ADIT Exam Tips

Nov 27
How do you pass an ADIT International Tax exam? Here, Catriona Loughran offers you tips on answering ADIT questions to help you succeed.

To make it easy to remember and apply them, the tips are a mnemonic of ADIT:
  • A = Answer the question
  • D = Don't panic
  • I = Identify the issues
  • T = Timing


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A = Answer the Question

You need to read the question carefully and answer exactly what is being asked of you. This is how you maximise your marks in an ADIT exam.

Choosing your Questions

Where you have the option, take time to choose the questions you want to answer. I recommend using 10 minutes at the start of the exam to read the paper, choose your questions and decide the order you want to answer them in.  

Each ADIT exam lasts for three hours and 15 minutes. Before the exams moved online, the first 15 minutes was for reading time. You got the exam paper, but could not write or type on your script until the reading time was up. This left three hours to answer the questions. My recommendation is to split your 15 minutes ‘reading time’ between the start of the paper and the end to check your answers.  

Read the essay subject or case study carefully when choosing your question and consider what you are being asked to do. A question that seems to suit you at first glance may have deeper layers than you initially realise, meaning that it may not be the best choice for you.  

You don’t have to deal with the questions in the order presented. However, if you answer them in a different order, make sure that you are managing your time strictly. You do not want to find yourself with 20 minutes at the end of the exam to answer a 25 mark question.

Understanding the Requirements

What are you being asked to do? To answer the exam questions to the best of your ability, you need to be clear on what the examiner is expecting from you. Each question has a requirement stated in bold. Pay close attention to the verbs in the requirements. Understand what each verb means and how you should tailor your answer depending on what it is.

For example:
  • Compare – identify differences and similarities between two or more sources.
  • Summarise – draw your key point and key ideas together.
  • Evaluate – make a judgement about or give an opinion on a topic, backed up by supporting details.
  • Advise – use the facts presented to apply your knowledge and suggest how someone can reach their objectives.
  • Recommend – use your understanding to suggest that a particular action should be taken.

Answering ADIT Questions

Remember that ADIT exams are not about regurgitating the law or facts. They are all about the application of your knowledge.

In essay questions, you must show your understanding by presenting a coherent and relevant discussion of the topic.

In case studies, you must use the facts given in the question and apply your knowledge to them.

In both cases, you need to answer what you are asked. We all go into exams hoping for certain questions to come up. If they do, fantastic! If they don’t, there is no point trying to shoehorn the answers into a different question. You need to deal with the questions actually being asked. It’s the only way to succeed in an ADIT exam.
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D = Don't Panic

Breathe, keep your head and do your best. I know it’s easier said than done, but panicking will not get you anywhere. You have worked hard for your ADIT exam. You have three hours and 15 minutes to show the examiner what you know, try to keep calm and make the most of your time.


Practice Makes Perfect

While there is no such thing as perfection in an ADIT exam, practice is a big part of being prepared and staying focussed on the day.

In the weeks before the exam, practise past paper questions, including sitting full mock exams. Giving yourself the time allotted in the exam, type your answers to the questions and then compare them to the suggested solutions.

Don’t be tempted to read the question, followed by the answer, and tell yourself you would have said that. You won’t know what you would have said unless you actually try the question.

How many of us regularly sit down for over three hours and work continually? We live in a world where constant interruptions are the norm. Emails, social media, text messages etc. – how long do you usually go before being interrupted?

You do not want the first time you sit in front of your computer and focus for over three hours to be on the day of the exam.

Similarly, you do not want the first time you are using Exam4 to be the actual exam. Check out the CIOT’s guidance here and follow their recommendations.

ADIT Pass Mark

One reason I say that there is no such thing as perfection in an ADIT exam is, no matter how hard you have studied, there will be elements of paper that you’re not familiar with or not as comfortable with. This is the nature of a challenging professional qualification like ADIT.

Focus on what you do know. Look at what the question is asking you and work out what you can address. The first set of marks in each question are the easiest to achieve. This is one reason for managing your time appropriately.

Remember that the threshold for passing is 50%. There will be elements in the questions aimed at achieving the top end of the marks. You shouldn’t let them derail you. There will be core marks available in each question, and those are the ones you need to focus on.

Online ADIT Exams

I believe a big benefit from online exams is being in a room on your own, rather than a crowded exam hall.  

From school, university and professional exams, I’ve experienced that horrible scenario of sitting in an exam room in fear. Looking around at the other people who all seem to be writing furiously while I’m thinking, I don’t know where to start with this question!  

That doesn’t need to happen to you when you’re on your own. There’s no pressure from anyone else. If you feel yourself start to panic, take a deep breath, try to relax, maybe stand up and stretch a little.  

Then tell yourself, I can do this. I’ve worked hard. I’ve got this, and carry on with your paper.
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I = Identify the Issues

You get marks in ADIT exams for dealing with the issues in the question, not for sharing everything you know about a topic. Before you type your answer, you need to identify the issues in the question, particularly case studies, and plan out how you are going to address them.

What does that mean? It means picking out key pieces of information, perhaps drawing a diagram on a blank piece of paper, making some notes about key phrases and starting to structure your answer. You shouldn’t start writing before you have an outline structure of what you want to say.

Case Study Questions

All ADIT papers include case study (scenario-based) questions. Some papers, for example, the UK Tax module, are likely to contain only case study questions.  

