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QE 1 SPECIAL REPORT: QE1 RESULTS

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CA(SA) qualification results give stunning boost to transformation in accountancy profession

The ongoing quest to grow the number of South Africa’s chartered accountants – and, in particular, the relatively small number of black CAs(SA) – continues to bear fruit.

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) qualifying examination results reflect 3 902 candidates who sat for the qualifying examination (QE1) of whom 2 096 passed.

Pass rates among first time writers in 2008 (75%) is up significantly in relation to pass rates among first time writers in the prior year (66%).

The overall pass rate of 53% reflects the impact of the slowly declining number of repeat candidates who wrote the exam in 2008. Repeats, who comprise 50% (prior year 52%) of the overall number of candidates in 2008, achieved a 32% pass rate. This is an improvement over the pass rate for repeat candidates of 27% in 2007. Seven years ago, repeat candidates comprised only 28% of the overall exam candidate population.

Highlights from the results include:

  • All top 10 qualifiers achieved honours (75% and above);
  • An African achieved a Top 10 position;
  • 40 candidates (including the Top 10) achieved honours (75% and higher);
  • Thuthuka students who sat for the exam this year achieved an 80% pass rate;
  • Of the total number of African candidates writing the examination, 374 candidates passed – a figure up on last year’s 292; African candidates writing for the first time achieved a pass rate of 53% compared to last year’s 54%; and
  • African repeat candidates achieved a 30% pass rate in comparison to a 19% pass rate in the prior year.

Ignatius Sehoole, SAICA’s Executive President, is pleased with the overall increase in the pass rate. He says the increase is a result of improvement in both first time and repeat candidates. He is also pleased with the presence of an African candidate in the top 10.

Sehoole says that SAICA constantly monitors the standard of the qualification process,  and that the improved passrate is a tribute to that fact.

“We shall not under any circumstances compromise our world class standards. We continually look at the process in the context of the requirement that we never allow standards to decline. This highlights the world class quality of the qualification process toward the CA(SA) designation.”

Sehoole also says that there’s a hugely compelling reason why SAICA insists on world class standards. “International investors would shy away from South Africa if the financial statements upon which they based their investment decisions were in any way suspect,” reiterates Sehoole.

Thuthuka, SAICA’s transformation initiative is an important tool in the process of increasing the number of black CAs(SA) in the profession.

And while the number of Thuthuka students writing the QE1 exam in 2008 had decreased since 2007, Sehoole says the pass rate amongst the candidates was an indication of the progress of the initiative.

In an effort to try and improve pass rates of African candidates who failed QE1 in 2007, SAICA saw the need to address difficulties faced by these students through a new intensive initiative.

In partnership with FASSET, SAICA launched a QE1 Thuthuka Repeat Programme which was run by staff of the University of Johannesburg. This intensive programme offered 78 classes over a period of six months.

“The participation and commitment to this programme by students and their employers was paramount to the success of the initiative. We also received great support from participating firms,” says Chantyl Mulder, Senior Executive: Transformation and Growth.

“The results speak for themselves as the repeat candidates on the Thuthuka Programme achieved a 53% pass rate – a superb achievement when one considers that pass rates from African repeat candidates only achieved between 17% and 19% in previous years.”

Further QE1 statistics can be found on the SAICA website at
www.saica.co.za.

 

TOP TEN CANDIDATES

 

The top three candidates are Ruan Greef in first position from the University of the Stellenbosch, Julia Spurdle from the University of Cape Town in second place and Anthony Gaydon from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in third position. One of the top 10 qualifiers, Mapoteng Mokete, in ninth position, is African.

Mandi Olivier, Project Director: Education, emphasises that passing QE Part I is not the final requirement before qualifying as a chartered accountant.

Successful candidates still have to complete a specialist diploma, pass either the Public Practice Examination (PPE) or the Financial Management Examination, after completing 18 months practical training in terms of a registered training contract. Candidates can only become full members of SAICA once they have completed their training contracts.

