“What do I need to do to qualify as a Chartered Accountant?”

I get this question ALL the time! Along with “How do I pass CTA?” I can help with both, but let’s focus on how to become a Chartered Accountant here.

Here’s the basics:

  • SAICA-accredited degree in Accounting
  • SAICA-accredited Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (CTA / PGDA)
  • SAICA’s Board 1 – ITC: Initial Test of Competence
  • SAICA’s Board 2- APC: Assessment of Professional Competence
  • SAICA Articles (Traineeship at SAICA-accredited training office)

How long will it take?

In ideal circumstances, (ie: if you pass everything first time) the CA(SA) qualification will take seven years.

  • Three year degree
  • One year for CTA (PGDA)
  • Three years of Articles (practical work experience; traineeship)

Most candidates don’t have ideal circumstances, so it’s generally a lot longer. (It took me 11 years).

You can take a look at the qualification path here for more detail, but I’m going to summarise it quite a bit for the purposes of this article.

The Degree

Different universities offer degrees that have different names, but whatever they’re called, they MUST allow the student entrance into CTA (PGDA).

Warning: When you’re researching your study options, go look for this. There are various Accounting degrees. You can get a degree in Management Accounting, Taxation, Accounting, but these don’t necessarily get you entrance into CTA.

At UNISA, for example, the degree is called the Bachelor of Accounting Science in Financial Accounting

  • Notice the admission requirements. There are quite a few options.
  • It’s a three year degree, with four majors:
    • Financial Accounting
    • Auditing
    • Management Accounting (also called Financial Management)
    • Taxation

Most accounting students that are studying part time are not able to complete this degree in three years (it took me five!).

The Postgraduate Qualification

This becomes more confusing! There are quite a few names, acronyms, and so many of them are similar, but just different enough to be annoying!

  • CTA – Certificate in Theory of Accounting
  • PGDA – Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting

They’re the same thing. PGDA is a newer ‘name’, so for those of us who qualified a while ago, we can’t help but refer to CTA! (Sorry!)

CTA / PGDA has to be passed in one year. You have to pass all the exams in one year. If you fail one, you have to re-write all of them.

But UNISA offers a two-year CTA programme? Ah, here comes the fun!Β  Let’s clarify that.

Here’s the deal: CTA Level 2 is ‘CTA’ / ‘PGDA’. It is the one-year CTA programme If you do the degree mentioned above, or another accredited degree, and meet the requirements, you’ll go straight from your degree to CTA Level 2

So, what is CTA Level 1?

  • CTA Level 1 is designed for those who don’t quite make it into CTA (eg: Their degree is more than three years old; they didn’t finish all their third year modules in 18 months etc).
  • The idea is that if you don’t quite make the CTA requirements, you should do a ‘pre-CTA’ to prepare for CTA.
  • The syllabus is a little less than CTA Level 2, and the questions are less integrated.

NOTE: In CTA Level 2, you cover EVERYTHING from CTA Level 1, and then some more. CTA is NOT SPLIT UP OVER TWO YEARS

CTA / PGDA consists of the same four majors as the degree:

  • Financial Accounting
  • Management Accounting / Financial Management
  • Auditng
  • Taxation

This will get you access to the ITC. (SAICA’s first Board Exam)

Warning: Make sure you are studying through a SAICA-accredited institution

‘Bridging’ Qualification – If you don’t get into CTA

In some cases, students don’t meet the CTA entrance requirements, but they do have Accounting degrees, or another qualification that covers a lot of the subjects. (Note: This is not the same as CTA Level 1)

In some of these cases, students can do ‘bridging’ qualifications.

At UNISA, this is the Advanced Diploma in Accounting Sciences

It is a stand-alone qualification. But basically, it contains all the third year modules from the degree. (So, if you’re looking for tuition support etc, you can attend classes with the third years).

If you finish this in 18 months, you can go straight from this into CTA Level 2


ITC – Initial Test of Competence (SAICA’s Board 1)

SAICA’s first Board exam is called the ITC. This is written twice a year, in January and June.

The entrance requirements are that you have to have passed CTA / PGDA.

The exam integrates all the work you’ve done in CTA. Essentially, CTA is a glorified Board course.

CTA’s ONLY purpose is to prepare you for ITC.

