All You Need to Know: ATT to CTA

A major consideration when applying for a role in a professional services firm like Grant Thornton is the choice of professional qualifications. There are various acronyms floating around for professional finance qualifications and some can seem very familiar. At Grant Thornton, we offer ACA, ACCA, AAT and ICAS on the accountancy side and ATT and CTA for tax.

The qualification you’d study towards depends on the type of work you complete during the week. The qualification is determined by the department and will vary around the country. In tax, we offer training contracts via three routes, ACA-CTA, ICAS-CTA and ATT-CTA. In this three part blog, we aim to explain the difference between these and what it means to the trainee.

The ATT-CTA route is generally undertaken by trainees who are focusing on personal and OMB tax issues at work. Typically, Corporate Tax trainees will qualify with an accounting qualification before CTA. As my work in Southampton spans, personal tax, corporate tax and trusts & estates, it makes sense for our trainees to complete the ATT before CTA.

Having studied through the ATT-CTA route, the whole exam process takes around 2.5 years with a total of seven exams and two e-assessments to complete. The only available exemption for these exams via this route is available to those who are LLB qualified, who are exempt from the law e-assessment.

Tax trainees on the ATT-CTA training scheme will complete all of their academic tuition at Bradenham with other tax trainees from around the country. This means that you’ll be able to build strong relationships with various trainees from other offices. For those I have trained with, I have built up some great working and personal relationships. Spending this time with fellow Grant Thornton trainees makes for some great Bradenham memories.

The tuition at Bradenham is supplied by Kaplan and we have two tutors who come to Bradenham to teach us the material. This gives us the opportunity to socialise with the tutor over meals and sometimes at the bar. For me, this helps to build a rapport with our tutors and fellow colleagues.

In terms of results, Grant Thornton scores well and this is largely thanks to the support network available through Bradenham. Our firm consistently beats the national average and it is rare for trainees to fail exams.

The ATT-CTA route sees trainees completing two qualifications. The Chartered Institute of Taxation does not allow students to attempt the CTA qualification without a prerequisite and approved professional qualification. The reason for this is difficulty; simply put, CTA needs a strong grounding.

As an ATT trainee at Grant Thornton you will sit three written papers in Personal Tax, Business Tax & Accounting Principles and either Corporate Tax or Business Compliance. The final two papers are options but generally most students complete Business Compliance, which consists of PAYE, National Insurance and VAT. These exams are three hour written papers (with an additional 15 minutes of reading time) and are sat in one sitting – that makes nearly ten hours of exams in two days!

The e-assessments must be passed before the ATT is attempted. These are one hour computer-based multiple choice tests consisting of 60 questions. One in tax administration & ethical standards and the other in tax law.

Once the ATT is completed, our trainees are ready to move onto the ultimate objective of being CTA qualified. In order to commence training on the CTA course all trainees will sit a “Hurdle Exam”. This exam is a two hour internal test which is designed to ensure that ATT qualified trainees are ready for the leap up to CTA.

And a leap it is! When I first joined the firm people often warned me about the step from ATT to CTA and their comments didn’t disappoint. I found the leap from University degree to ATT to be much less daunting. The relief in the ATT to CTA jump, and this is a massive relief, is the support network that is around every trainee working on completing their exams.

It’s an important point to remember that when studying through the ATT-CTA route, the focus is always on tax. That is, the supportive topics, being ethics, law and accounting, make up a small part of the ATT-CTA qualifications. The benefit of this focus being that trainees always working towards the same objective, and each exam complements the next. This means that exams and tuition is always building on previous tax knowledge as opposed to working through some material for one exam and then not touching it again. The practical work is also very relevant to the professional qualification and therefore the work done in the office is vital to the success in the exams.

The CTA itself is split across four written exams and two e-assessments. For those completing the ATT, exemptions are acquired for the e-assessments and therefore there are only four written papers to worry about. The exams are three hours each (as well as 15 minutes reading time) and are designed to test your technical ability and awareness of almost every tax in the UK system.

For students in our firm, we complete the compulsory modules of Awareness, Owner Managed Business Advisory and Application & Interaction. There is also an option module between Individuals Advisory and Advanced Corporate Tax Advisory.

The Awareness paper is a three module paper which aims to test peoples “awareness” and understanding of non-core taxes. This being VAT, IHT and either individuals tax or corporation tax (depending on the option paper taken). This paper consists of 36 short form questions and for any tax advisor is a time pressured paper (the 15 minutes reading time is not applicable for this paper).