 

STATSITICS:

In 2008, 2096 candidates passed Part I of the Qualifying Examination, compared to 1899 in 2007.

 

PART I OF THE QUALIFYING EXAM: 2008 
% PASS FOR FIRST TIME, REPEAT AND ALL CANDIDATES 
2008 Fail Pass Total % Pass 
First time candidates 499 1 469 1 968 75% 
Repeat candidates 1 307 627 1 934 32% 
All candidates 1 806 2 096 3 902 53% 
2007 
First time candidates 670 1 315 1 985 66% 
Repeat candidates 1 600 584 2 184 27% 
All candidates 2 270 1 899 4 169 46% 
2006 
First time candidates 889 1 343 2 232 60% 
Repeat candidates 1 626 441 2 067 21% 
All candidates 2 515 1 784 4 299 41% 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART I OF THE QUALIFYING EXAM: 2008 
% PASS BY RACE – FIRST TIME WRITERS 
RACE GROUP 2008 2007 
PASS TOTAL % PASS PASS TOTAL % PASS 
African 204 325 63% 168 375 45% 
Coloured 64 94 68% 76 112 54% 
Indian 223 290 77% 174 324 46% 
White 978 1 259 78% 897 1 421 68% 
TOTAL 1 469 1 968 75% 1 315 2 232 60% 

 

For further statistics see www.saica.co.za.

THE TOP TEN:

The top 10 candidates for 2008 are:

PLACE NAME & SURNAME UNIVERSITY ACADEMIC  ACHIEVEMENT 
Ruan Greeff University of Stellenbosch Honours 
Julia Spurdle University of Cape Town Honours 
Anthony Gaydon University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Honours 
Tiffiny Sneedon University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Honours 
5 (joint) Jacques van Ravestyen University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Honours 
5 (joint) Wessel Badenhorst University of Pretoria Honours 
7 (joint) Carmen-Jo Kotze University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Honours 
7 (joint) Matthys Le Roux North-West University Honours 
Mapoteng Mokete University of Witwatersrand Honours 
10 Cornette Roets University of Johannesburg Honours 

 

TOP 10 CANDIDATE PROFILES

 

Ruan Greeff, 23

 

Placed: 1st

Why did you decide on the CA(SA) route?

The CA(SA) is a prestigious qualification which opens many doors to the business world.

QE1 – Good, bad or ugly? (explain)

5 hour exams are always unpleasant! The fact that it was a very important external exam was unnerving. Paper one was ugly because there was about 30 minutes too little time; paper 2 went fine. All the dividend questions caught a lot of people by surprise, though.

What are your expectations for QE2?

A lot of audit, possibly accompanied by waffle! More subjectivity and fewer marks compared to QE1, which means that the people who excel at accounting, tax etc. will not necessarily fair as well.

Being one of the top ten students means…

It means either you are a gifted student, or 2008 is a weak year group J.

General views on the educational standard of the Chartered Accountancy route as set by SAICA:

The standards are high enough, which is very important. The reputation of the Institute depends on it.

Tell us about your traineeship:

I’m a first year clerk at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Century City, Cape Town. It is exciting to work with a lot of dynamic young people and to move around between different clients and offices. The challenge facing us first years is finding our feet and learning to be efficient!

What are you most looking forward to once you qualify?

Opportunities without boundaries.

How can we go about encouraging others to follow this professional route?

Young learners should be taught what it means to be an accountant/auditor and why there is a demand for Chartered Accountants. We could also mention the great heights reached by CAs(SA) in business.

 

Jacques van Ravesteyn, 22

 

Placed: 5th (joint)

Why did you decide on the CA(SA) route?

My mom lectures in accounts and tax at Varsity College and my dad was Financial Director at Time Freight (couriers) until he got promoted to MD recently. I never really worked that hard at school and I ended up getting the Accounting subject prize in Matric with minimal effort, so I guess  it was a sign…

QE1 – Good, bad or ugly?

