So, the ICSA results are out… which paper should I take next?

by Mark Chambers on 18 October 2016

I’m an ICSA member and Company Secretarial recruiter and I often get asked this question. It is an important decision and very much worth a bit of careful thought to up your success not only in the course but also at work. But the question is how to decide?

First of all, the papers you take may be affected by your exemptions and also the knowledge you have prior to the course. It may also depend on how many modules you’re going to take each sitting, time frames for completion and possibly your seniority within your organisation. But the comments I most often hear are:

‘take the modules that you enjoy first and so build your confidence’

‘sit the most relevant papers first'

’‘link the concepts in the papers’; and finally my own recent experience;

‘take the case study specific modules as near as possible to this paper.

So, for completeness, here are the modules currently in the CSQS syllabus:

Level 1:

Financial Reporting & Analysis

Corporate Governance

Corporate Law

Applied Business Law

(Health Service Governance)

Level 2:

Financial Decision Making

Strategy in Practice

Corporate Secretarial Practice

Case Study

And here are my own thoughts on the order in which to take the modules and brief thoughts on each:

Corporate Secretarial Practice:

Despite this module being level 2, I found this paper the most useful and relevant to every-day Cosec work -from the outset. If you can understand some of the more advanced concepts such as share buyback, capital reductions and the various provisions of the Companies Act, you’ll set yourself apart and might even provide a platform to get involved in further, more technical work at an earlier stage. It is very procedural and contains plenty of information you can refer back to. I’d keep the course textbook firmly next to your desk at work.

Applied Business Law then Corporate Law:

These are often modules in which students have exemptions. Similar to the finance modules, good sense to take these together, so that the legal concepts will be fresh in your mind. It is also useful to understand the underlying legal principles so you can view the work you do through a legal lens from the outset. 

Financial Reporting & Analysis then Financial Decision Making:

I would definitely try and co-ordinate these two. There is a great deal of linkage, especially in terms of ratios – and these are key in both papers. I’d take FRA first, then FDM. By doing this, the material will be fresh in your mind. I would also say that if you’ve not come from a financial/accounting background, I’d recommend using a tuition provider. I think nothing can replace being in a classroom, with an expert and learning the proper mathematical techniques. Also, working alongside other students is really valuable for these modules, if anything to confirm you’re not the only one finding it difficult!

Strategy in Practice:

In my experience, the majority of students are not at a board/senior level and as such the material will not have a direct link on your day-to-day work. Furthermore, strategy does pop its head in the Case Study, alongside CSP and Corporate Governance, so the usual freshness in mind argument would apply here too.

Corporate Governance:

This module builds upon the knowledge from CSP and in my own experience,  found this module the second most relevant to every-day work. However, my reason for putting it at the end is that it plays a key part in the Case Study.

Case study

This module is becoming increasingly challenging. The most recent case study and previous ones expected a detailed financial calculation alongside an in-depth knowledge of corporate governance and corporate secretarial practice as well as background research, which most recently was the medical equipment industry. So, it is vital to put in the time and be aware of a very different style to the other papers. In contrast to the others, the answers can go in several directions and there is no ‘one right answer’, as such. Instead, the emphasis is on linking to the facts, keeping it relevant and structured, on a foundation of good, overall technical knowledge.

So, these are just my personal views based on my own experience it’d be great to hear yours and any other advice you would give to fellow students.

In the meantime, do connect with me, join the G2 Legal Company Secretary Group and get in touch if you’d like to discuss Company Secretarial!

Mark Chambers

Company Secretarial Recruitment Consultant

G2 Legal

0207 649 9298

About the author

Mark is an ACIS qualified Chartered Secretary and places Company Secretaries into professional services and in-house roles. Mark is a member of the ICSA and previously worked in-house as a Company Secretary in FTSE 100/250 listed companies.