APC – Assessment of Professional Competence (SAICA’s Board 2)

SAICA”s second Board exam is called the APC. This is written once a year, in November.

The entrance requirements

  • Passed ITC
  • Completed 20 months of your articles
  • Completed a Board course

This exam is VERY different from all the others. The examination, marking and assessment process is very different and students struggle to make the adjustment. Hence, the pass rates are lower.

Articles / Traineeship

This is the ‘internship’ or ‘training contract’ that everyone has to complete as part of the practical, on-the-job application of their knowledge. These need to be completed with firms that are registered with SAICA as official training offices. Since it’s a trainee position, it generally doesn’t pay as well as a position in commerce, but this is a sort-term sacrifice.

You can start articles when you’re studying your degree.

  • If you have completed your degree, your articles will be three years.
  • If you’re still doing your degree, it will be five years. (If you get their degree while doing articles, this can be reduced to four years)

Training offices prefer to take candidates who already have CTA (some of the reasons for this are discussed here), so students who are still doing their degree or CTA often struggle to find positions.

You can do articles at an audit firm, or in commerce, as long as the firm is registered as a training office with SAICA. Your choice should depend on the SKILLS that will serve you best.

If you’re still sane, you’re now qualified as a Chartered Accountant!

Congratulations! You’ve made it!

If you can relate, or have a query...


  1. Wonderful post likewise. Thank you very much Mrs Starkey. I would like to say that that your work has inspired me very much since last year. I am a Namibian, studying at the University of Namibia Bachelor of Accounting, CA stream. Our University has partnered with North West University in SA to bring us our Majors, that’s where our exams are set. Your posts are really inspiring and informative, I am very high spirited. I also have watched YouTube videos of FinAcc1A. Now as CA student and aspirant, I have also people looking to me for inspiration and motivation, recently someone texted me to inform her about CA abd I gave her as much information as I know. Coming across this Open letter it reminded me of what her parents told her, that she shouldn’t study CA but medicine or Engineering because apparently CA has no jobs according to them. What advice would you give to her parents as a qualified CA?

    • Hi Deon,
      Thanks, I’m really glad that this has inspired you! It’s also really great to hear that you’re passing on that inspiration. None of us should ever forget that we never know how much we can impact people’s lives, regardless of where we are, so I’m really happy to hear that.
      I don’t recommend people to study as a CA because of the jobs and money. Picking careers that randomly is really dangerous! Medicine, engineering, accounting… these are seriously different. You’re going to have this career for a long time… makes sense to do some serious thinking about what you want out of life. Picking job-demand stuff can be really short-term. Sure, you might get a job quicker… and then be miserable for the rest of your life! Giving 100% to any studies and career is not sustainable when you’ve picked it out of a hat.
      Rather let her research the skills / personality types / practical ‘stuff’ involved in each field; talk to people in the field about each of them, then give some serious thought to where she feels she can see herself committing to. I’ve seen so many students start CA studies because “there’s money in it”… a year or two later, they hate themselves for failing or not doing well, feel guilty for hating the stuff they’re studied and wasting money doing something they don’t like, and resent their parents for forcing them to do something they can’t imagine doing for their working career.
      The next parts of this series of articles will cover more of this topic for families (ie: why do students want to study this; why do they struggle; what should families know)… so watch this space… there’s a lot to say, so I’m not going to duplicate it here!

      Have a great day! Great to hear from you!

  2. Wow again. Thanks very much again for sharing with me. I’m very happy and satisfied with your reply. This will clarify everything to the person.

    I can’t wait to read the next part!

  3. Hey Yvonne,

    Thanks for all your articles and tips, your journey is very inspiring! I am just confused about one thing. Above, you said that you completed all your studies part-time, but near the middle, you said that CTA needs to be completed and passed in 1 year. So, did you do your undergrad parttime and did all subjects for CTA in one year? Thank you.

    • Hi Peter πŸ™‚

      Yup, that’s correct. I studied CTA part-time as well, and I managed to pass all the subjects in one year, on my first attempt πŸ™‚ I was really really blessed!

    • Hi, Yvonne

      I am currently studying higher certificate in accounting sciences at Unisa, and i cant seem to get good marks and i struggle alot with Management accouting. I decides to change my study routines and study about 4 to 5 hours a day, yet i am still struggling. I dont have any backround in accouting and i would like to continue with this course. Do you have and ideas for me that i can do to master my studies???