Bad – most difficult exam I have ever written. Time flew but it still felt like ages. Paper 1 was a nightmare and I am pretty sure I failed the Auditing question, unless everything I wrote down was 100% correct, which I highly doubt. After I wrote Paper 2 I knew I passed, but thought my chances of coming in the top 10 was very remote.

Being one of the top ten students means…

That I do not have to write the QE 1 again next year… which leads to the more important factor of just having passed. It feels amazing being one of the top ten, especially since it felt like my exam could not have gone worse. My hard work has paid off and it is great receiving some recognition for it. Also means that I will probably have more opportunities with this achievement being added to my CV.

General views on the educational standard of the Chartered Accountancy route as set by SAICA:

I think the standards are very high as evident by the international recognition of the CA(SA) designation and how difficult the Qualifying Exam is every year. In addition the setting of strict requirements for the universities has helped to protect the CA(SA) profession’s reputation and improve the quality of CAs(SA) in the business environment.

Tell us about your traineeship at PWC Durban:

Probably going to change a lot now since the results have been released but so far it has been interesting learning about each of the clients businesses and interacting with all the business executives. A lot of faith is put in your work by the seniors and managers and ultimately the partners as their judgements are based on the evidence and conclusions that you documented.

What are you most looking forward to once you qualify?

The salary increase…just having a wide variety of options/careers that I can pursue and maybe going overseas for a while, gain some experience and see the world.

 

Hanno (Matthys Johannes) Le Roux, 23

 

Placed: 7th (joint)

Why did you decide on the CA(SA) route?

I decided on studying towards a career as a Chartered Accountant because I always enjoyed mathematics and accounting as a scholar. In addition, I believe that God has given me a talent in this specific field, and therefore I am committed to make the most of it.

QE1 – Good, bad or ugly?

Bad! For me, the first paper was incredibly tough. I remember walking out of the exam literally trembling. It was terrible. I could not see how I could possibly have scored enough marks.

The second day was no walk in the park either. But, for me, it felt like it went much better. Knowing that I had given my best, holding nothing back, to the very end, was a relief.

To summarise, it was a difficult struggle. One I will surely never forget.

Being one of the top ten students means…

Not for a moment did I even hope to be in the top 10. All I was hoping and praying for was to pass. Thus, being one of the top ten, for me, means that God has blessed me beyond all my expectations.

Tell us about your traineeship:

I am doing my traineeship at the Nelspruit office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. So far, it has been challenging, but intellectually very stimulating. I enjoy working with incredible people, from whom I can learn a great deal.

How can we go about encouraging others to follow this professional route?

Informing people of the wide spectrum  of great opportunities (in South Africa and internationally) that this profession offers. Informing people that this is truly an intellectually challenging and satisfying profession.

 

Mapoteng Ferdinand Mokete. 21

 

Placed: 9th

Why did you decide on the CA(SA) route?

As an enthusiastic and confused matriculant, I needed a career path which opens doors in the market. The CA(SA) route matched all of my personal qualities; analytical, leadership abilities and a easily able to learn from constructive criticisms.

QE1 – Good, bad or ugly?

The paper was fair but with lots of unexpected topics examined. Time management was critical but I could not even manage it myself.

What are your expectations for QE2?

I expect it to be challenging as always because it is the exit paper to join the profession.

Being one of the top ten student’s means…

Recognition for the hard work I put in over the years. I feel very proud to be recognised for my achievements.

General views on the educational standard of the Chartered Accountancy route as set by SAICA:

The standard of education in the CA(SA) route is excellent. Improvements regarding writing skills and research will be welcomed.

Tell us about your traineeship:

I have a training contract with KPMG but currently doing my first year as an academic trainee at Wits. I am mainly involved in tutoring financial accounting III and Taxation IV. Marking is part of my responsibilities. Occasionally I conduct lectures for Taxation III. I am busy with my course work for the degree of Masters of Commerce at Wits.

