The ATT tax qualification is made up of six exams across two levels and is considered an excellent tax qualification in the industry. For those thinking of pursuing the ATT tax qualification, one key piece of information you probably want to understand is just how difficult these exams are to get through.

The ATT exams are moderately difficult but are passable for the majority of people provided the exams are taken seriously. The ATT tax exams are generally considered easier than the CTA tax qualification exams and are comparable in difficulty to A-Level examinations.

Whether you plan to take the ATT exams in order to move on to another tax qualification or if you are simply looking to become a more knowledgable tax professional, the below post will demonstrate how hard the qualification is to complete and share details on how difficult each exam is and possible career routes the ATT could lead on to.

How hard are the ATT qualification exams?

Whilst the ATT qualification exams are generally considered easier than an alternative tax qualification such as the CTA, the exams are still challenging and are equivalent in difficulty to A-Level exams.

As shown below, the percentage required to pass the exam is 50% for the two certificate level papers and the optional computer-based exam (CBE) whilst it is 60% for the compulsory computer-based exams. It should give candidates confidence that they only need to achieve 50% or 60% of the total marks on the exam papers in order to pass.

LevelExam nameExam length / stylePass mark (% required to pass the exam)
1 – CertificatePersonal Taxation3.5 hours written50%
1 – CertificateBusiness Taxation3.5 hours written50%
2 – Optional computer-basedChose 1 out of 4 of the following;
a) Business Compliance
b) Corporate Taxation
c) Inheritance Tax, Trusts and Estates
d) Value Added Tax
3.5 hours written50%
3 – Compulsory Computer-based (CCB)Law1 hour, multiple choice60%
3 – Compulsory Computer-based (CCB)Professional Responsibilities and Ethics1 hour, multiple choice60%
3 – Compulsory Computer-based (CCB)Principles of Accounting1 hour, multiple choice60%

At the certificate level, the pass rates were 73% for Personal Taxation and 71% for Business Taxation in the latest sitting which demonstrates that most sitting candidates do tend to pass these papers. However, given close to 30% fail in both of these entry-level exams, proper preparation and study are required.

On the optional computer-based papers, the pass rates were:

Business Compliance – 91%

Corporate Taxation – 85%

Inheritance Tax, Trusts and Estates – 84%

VAT – 81%

Based on this information, clearly, the easiest paper to pass is Business Compliance so it would be logical for candidates who don’t have a strong preference to opt for this paper to give themselves the best chance of success.

Certain candidates may be of the mind to pursue a particular paper as it most closely aligns with their job role or future job plans. For example, someone planning on becoming a VAT tax professional may wish to sit the VAT paper. This should be carefully weighed up against the assumed difficulty of the paper based on pass rates.

What is the hardest exam in the ATT tax qualification?

In the certificate level ATT exams, the hardest exam based on pass rates and anecdotal experience of the three ATT qualified tax professionals I spoke to is the optional VAT exam.

This may come as a surprise given the pass rate for the VAT exam was 81% which was higher than the 73% and 71% pass rates for the Personal Taxation and Business Taxation exams. The reason behind this is that these two exams are the first two papers sat which act as a filtering mechanism, i.e. any candidates who drop out of the programme will do at this stage.

Therefore, only the candidates with enough ability to pass these two exams will sit the optional exams, of which the VAT paper has the lowest pass rate and is typically taken by the fewest sitting candidates.

In the three computer-based exams – Law, Professional Responsibilities and Ethics and Principles of Accounting, the pass rates are not published publically but among the candidates I spoke to, the consensus was that the Principles of Accounting exam tends to be the most difficult.

Both Law and Professional Responsibilities & Ethics are described as dry and difficult to study but easier to pass than Accounting which involves a whole new skill-set than that required for the previous taxation-focused exams.

The three computer-based exams are only one-hour long, multiple choice exams which is a much easier exam day experience than the 3.5-hour certificate level written papers.

How long does it take to pass the ATT qualification exams?

There are six exams to pass within the ATT qualification and this can be realistically achieved in a year.

Candidates are able to sit all three certificate level exams (2 compulsory, 1 optional from a choice of four) in a single sitting which takes place in both May and November each year. It is difficult to study and pass three papers in one sitting due to the volume of content, but it’s not impossible and many candidates do manage it.

Most candidates prefer to split the exams into two in the May exam sitting and a further one in the November exam sitting to spread the volume out.

