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May 2017

Chartered Accountancy – Easy or Difficult?

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Getting into CA is easy, challenge is passing out

In CA, the challenge is not getting into the course, it is passing out. Contrast this with an engineering candidate, whose real challenge is getting into a nice college, not passing out. Therefore, a lot of CA students get stuck up in the studies phase. This becomes a frustrating issue because after a certain age, other career options become limited.

If we compare the ratio of engineers from reputed colleges to the ratio of CA Final pass-outs, maybe we get a better perspective. I may even argue that this ratio shall be the same. Less than 5% of commerce students become CAs; in the same manner, less than 5% of engineering students qualify from NITs/IITs.

Therefore, CA is not tough because of low pass-percentage; it is tough because candidates get stuck in the later stages of their life. We need to, therefore, change our perspective.


CA is relatively cheaper – open access to various students

Chartered Accountancy is financially cheaper compared to other streams. It is thus open for students of various backgrounds. A lot of CA students have not had privileged education, such as students from government schools or smaller towns etc, or students who have studied in Hindi but appear for the exams in English. For these candidates, CA course is relatively tough.

Consequently, it becomes a challenge for such students to survive the mainstream competition. Of course, one can argue that the flip side is equally true, since the general candidates in other courses have to compete for a smaller number of positions (due to reservations). However, the low pass percentages must be considered in light of this fact.


The quality of teaching – coaching classes vs. colleges

Unlike majority of engineering, medical or management courses, CA is a distance-learning course. This means there are no standard colleges wherein knowledge is imparted. Structurally, CA students are expected to study themselves. However, only a handful of CA students complete the course by self-study. Most students choose to go for coaching classes.

While there are many good coaching classes, but one must understand that coaching classes cannot be properly compared with a college. Most colleges have boarding facilities where students live and study together, attend seminars, and have access to resourceful libraries and distinguished professors. This is not available for CA students. Therefore, quality of knowledge imparting is affected. Here is another challenge for CA students to encounter.


Rigorous Articleship Experience

The want of proper college is somewhat mitigated by the practical, on-the-job training imparted to most of the CA students during their articleship experience, where they work under a practicing CA for three years. Two aspects of this must be analyzed –

  1. It is necessary to have proper articleship training since a lot of course theory can be related to practical life only because of this training. Therefore, a number of students who have not undertaken this training seriously find themselves in a fix to understand the concepts.
  2. At the same time, this training often becomes rigorous and does not allow enough time for course studies. Many CA students are busy with coaching morning and evening, and work in offices during the day – leaving no time for self-study or revision.

All in all, I would say a healthy articleship experience proves to be a challenge for many students. Be careful before generalizing though – since I know a lot of students who have scored All India Ranks even after rigorous articleship training.


Course content and depth – importance of conceptual clarity

Look at the variety of topics that CA students have to study:

  1. General subjects – economics, mathematics, statistics, law, IT, general management
  2. Specialized subjects – Law, cost accounting, financial management, systems audit
  3. Core expertise subjects – Accounting, auditing, direct taxation, indirect taxation

At the same time, CA exams have more focus on concept based questions. This merits a deeper understanding of core principles in all the subjects. This requires two things – (1) time; and (2) better teachers – both of which are in scarcity. This adds another layer of challenge for CA students. Course content is so wide and deep that it could intimidate anybody.


Dealing with Failure – a frustrating experience

In light of several challenges mentioned above, failure in CA exams is common. One would expect failure to be a more comfortable experience since it is so common. But the reality is far from it. Failure in CA Final is very frustrating for the following reasons –

  1. The chances of getting a nice job decrease after every subsequent attempt
  2. Career options are limited after a point, even if we think about switching to other courses
  3. CA students compare themselves with their friends from other streams who clear their exams with ease. Thus, it creates a pressure to perform
  4. Most candidates fail in CA Final stage, by which time their friends start getting jobs or get married. This becomes frustrating.

Many CA students face the brunt of failure in addition to all the challenges mentioned previously. Believe me when I say this, anybody who gets into CA course is walking on a tightrope. And it needs a lot of self-motivation and determination to move forward – which brings me to my next point.


Coming out of our comfort zone

I have elaborated a number of challenges till now. What a CA student really needs is to dissociate himself from comfort. It is like training a man for joining the army. It requires practice, effort and dedication. Several students leave their home towns to live in bigger cities for their coaching classes and offices.

Consider the case of a CA student living in an expensive city like Mumbai – tiring travel, costly living and hardly any time for breathing. Contrast this with a management student who lives in the college campus – and has the best time of his life! Every CA student needs to come out of that comfort zone and persevere. And no – that’s not easy.


The importance of discipline and sacrifice

An average CA student controls many usual temptations – restraining from romantic relations, limited contact with family, avoiding social meet-ups, and sacrificing simple enjoyments in life. All these sacrifices and difficulties – only in the hope of seeing the light at the end of that tunnel!

And this can be achieved only through discipline. I say this with all seriousness and humility – CA is not everyone’s cup of tea. One must understand what they are giving up when they join in. We could question if it is worth all this, but I refrain from answering that. Nevertheless, the importance of discipline cannot be questioned.


“Luck” – the dark horse in the race

Having said all of this, I believe luck is also an important and inexplicable factor in CA exams. Since the course content is insanely vast, several students take a risk in focusing more on particular topics. Whether the exam will feature that question or not – is purely a function of luck.

The irrelevance of luck has often been argued, but I never support that idea. Speaking as a CA who passed with an All India Rank 16 – I know how huge a role luck has played in my result. One can never really control it, but this remains an important factor.

So does it make CA exam easy or difficult? Well, who knows!


CA is not a degree, it is a way of life!

When a person gets into CA, irrespective of whether he passes or not, he gets into an amazing experience in life. CA changes us. It makes us more humble and considerate; it makes us hard-working, patient and persevering. I have seen a lot of non-believers who got into CA and turned into believers. And I have seen the reverse!

When we get into CA, we need to change our character, attitude and lifestyle. If you can do that, you are a CA. I cannot simply tag it as ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’. Therefore, asking how difficult CA is is an absurd question. It is like asking how difficult it is to be an ‘Indian’!


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