The Advisory papers, for which there are two, are heavily focused on technical ability. These are regarded as the bread and butter of CTA and are arguably the hardest part of the qualification. The exams typically include 6-7 essay style questions which focus on real-life tax issues.

The Application & Interaction paper is effectively a case study paper and is a tricky paper to complete. Whilst not being as technically focused as the other papers, it still requires a different style of exam technique in order to succeed. The exam is one question, usually around five A4 pages long, which covers all taxes (although focusing on owner-managed business aspects) and requires both technical knowledge and awareness of all taxes in the UK tax system.

There is no requirement for trainees to be “time qualified” in CTA as there are in some accountancy qualifications which means on receipt of all exam passes and membership fees paid, the letters CTA can be dropped in at the end of your name.

The CTA qualification is very well respected and prestigious. Only around 500 people per year are admitted to the Chartered Institute of Taxation and with national pass rates in the 40% band, having good support, tuition and practical experience is key to exam success.

If you have any further queries on the above qualifications, please do not hesitate to comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

14 thoughts on “All You Need to Know: ATT to CTA

  1. avatarmari

    Hi Nick,

    Do you have any suggestions on possible issues I could discuss as part of my phone interview?

    The interview is for the property tax graduate scheme and I am wondering what business/issues I could bring up that would be relevant to the tax services that Grant Thornton offers. I can think of general changes and issues in UK tax and HMRC policies and the issues that brought these up. But I am not sure I can speak of a specific example or a specific business that would be a good fit with the tax services the company has to offer.

    I hope this makes sense. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks,


  2. avatarNick Post author


    Thank you for your comment.

    The important thing to remember is that you’re not expected to know the industry you’re applying to inside out. This is something you’ll learn when you commence the role.

    Having an understanding of particular schemes that HMRC offer, in particular the recent property schemes released in the recent budget, will show good research.

    As for understanding specific planning that we offer you would not be expected to know this in detail. The interview is a good opportunity to understand what the team does on a day to day basis and I would suggest asking the interviewer at the time of the interview.

    Hopefully I’ve understood your question correctly and this has helped out.

    All the best


  3. avatarmari

    Hi Nick,

    Thank you for your reply. I am not really sure what to expect from the business insight questions, hence my query above. But thank you for your help, I will research more recent budget and tax developments. Congratulations on your ACA tests and many thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience.



  4. avatarNick Post author


    Thank you for your comments.

    The business insight aspect of the interview is looking to assess how well you can understand and interpret how business works. This will be from small factors such as how profits are made to macro-economic factors such as how will an interest rate change impact the economy.

    The interview it’s a test so you wouldn’t be expected to know these types of things in detail, it’s just illustrating that you understand how a business operates and what external issues a business might face.

    I would recommend reading the financial press such as the FT and begin to understand what current topics are effecting the UK economy. Then try to relate this back to Grant Thornton and our clients. What is it in the economy that is making it a difficult trading ground for our clients? Why is an instinct for growth particularly important in this current economic backdrop? We have recently posted growth of 10% which is higher than most other professional services firms. How have we done that?

    These are the types of questions you’ll want to be thinking about. In order to be a good business adviser, you’ll need to be able to understand not only our client’s businesses but the business of our firm also.

    I hope this helps but let me know if you have any other queries.

    All the best


  5. avatarhmmccreedy


    I have a strong interest in doing the ATT-ACA Corporate Tax Accelerate route at the Birmingham office and was just wondering how much time is spent at Bradenham and how that time is structured? For example, do you travel there for one day a week like those studying AAT or is it in blocks? And how frequently per year?

    Thank you very much for your help and I’m sorry for all the questions!

    Best wishes,


  6. avatarNick Post author


    Thank you for your query.

    Trainees studying for ATT will go to Bradenham in blocks, so usually a week at a time. In your first year with the firm this will be in around three one week blocks and then a two week block as revision, so around five weeks in total.

    For CTA this is slightly less as the exams are spread over your second and third years as a trainee. You will again go for blocks, but for only four days at a time (twice each year) and a revision session for just over a week (each year).