The biggest challenge in the academic world is to excel in delivering the message you have to students in the most understandable way. However, it is fun.

What are you most looking forward to once you qualify?

Contributing to the success of the profession and making a difference.

How can we go about encouraging others to follow this professional route?

Thousand of scholars do not know much about the profession or by the time they get the information, they would have chosen their career path already. Giving scholars access to information early on in their school career is important. We need to tell them what this career is about, what type of work you will do and different opportunities available if you decide on the CA(SA) career path.

 

 

 

ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES

 

The primary objective of Part I of the Qualifying Examination (QE) is to test, to the extent possible in a written examination, candidates’ core competence at entry level. Accordingly, the emphasis of the examination is on the integration of theoretical knowledge.

The purpose of Part I of the QE is to test the integrated application of cognitive knowledge, preferably as soon as possible after the prescribed academic requirements have been met.

BACKGROUND

The Examinations Committee constantly strives to improve its ability to determine whether candidates demonstrate a readiness to continue with their accounting education and training. This is done by means of an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement of the way in which it selects questions for inclusion in the examination and decides on the final mark plans.

1  Source of the questions

The Examinations Committee, a sub committee of the SAICA Education Committee takes overall responsibility for the setting of the examination paper. Examination questions can be drawn from different sources:

  • Questions may be submitted by practitioners, accountants in commerce and industry, as well as academics. These questions are added to a question pool that has been built up over the years and from which questions may be selected; or
  • Questions on a particular subject may be commissioned from persons in commerce and industry, public practice or from academics should suitable questions not be available in the above mentioned question pool.

Academics or former academics are also involved in reviewing exam questions by subject area after their teaching commitments for the year have been completed. Four academics are appointed by core subject area and their role is to:

  • Review questions for conceptual problems and consistency in use of terminology;
  • Give an indication as to whether the relevant examination questions are set at an appropriate level;
  • Provide comments around whether the number of marks and time limit is appropriate; and
  • Provide comment on the validity and reliability of such assessment.

In addition an examination sitter, who is independent to the exam setting process, is appointed to review the entire set of questions after the review from the academics has taken place. The examination sitter provides independent comment on the examination paper, suggestion solution or mark plan and reports back to the Examinations Committee.

2  Security and confidentiality of examination papers

The examination papers for each year are compiled, printed and sent to each examination centre under very stringent conditions of security. The only persons who know the contents of a particular paper are the members of the Examinations Committee. They are all selected with great care regarding their integrity and professional standing and are sworn to secrecy.

2.1  Marking of the scripts

The Education Committee devotes a great deal of time to the review and refinement of mark plans to ensure that the plans are consistent with its expectations for each question.

Before marking of the scripts commences, copies of the examination papers and suggested solutions are forwarded to all participating universities for comment. The markers and umpires decide on a suggested solution and mark plan after all these comments have been considered and a test batch of scripts has been marked. The suggested solutions, mark plans and test batch results are then reviewed by the Education Committee, who authorises the final suggested solutions and the mark plans that will be used in the marking process.

All markers and umpires have to sign a declaration of secrecy regarding the handling of scripts, questions, solutions and mark plans. SAICA holds the copyright of the solutions and mark plans, and they are returned to SAICA together with the mark lists once the marking has been completed.

Each marking team consists of a number of individuals (comprising academics, practitioners and representatives from commerce and industry) and an umpire, who are on the whole fully bilingual and equally capable of marking both English and Afrikaans scripts.

Each script is marked independently by two different persons who record their marks on separate mark sheets. Once the marking has been completed, the markers confer and jointly decide on the final mark to be awarded. Then each marker’s mark, as well as the compromise mark, is noted down on the cover of the script. In the event of the markers being unable to agree upon the number of marks to be awarded for a particular answer, the script is referred to the umpire, who then awards the final mark.

In view of the above stringent marking process, no request for re-marks will be entertained.