You need to pick out relevant information from that question and use it to apply your knowledge. This can be challenging. Like other aspects of succeeding in ADIT, it requires practice.

When you look at the scenario-based questions, you see lengthy paragraphs densely packed with information. This is the opposite of what I advise you to do when answering the questions. Use short paragraphs, ideally, two or three sentences and keep your sentences short. A rule of thumb is to address one point per paragraph.  

The examiner is making you work hard to extract the relevant facts from the question. By contrast, you want to help the examiner by making your answers easy to read. You will put yourself in a good position if the examiner can see the point you are making clearly.  

Before the move to online exams, I would have recommended underlying and highlighting key information as part of actively reading the question. This is a downside of online exams. It is more difficult to process information on a screen. This is one of the reasons I recommend studying online for the ADIT exams. By studying online, you are developing skills needed in the exam.  

When reading the question actively, ask yourself:
  • Why am I being told this fact?  
  • How does it impact my answer?
  • Where is the examiner trying to lead me?

What is the Scenario?

Think about the scenario presented in the case study, including who you are and who you are addressing.  

For instance, are you being asked to write an email to a client or are you being asked to write a briefing note to a tax partner? You should answer those questions in two different ways. You wouldn’t start quoting legislative references to an entrepreneurial client, but you would to a partner in your firm who’s asked you to investigate a certain issue.  

I discussed the verbs used in the requirements above. Consider what you are being asked to do and make it the focus of your answer.  

Are you dealing with something that has already happened or are you looking at your client’s plans for the future? If it is something that has not happened yet, are the requirements asking you to give advice to achieve a certain outcome? For example, if the issue is corporate residence, are you expected to offer guidance on how to maintain or change the company’s residence?  

With case study questions, the CIOT is evaluating your skills as a tax adviser. This practical application of knowledge is a key benefit of the ADIT qualification.  

You have the expertise. Your client has come to you for help with a problem. Your client does not want to be told everything you know about a topic, they want you to use your expertise to deal with their problem. Keep that in mind as you write your answer. It is tempting to say something just because you know it, but you will waste your time and make it look like you have not identified the relevant issues.
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T = Timing

This is critical. You need to be exact with your timing. There are three hours and 15 minutes for the exam. You are responsible for keeping track and submitting your exam on time.

The first 15 minutes used to be designated purely as reading time. That’s no longer the case, but I strongly recommend that you use 10 minutes at the start to read the paper, choose your questions, and then actively read the questions.

You can use the other five minutes to check over your paper at the end. Remember that if you plan to use the spellcheck function on Exam4, you will need to leave time for it to run.

1 Mark = 1.8 Minutes

You should work on the basis that you have three hours of writing time. That is 1.8 minutes per mark. Have a calculator in the room with you so you can work out exactly how long you have for each question, or part of a question.  

Have a watch or timer (or both) in the exam room with you. Set an alarm to warn you when the three hours and 15 minutes are almost up. I also recommend setting a timer for each question (or part of a question).  

Think carefully about how long you have for each question. If it’s a 25 mark question, then you have 45 minutes to complete it. After 45 minutes, move on.  

You need to breakdown your time further to address all aspects of the question. This is much simpler when the requirements are broken down and you know how many marks are available for each component.  

For example, if part (i) is worth two marks, you’ve got a maximum of 3.6 minutes to answer that part of the question. Make two or three points and move on.  

Where the requirement just says something like “discuss the issues” and does not have multiple parts, allocating your time is much harder. If you can see three issues in the question, you cannot spend the bulk of your time addressing the first one. When planning your answer, you need to consider how you will use your time.  

The first set of marks in a question is always the easiest to get. The top set is the hardest. There is a law of diminishing returns. Spending more time on a question that you like will not result in a better overall mark.  

The best way to succeed in an ADIT exam is to make a good attempt at the right number of questions. Answer too few questions and you have seriously dented your chances of passing. By answering more questions than required, you have wasted your time. If you must answer four questions, the examiner will only mark four questions.  

If you have run out of relevant points to make in your answer, but have time still left, move on. Spend that extra time somewhere you can add value. Perhaps go back to a question where you had more to say but had used your allocated time.

Again, Practice Makes Perfect

There is a skill in managing your time in an ADIT exam. Going back to ‘practice makes perfect’, it is one that you need to develop during your studies.  

I compare it to the contestants on the ‘Bake Off’ shows. We know they are amongst the best bakers in the country who can produce stunning cakes – but can they do it in a high-pressure environment with a strict deadline? That’s part of the fun of the show. Similarly, to achieve the ADIT qualification, you need to train yourself to exercise your international tax skills under pressure and with time constraints.  

Sitting marked mock exams will help you here. The time to make mistakes is in a mock exam. We often learn more from our mistakes than getting things right the first time, both practically and technically. At ExtraTax Training, our students sit two mock exams and receive detailed feedback on their performance, helping them to achieve higher than average results.
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I wish you every success with your ADIT exams. It is a tough qualification to achieve, but undoubtedly worthwhile.

If you would like any help with your ADIT studies, please get in touch with the ExtraTax Training team at [email protected].


Catriona Loughran FCA CTA ADIT is the founder of ExtraTax Training and lectures for the ADIT UK Tax module.