My First ACCA Exam

I reserved all my 1st year of annual leave entitlement with C&L for my ACCA exam in Dec 1989. In addition to annual leave, we were granted study leave of 5 days per paper. We could choose to use up all the 5 days for the first attempt or to reserve some days of study leave in case we fail the paper at the first sitting. On top of that, we were also allowed exam leave on the exam day.

To top it up, we could claim our tuition fee and exam fee upon completion of the course level. That was quite generous of C&L, considering that we were not on any bond with the firm.

I was on paid leave for about a month. That was good. I could break off from work and concentrate on my study. And yet, I had my salary on month end.

During study leave, I didn’t study the whole day. I studied better at night, when everybody was asleep and the house was quiet. After dinner, I watched HK series with my family. Then, I would make myself a cup of Nescafe so that I could stay awake, usually till 3am, sometime till 5am, depending on how engrossed I was. Of course, I only woke up in the late morning. I couldn’t study much during day time, I chatted on the phone, had nap in the afternoon, did study planning for the day or week, etc.

After exam period, it was a very good atmosphere at work when everybody went back to work. There would be no classes for the rest of the month as new term only started the following month. That was the only period that I could join my colleagues for any gathering after work.

After 2 months i.e. in Feb 1990, ACCA would post the results docket to our house. During those few days, we would call home to see if the result docket arrived home. The most intense moment was when I tore the sealed docket to see the results.

For my first sitting of ACCA exam in Dec 1989, I passed 4 out of the 5 papers that I sat. I failed Law paper. I never like theory, reading subject. That was my weakness. Even during secondary school time, I would either fail or pass marginally the History and Geography papers.

The seniors and my boss were impressed with my results. And I thought, I did ok only. I’ve forgotten that I sat for ACCA professional course on part time basis, and not normal study on full time basis. That should be quite tough. After all these reasoning and those compliments from the office, my feeling changed! I was happy with my results and my confidence level towards studying ACCA on part time basis increased.

The Journey towards ACCA

10 April 1989 was a BIG day for me. I joined C&L as an accounts assistant and on the same day I attended my first day of studying accountancy professional course on part time basis at Systematic Business Training Centre in Jalan Sultan. It was the beginning of an exciting journey for me.

Why I chose to study ACCA on a part time basis

My family was not financially able to put me through a private university here or overseas. I started working right after my STPM. My parents believed that we should be independent at the age of 20.

I was so happy to learn that while studying ACCA on a part time basis and work with C&L, once I finish my study, with the relevant working experience, I could apply and admitted to become a qualified accountant. This will be sooner than those who study full time and need to work after their graduation to gain the relevant working experience before they could be admitted as a qualified accountant.

Why I chose ACCA and its challenges

Initially, I signed up for CIMA course. In my discussions with my seniors at C&L, I discovered most of them studied ACCA part time.

I had a long chat with a senior staff, Alex Chan. Alex explained to me the difference between ACCA and CIMA. The general impression was that ACCA was geared towards service industries whereas CIMA was oriented towards manufacturing with its emphasis on cost accounting. I changed my mind and decided to switch to ACCA. I did not like to work in a factory. I always liked the idea of working in a nice office environment.

When I signed up for 5 subjects of Level 1 ACCA, I had to attend 3 days of evening classes every week from 6pm to 9pm.

Official working hours at C&L was from 8.30am till 5.30pm. It’s always a marathon for me as I had to wait for the lift, walk out from IGB building to Jalan Ipoh bus station, catch a bus and then walked to Systematic Business Training Centre in Jalan Sultan, waited for the centre’s lift or walked up the stair case. It was extremely challenging for me to do all these in 30 minutes in order for me to be on time in the classroom by 6pm and not to sit at the last row of the class. Often I would sit on the very first row of the class because nobody liked to sit in front.