2.2  Adjudication

Adjudication is done by the full Education Committee as soon as possible after the mark lists have been received and checked by the SAICA Secretariat.

The members of the Committee receive lists of candidates – who are identified only by a ranking number based on marks obtained for the examination – together with the marks awarded to every candidate for every question. The members of the Education Committee base their decisions of which candidates passed (with honours) and which did not pass, based on the marks as set out in these lists.

During the adjudication process, the Education Committee considers all relevant evidence, including the following:

  • Whether there were any time constraints encountered by candidates;
  • The level of difficulty for each question;
  • Possible ambiguity in the wording or translation; and
  • Any other problems that may have been encountered relating to the examination.

It is important to note that no person from the academia who is a member of SAICA’s Education Committee is allowed to serve on the Examinations Committee, and that candidates’ anonymity is preserved until the final adjudication has been completed.

In order to ensure that the whole marking and adjudication process remains anonymous, the instructions to candidates clearly state that their names should not appear anywhere.

GENERAL COMMENTS ON PART I OF THE QE 2008

1     Objective

In view of the primary objective of Part I of the Qualifying Examination, namely to test the integrated application of cognitive knowledge, candidates are tested on their ability to –

  • apply the knowledge specified in the subject areas set out in the prescribed syllabus;
  • identify, define and rank problems and issues;
  • analyse information;
  • address problems in an integrative manner;
  • exercise professional judgement;
  • evaluate alternatives and propose practical solutions that respond to the users’ needs; and
  • communicate clearly and effectively.

2     Overall comments on the paper

Overall comments received from universities indicated that the papers were of an appropriate standard for Part I of the Qualifying Examination.

3     Specific comments

From a review of candidates’ answers to the seven examination questions for the March 2008 examination the following specific deficiencies were identified.

3.1  Application of knowledge

A serious problem experienced throughout the examination was that candidates were unable to apply their knowledge to the scenarios described in the questions. Many responses by candidates were a “shopping list” of items – this being a pure regurgitation of what candidates may have learnt about the theory at university, but of no real relevance to the question in hand. Candidates also do not appear to identify the correct issues in the scenario provided.

This is a major concern, because by the time candidates qualify for sitting for these examinations, one would expect them to have assimilated the knowledge, at least to the extent of being able to apply it to simplified facts as set out in an examination question. Candidates who are unable to identify the correct issues do not do well in the examination.

In addition, examiners expressed concern about the poor application of knowledge in ethical issues. This is an increasingly important area in practice and the scenario in the question was not complicated. Candidates need know the SAICA’s Code of Professional Conduct and how to apply this.

3.2  Workings

It is essential that candidates show their workings and supply detailed computations to support the figures in their answers. Marks are reserved for methodology, but can only be awarded for what is shown. In many instances workings were performed by candidates but not cross referenced to the final solution. Once again, markers could not award marks as they were unable to follow which working related to which part of the final solution. Candidates must ensure they show their workings and these must be properly and neatly cross referenced to the final solution.

3.3  Communication

Candidates fared better in questions requiring calculations than in discursive questions. It is important that candidates note that written answers are a large component of the Qualifying Examination as written communication is a key competency required in the work place. Candidates should learn to answer discursive questions properly. This can be done by practicing exam type questions under exam conditions in preparation for the examination.

In addition markers found that candidates used their own abbreviations (SMS messaging style) in their answers. Marks could not be awarded here as it is not up to the markers to interpret abbreviations that are not commonly used. It is concerning to note the increased use of SMS style of writing in a professional examination. Candidates should pay specific attention to the way in which they write their answers bearing in mind that this is a professional examination.

3.4  Journal entries

A fundamental part of financial accounting is to understand debits and credits. A means of assessing whether a candidate understands the fundamental principles is to require the candidate to prepare the relevant journal entries. Candidates increasingly do not understand what journal entries to process. In many instances basic journal entries were processed the wrong way around. In addition, account descriptions were poor and abbreviations were used.