The three computer-based exams can be sat at any time of the year as they are online, multiple-choice style papers.

If a candidate started studying in March, took the first two certificate level exams in the May sitting, ticked off the three CBEs in the summer and then took the final certificate level exam in the November sitting, the exams could all be completed in less than a year.

However, in order to become a member of the ATT body, two years of recorded professional experience are also required. So even if a candidate passed all exams within a year, they would still need to record the hours in order to become fully qualified.

Is the ATT qualification easier than the CTA qualification?

The ATT qualification is generally considered easier than the CTA qualification. The CTA qualification has a greater focus on the advisory aspect of tax rather than simply knowledge recall as is the case with the ATT qualification.

Both qualifications offer a good breadth and depth of learning but the CTA exam seems to be the more advanced qualification with many tax professionals getting a foundation in the topic via the ATT qualification before moving onto the more difficult CTA.

Speaking to a tax professional working for KPMG who has completed both the ATT and CTA qualifications, she agreed the CTA exams were much more difficult with far lower pass rates. She used the comparison that ATT exams were equivalent to A-Levels in difficulty whilst the CTA was comparable to University or Professional exams (like the ACA).

What does the ATT qualification stand for?

ATT stands for ‘The Association of Taxation Technicians‘ which is a well-recognised professional body for taxation professionals.

Members can use the designatory letters of ‘ATT’ after their name which demonstrates their position as a ‘Taxation Technician’.

There are currently 9,000 ATT members at the time of writing with a further 5,200 students.

Should I do the ATT qualification before I do the CTA?

The CTA qualification is available to everyone over the age of 16 regardless of prior qualifications, however, it’s usually recommended that candidates do a qualification like the ATT first to develop the foundational tax knowledge.

Candidates who jump straight into the CTA without any initial tax understanding often find the exams overwhelmingly difficult. Given the short time frame that the ATT can be completed in, it seems to make sense to complete this first where possible, particularly given any practical work experience would count towards both qualifications.

An alternative route is to undertake a more general Accounting qualification like the ACCA which includes elements of tax. See my write-up on the ACCA exams here.

This can be a good way to go for a couple of reasons, firstly, by doing the ACCA qualification, candidates can gain an initial understanding of tax and become exempt from certain CTA exams.

More importantly, however, is that by doing a more general Accounting qualification prior to a tax-specific qualification, candidates give themselves a broader knowledge base which allows them to progress into a greater variety of possible career routes.

ATT tax

What job roles can an ATT Taxation Professional do?

As the qualification suggests, an ATT tax professional will almost always utilise their qualification in a tax role unlike say an ACCA Accountancy qualification which can be used more broadly.

Typically ATT members will work in tax roles within companys, funds or public bodies with the specifics of the role varying depending on the nature of the industry.

ATT members may also get onto graduate schemes at professional services firms like KPMG or Deloitte whereby they provide clients with corporate tax services. These schemes often involve being sponsored through a further qualification, typically the CTA and can be a great springboard for a career in tax.

ATT members may also have a unique benefit if they choose to go down the entrepreneurial route of starting their own business as they will have the necessary knowledge to do a lot of their own accounting and tax compliance work.

What qualifications do you need to study ATT?

You do not need any pre-existing qualifications in order to study ATT. The only requirements to sit the ATT qualification exams are:

  1. You are over 16 years of age
  2. You have a reasonable grasp of English and Mathematics

If you have completed the CTA qualification or an Accounting qualification like the ACA or ACCA, it is probably not worth doing the ATT at that point as your level of qualification has exceeded the benefit of becoming ATT qualified.

ATT tax

What salary can you earn as an ATT member?

The salary you earn as an ATT member will depend greatly on the job role you find yourself in. However, a qualified ATT member could expect to earn in excess of £30,000 per year. It’s possible to join graduate schemes paying between £25,000 and £30,000 per annum whilst sponsoring you on the ATT qualification.

This is an ideal route to take as you can earn a good starting salary whilst studying, get practical experience days and often have your exams and resources funded by your employer.

As always, please remember I am an Accountant, but not your Accountant. In this post (and all of my others) I share information and oftentimes give anecdotes about what has worked well for me. However, I do not know your personal financial situation and so do not offer individual financial advice. If you are unsure of a particular financial subject, please hire a qualified financial advisor to guide you.

This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my About page for more information. To verify my ACA credentials – please search for my name at the ICAEW member finder. To get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts, please comment below or contact me here.