Chris Wong was a very supportive boss. He asked me to leave work half an hour earlier (5pm) so that I did not have to rush and could catch a small bite before class started. I would replace the half hour by cutting down on my lunch break. After classes, I had to catch another bus, which was very infrequent after 9pm and I usually reached home at 10pm. Dinner was normally after 10pm.

During the other 2 weekdays where I did not have to attend evening classes, I worked extra hours to catch up on my work and learned as much as I could. On those days where I had deadlines to meet, I would miss my evening classes. I did not want to disappoint Chris who entrusted me with audit work.

Why I wanted to be an Accountant

I remembered that during my primary school, most of my classmates didn’t know what to write when our teacher asked us to write an essay with the title “My Ambition”. As for me, I always wanted to be an accountant ever since I learnt Mathematics. Mathematics is so fun and amazing!

I recalled my early childhood where my older sisters were always playing at being teachers. I was curious about the numbers that they used to put on the board and pretended to teach others. As a kid of pre-school age, I wondered why 1 + 1 = 2, why 2 -1 = 1, etc. I remembered asking my sisters about the numbers but they brushed me off, saying I was too young to understand. I was frustrated and curious at the same time.

I still remember the day I went to school, I looked forward to Mathematics class. I needed to know the magic behind all this addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc and I would pay all the attention to the teacher’s teaching.

When I study Mathematics, I did not memorise formulas. Instead, I learnt to understand the formulas. As a result, I did very well in Mathematics. I always finished the Mathematics test before the time allocated and got A grade for the paper.

And I also remember me asking my teacher what I should do when I grew up especially with my love of numbers. “If I like Math and good in it, what occupation should I do?” They told me I should be an accountant of sorts. Ever since then, I knew my ambition was to be an accountant.

After the dismal results in my Sixth Form, I was disappointed in not getting good enough results for a place in a local university. My family was not financially able to put me through a private university here or overseas.

Without many options, I decided to get a job. I applied and got a job as an assistant with a small insurance company to help out in their paperwork. It was not the job to what I would have liked to do but it helped to ease my disappointment while I considered my next move. I was still determined to be an accountant but I thought then that the door was slammed shut in my face.

A few months after starting work, I bumped into an old school mate from Victoria Institution, Siew Quen. We chatted and it was during this meeting that she suggested that I could study part time towards a professional qualification in accounting.  Suddenly, I saw that my ambition of being an accountant being resurrected. During that same meeting, Siew Quen told me that there were openings at Coopers & Lybrand (C&L, now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers) for the position of accounts assistant and suggested that I write in for a job.

I went for a few interviews and finally, I received offers to work with an established bank and C&L. The bank offered me a cashier position with salary of RM420 per month, whereas, C&L offered me an Accounts Assistant position with salary of RM350 per month.

I was considering both options. As my ambition was to be an accountant, I felt that C&L should be able to provide me with all the relevant training and experiences. In addition, C&L also subsidised my ACCA course fee. Of course, the working hours with C&L will be long too.

At the end of the day, I decided to take up the position with C&L. My parents were surprise with the decision as they thought, I would choose the job that offers me the higher pay. I rationalise my reasoning with them and I was glad that my dad supported me fully. My mom could not understand the reason truly as to her and the market economy then, working in a bank was a glamour job (not now for sure after so many banks collapse in US).

I asked my seniors at work about this. They told me it was extremely challenging to work as well as study professional accounting course on part time. One of the senior told me “A lot of people struggled professional accounting course on full time basis and you want to do it on part time?”. Then, as a naïve girl, I asked “Is it impossible to study professional accounting course on part time basis?”. The senior said “No, but …”. If the answer is No, means it’s possible. Since it’s possible, I was going to study professional accounting course on part time basis. They were definitely not encouraging me towards this path. However, this made me more determined than ever.

Those were the decision making process on auditing life and professional accounting course and I was two steps closer to my Accountant profession.

To this day I am very grateful to my friend, Siew Quen, for opening my eyes and keeping my dream alive.