Past Papers Guidance and Advice

The comments in boxes are extracts from Examiner reports.

There are a number of stages of studying for professional exams such as ATT.  The first is to decide which certificate will be taken in addition to Papers 1 & 2, and then when to attempt the exams.  However, this article is not designed to cover that - instead it will discuss the actual process of studying.

It is assumed that most candidates these days will purchase study material from one of the training providers, and this will include manuals, question banks and exams amongst other things.

As you work through each chapter there are illustrations and small examples to work, with each chapter having questions on the topic areas covered.  However, these questions are not of exam standard, they are to test whether you have grasped the aspects covered in that section.

At the same time you should be referring to the legislation and highlighting key aspects such as dates, conditions, limits and similar. 

Practice exams then follow. The earlier ones again are not yet at exam standard instead ensuring that you are building your knowledge. However, they are a vital part of the learning process - they allow you the experience of sitting for the required time and the planning and execution of the paper. 

It is recommended that students attempt these exams to time and if possible without referring to the study manuals In order to gain the maximum benefit. This will also enable you to address any weak areas, for example time management or technical knowledge, that you can then concentrate on as you progress with your studies. If you do them over more than the stated time and with your books open you are almost wasting your time.

The set of exams before the revision course are now moving towards exam standard, and give you more of a feel for what the real exam is about - although there is no 'exam room' terror when you do these.

Having got to this stage it is important that you start working past exam questions.  This will give you a feel of how questions may be structured and what the examiners are looking for in the long form questions.

Past exam papers can be found on the ATT website but if you are taking a course your revision question bank will be made up primarily of past exam questions - updated to the current legislation and amended to remove anything that is no longer relevant. (Please note that both the original questions and suggested answers from the exam session on the website will be 'of the time', so they will not be up-to-date, and certainly not in terms of the legislation and possibly not in terms of the latest PCRT or syllabus changes.)

On the short form questions (SFQs) you need to do these to time to see how many you can achieve in the time allowed.  The more you do the more likely you will have seen questions similar to those you are set in the real exam - there are after all only a limited number of ways tax can be examined.

By working these questions you will get a feel for how much you are expected to write for the number of marks available.

May 2015 Paper 3

Many candidates wasted exam time by giving far more detail regarding periods of incapacity for work and how SSP was calculated than could possibly be required to answer a four mark question.


It will also help you to ensure you have answered the question fully.

May 2015 Paper 3

Again poor exam technique cost several candidates a few marks. For example, having done the correct calculations for part (1) and part (2), many candidates failed to score full marks because they neglected to specifically state how much VAT was recoverable/repayable.


As you go through them you should tick off those you get right and then next time you work them just consider the ones you got wrong.  That way you should have an ever reducing set of questions that need to be considered.

The long form questions should also be worked to time.  This will help you understand what the examiner is asking for in the requirements.

May 2015 Paper 1

Surprisingly poorly answered, the main problem being a failure to read the question and realise for which tax year the tax payments were required.



With these long questions you need to be able to see how far you can get in the time allowed - remembering you do not have to achieve 100% to pass - the pass mark is 50%.  (I have never seen a membership certificate that says ATT (just)).

You are being asked to demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of the topics - the examiner knows if you were doing this in the office you would have access to further resources and less constraint  on your time so is not expecting a perfect answer - rather a demonstration that you have a good working knowledge of the topics included.

November 2015 General comments

However, in a lot of cases candidates failed to answer the question asked and/or merely restated the question without any explanation.


Another benefit of working past exam questions is to allow you to practice how your answers should be set-out. Poor presentation can lead to a loss of marks - especially if your answer cannot be read or you do not set out the detail of your workings.

May 2015 Paper 4

The general presentation of many candidates’ papers was not good. Candidates should make every effort to present their work in a legible manner which is easy to follow.


So what is the best course for you as you approach the exams.  Well - the main thing is the working of these past exam questions - to give you the feel and experience that will help you achieve a pass on the day. Also, consider the examiner's report and make note of any relevant comments - these can be accessed from the ATT website and are an invaluable guide as to where candidates do not answer the question correctly - quite often they answer the question they wish had been set!

In conclusion - the use of past papers is a crucial part of your exam preparation - and anyone who does not take this approach is seriously jeopardising the possibility of success the first time round. Past papers are an excellent way to test yourself - tax technicalities may change but exam technique is constant!

Good luck

Marion Hodgkiss
Head of Tax
Kaplan Financial