare specifically for the case study on which they will be tested.  The aim of this period is twofold: to give candidates a chance first to update or refresh the relevant technical knowledge in which they have already demonstrated competence in the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) and second to undertake specific industry-related research and specific analysis before entering the assessment venue.

Note: The risk of candidates preparing “model” answers and bringing these into the assessment with them is mitigated in a number of different ways, including the fact that additional information and the required sections are only provided on the day of the assessment itself.

Why have we moved to providing candidates with some information before the assessment is written?

This assessment is fundamentally different from both the current ITC (old Part I – which is written immediately after prospective CAs(SA) have competed their postgraduate year of the academic programme and which aims to assess technical competence) and the old Part II examinations. The objective of the APC is to assess professional competence. It stands to reason, therefore, that the approach to how candidates prepare and are assessed for this are also different.

Preparation for the APC is a culmination of skills and knowledge developed through the academic programme, training programme and newly developed professional programme.

The pre-release period is accordingly an extension of the process now in place to develop and apply the critical pervasive skills required in the SAICA Competency Framework. The competencies, to name but a few, include:

•          Being a life-long learner

•          Applying professional judgement

•          Developing an understanding of the operating environment

•          Thinking critically

•          Evaluating ideas and information from various sources

•          Solving problems and making decisions

•          Communicating effectively and efficiently

The following is an extract from the APC Regulations on what is expected of candidates during the pre-release period:

“Candidates are encouraged to use the pre-release period to undertake research that will fully prepare them for the Assessment of Professional Competence. The objective of the research undertaken during this period should be to update any technical knowledge as required and as alerted by the signals (triggers) provided in the case study scenario, to obtain a more detailed understanding of the industry provided by the case, and to perform further detailed analysis based on signals provided in the case scenario. Such research may be undertaken by the candidate on his own or may include informal consultation among candidates and with third parties who are not specifically excluded per the below regulations.”

Regulations in place during the pre-release period

The following is an extract from the published APC Regulations, the full version of which can be found on the SAICA website.

Candidates

“6.1 Candidates may not seek or obtain assistance from the following people during the pre-release period with regard to the scenario:

(a)       Professional programme providers;

(b)       University academics (including academic trainees);

(c)        Any third party who charges a fee or receives commercial benefit for help with the preparation for the assessment;

(d)       Any SAICA professional staff member, which includes the technical queries helpline (that is, candidates may contact SAICA about administrative matters only); and

(e)       APC Examco members, reviewers or sitters.

This will be assessed through an ethics declaration which candidates will be required to sign at the start of the assessment, this is set out in Annexure 2.”

Training officers

“6.2      Accredited training offices and parties listed in regulation may not knowingly assist prospective APC candidates. This means such members may not initiate or provide prospective APC candidates with formal structured courses or structured feedback during the pre-release period, including, but not limited to, contact sessions offered to groups of or all APC candidates, social media platforms that can be accessed by groups of or all prospective APC candidates and pre-prepared answers, guides or other publications that will assist candidates in preparing for the case study. This will be assessed on the principles set out in the ethics test in annexure 4.

6.2.1     SAICA members employed at companies that are training offices may not knowingly assist, as set out in 6.2 (thus they may not initiate or provide any formal structured courses of feedback) candidates in preparing for the Assessment of Professional Competence.

6.2.2     Such members of SAICA who knowingly initiate or provide formal structured courses of structured feedback to candidates will be dealt with in terms of the SAICA disciplinary process.”

Further

“6.6 Any contravention of regulation 6 shall be considered to be misconduct and shall be dealt with in terms of regulation 12.”

Further guidance on what may and may not be done during this period will be published shortly on the SAICA website.

In the coming months Accountancy SA will be featuring more articles on other aspects of the new APC. For more information, refer to the SAICA website or refer any specific questions to

apc@saica.co.za. ❐

Author: Mandi Olivier CA(SA) is Senior Executive: Professional Development at SAICA

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