    I hope this answers your query but if you have any other points on your mind, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

    All the best with your application


  7. avataraishazafar

    hi nick

    i completed graduation in accounting and finance 8 years ago, i worked for roughly two years as a tax trainee and was attempting att exams at the same time…..

    i got married and had kids and never went back to completing att or finishing my experience, kids are in school , im now 29, and want to go back into exams and hopefully try and do CTA exams too.

    what would be your best advice be on restarting everything? im afraid i will never get a trainiee position again anywhere regarding my age, and the fact that i have been out of touch for so many years,no one will employ me!!

    shall i leave it? or get into it with horns blazing?? its not too late is it?

  8. avatarNick Post author


    Thank you for your message, I hope this finds you well.

    It is out aim to recruit good people who have the required competencies, skills and drive to be strong professionals in our organisation. These people can come from all backgrounds and we do not discriminate against applicants due to age.

    While our graduate and accelerate programs are aimed at university and school leavers primarily, these programs are not exclusively for these individuals. If you meet the required academic requirements for either program, you are eligible to apply.

    Given that you ceased to work in tax six years ago, it is likely that any exam passes for ATT papers will have now expired as per the boards policies and you will need to resit all three papers and both e-assessments to qualify with ATT. Depending on the type of tax program you apply for, all tuition fees and course costs will be paid by the firm (most tax programs are for the CTA qualification with ATT or ACA being used as a forerunner qualification).

    To sum up, no it’s not too late for you to reconsider your career in tax at Grant Thornton. If you are willing to accept that you will be starting from scratch with other trainees again (after two years of prior experience), the graduate programs would be a great way for you get back on the tax train.

    I hope this helps but feel free to ask me any other questions if you have them.

    All the best

  9. avatarcueboy99

    Hi, I am a qualified ACCA. Trained with BDO in audit. Have had experience in practice as an all rounder , accounts, tax, vat, new client meetings etc tor 2 years and also have been FC for a firm in the music industry for 2 years and 1 year for a Fast Food Supply company. Have recently had an 8 year career break to pursue property development which unfortunately wasnt too successful and subsequently some other network marketing businesses which also didnt prove to be successful to the level I had hoped. Have decided would like to get back into my profession but am not confident of applying for accountancy jobs in industry or practice due to the rather long career break. Was thinking of doing the CTA exams with either Kaplan or Tolleys in Nov 14 (missed dates for May 14) nd then applying for relevant taxation jobs with a fresh CTA qualification on my CV to counter effect the 8 year break and to show prospective employers my commitment. So in effect to be exam qualified for CTA and look for relevant jobs trainee or otherwise which would give me the necessary 3 years experience to achieve fully qualified CTA status. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think if I passed the CTA exams first time I would find a suitable position with a say top ten firm relatively easily bearing in mind that by November 14 I wil be 43. Your thoughts and any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  10. avatarRhys

    Hi, thanks for your message and sorry for the delay in response.

    At this stage I wouldn’t like to speculate so I’ve contacted some of our recruiters for some more concrete information and will get back to you as soon as I have an answer as to the best approach.

    Speak soon,


  11. avatarRhys

    Hi. I have spoken to our recruitment team and they have given me the following advice to pass on:

    ‘Whilst we are hesitant in providing career advice, these are a few of my thoughts on whether we have something that might be applicable to the situation.

    We do have people in GT that are ACCA qualified so that is not a problem.
    If he wants to pursue a career in tax then he can join as a trainee and there is no need for him to do exams off his own back – to be honest if I put his details in front of a tax manager they may believe he is over qualified to do the job as a trainee (already qualified ACCA, FC experience, and then exam qualified does not put him at trainee level at all)
    As a qualified accountant with experience (despite the career break) he will have a better chance of success by applying for roles with experience, potentially at an executive level, but then he is going to be up against other people who have not had the career break so that is going to be hard as well.

    Age is not an issue at all but I suppose my answer is that he’s not at the trainee level so it’s not really something that the trainee team would be able to help with. Being exam qualified negates the terms of what we actually offer. It may be that he would show his commitment more by getting some work experience in a smaller firm, or in an accounting department and then applies for a tax trainee role on the accelerate programme. Or, alternatively, do the CTA and perhaps discuss his options with a career coach. I would really recommend he gets in touch with a career coach to discuss his options as we don’t have a ‘best fit’ but can only discuss what we could consider him for based on his background.’

    Hopefully that’s useful and gives you some sort of guidance as to the best steps to take.

    Let me know if there is anything else that we can help with.


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