Examiners were also concerned about candidates lack of knowledge of at-acquisition journal entries for consolidation journals.

4     General Comments

From a review of candidates’ answers to the seven examination questions for the March 2008 examination the following general deficiencies were identified. These problems affected the overall performance of candidates, and it is a matter of concern that candidates annually make the same mistakes. Although these aspects seem like common sense, candidates who pay attention to them are likely to obtain better marks, and it may even turn a low mark into a pass.

4.1  Time management

Candidates are advised to use their time wisely and budget time for each question. The marks allocated to each question are an indication of the relevant importance the examiners attach to that question and thus the time that should be spent on it. Candidates should beware of the tendency to spend too much time on the first question attempted and too little time on the last. They should never overrun on time on any question, but rather return to it after attempting all other questions.

4.2  Layout and presentation

Candidates should allocate time to planning the layout and presentation of their answers before committing thought to paper. Very often, candidates start to write without having read the question properly, which invariably leads to, for example, parts of the same question being answered in several places or restatement of facts in different parts. Marks are awarded for appropriate presentation and candidates should answer questions in the required format, i.e. in the form of a letter, memorandum or a report.

The quality of handwriting is also an ongoing problem and was of particular concern in this year’s examination. The onus is on the candidate to produce legible answers.

4.3  Irrelevancy

Marks are awarded for quality, not quantity. Verbosity is no substitute for clear, concise, logical thinking and good presentation. Candidates should bear in mind that a display of irrelevant knowledge, however sound, will gain no marks.

4.4  Recommendations / interpretations

Responses to these requirements are generally poor, either because candidates are unable to explain principles that they can apply numerically or because they are reluctant to commit themselves to one course of action. It is essential to make a recommendation when a question calls for it, and to support it with reasons. Not only the direction of the recommendation (i.e. to do or not to do something) is important, but particularly the quality of the arguments – in other words, whether they are relevant to the actual case and whether the final recommendation is consistent with those arguments. Unnecessary time is wasted by stating all the alternatives.

4.5 Open-book examination

Several practical problems were experienced with regard to the application of the open book policy in this years exam. Some candidates failed to take into account that the open book policy applied at their university at CTA level was different to the SAICA open book policy. Candidates are reminded that they MUST familiarise themselves with SAICA’s open book policy and be aware that this may be different to that of their CTA university. Candidates are also reminded that only SAICA has the authority to interpret its own open book policy. To this end candidates are advised of the following:

  • No loose pages (of any kind) may be brought into the exam.
  • The use of correction fluid of any kind is NOT considered appropriate at all by the Examinations Committee. To this end the SAICA open book exam has been made clearer by adding the following to rule 4.3:

“Candidates also may not delete or obscure any of the printed text in the prescribed texts.”

  • Candidates are also advised that from 2010 SAICA will no longer allow NOTES of any kind in the prescribed books allowed to be brought into the exam.
  • Candidates are advised to familiarize themselves with SAICA exam rules prior to writing the examination.

A particular problem relating to the open-book examination was that candidates did not state the relevant theory and/or definitions in their answers. One can not build a logical argument without using the theory as a base and starting point. Reference to theory and definitions is essential to create the perspective from which the question is answered and is essential to enable markers to follow the argument. However, since candidates have this information at hand, marks are not awarded for stating detailed definitions only. This type of examination does affect the answer that is expected and application and demonstration of insight into the use of the definition have gained in importance.

Candidates should also remember that one has to be very well prepared for an open-book examination. There is not enough time in the examination to look up all information from the texts. In certain aspects one would be expected to offer an immediate response based on embedded knowledge. Complex information needs to be fully understood before the examination. Candidates who enter the examination hoping to look up data that they have not processed before, will be disadvantaged as they are unlikely to finish the paper.

In conclusion, a message to those who were unfortunately not successful in the examination: Please start preparing for next years’ examination in good time. Don’t give up – sufficient preparation and a review of the basics will stand you in good stead for next year’s exam!

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