      • Hi Lebohang…
        I can help you πŸ˜‰ I totally understand where you are. First, I want to say that not having an accounting background is NOT going to hold you back πŸ˜‰ I know plenty of students who have made great accountants but had no accounting background πŸ™‚ In fact, I have an ex-student who passed PGDA really nicely, and he’s a musician! πŸ™‚
        My absolute first step for you is to go through my Study Coaching basics course: https://accountingstudyadvice.com/course/study-coaching-step-1/
        This is super-important, because it starts your journey of finding out what you’re really struggling with, (Spoiler: It’s VERY rarely the actual subject!). From there, we’ll understand you better, and I can advise you more specifically from there. (Take a look at some of the previous student comments at the bottom… you’ll see that most of them have found the stuff really eye-opening.). So… do that… it’s only 2,5 hours of videos, no subject-related content. This will be really really life-changing for you πŸ˜‰

  4. If you have any tips on how to approach articles (training program). That would be great. Academically, i am not anxious, but doing articles terrifies me. I worked for an accounting firm for two months, and the firm was all over the place, too many internal conflicts, and no one was willing to train me. So, now i have no confidence when it comes to working in a professional setting, will there actually be teamwork? Someone that wants to train you and help out? Any tips on how ro reduce this type of anxiety would be great! Thank you.

    • Hey πŸ™‚

      Such a good question. πŸ™‚ The honest answer is that anything is possible! You may land up in a firm that’s the same as your previous experience, or you may find a really awesome firm that fulfills all your needs. It’s like life, really. There’s no guarantees that it’s going to work out according to plan!

      In a way, it’s a really good training opportunity for the rest of your career, as tough as it may be, because it will force you to solve your own problems, and learn to teach yourself. As a pre-cursor to the rest of your career, it’s a really good skill to build. Learning to research answers to questions no one will give you, and thinking about the issues instead of just following instructions… really good skill!
      Imagine you go through your entire articles with proper guidance and training and support and coaching etc. Sure, it feels good at the time, but once you’re done and you qualify, you’ll be going to work for some company who’s going to be paying you to solve their problems… without guidance πŸ™‚

      I’m not saying this is great, and I’m not saying it’s ideal, and I’m not saying that it’s something you should look for! Point is… no matter what your experience, you can take positive skills away from it, if you think about it, and have the right attitude.

      To avoid landing in this position, you could always ask the firms you go to interviews with for contact details of current clerks, in order to discuss their on-the-ground experience. If firms refuse this, it might be a warning for you. If they’re happy that their structures are set up to support your training contract, it’s unlikely they’d deny you this. That would allow you to get some real feedback from clerks you’d be working with.

      It’s a really valid concern, and I’m really glad that you’re thinking about this. Your experiences there are going to set you up for your future career, so you want to take the most out of it that you can πŸ™‚

      I did write something on audit articles here and another one here….
      Not sure if they’ll help… but the more information… the better!

      Have an awesome day!

      • Thank you for the solid advice! πŸ™‚

        I think the problem i had when i worked for that accounting firm, is that i went into the job with no experience and no real knowledge of accounting and auditing whatsoever. I only started my studies after i left that job. So, at least the firm did not kill my desire to learn more about the field. But, since they knew i was inexperienced, i was surprised that they were actually willing to take a chance on me and i thought that someone would probably guide me or at least be a helping hand. However, most of the time, i was told to google the things i am not sure about (which i now notice is actually a required skill to become a CA), but since i had no foundation in auditing or accounting, it was hard to do the online research confidently, especially with all the different articles available. It was very overwhelming! But now that i have gained some knowledge through my studies, looking back, i think i would have nailed that job if i had the necessary educational background. Even though i used to be sour about the whole situation, I can honestly say that i have learnt a lot through that experience and am still grateful that i had such an opportunity. Hopefully i will be fortunate enough to complete my articles at a firm that encourages self-help as much as teamwork, but also that i will have the patience and competence to deal with it all in case it does not work out that way.

        Thanks again for your articles and advice. Your journey is truly inspirational!

  5. Thanks a lot Yvonne for the information, it is giving some more ideas of giving support to our children/ participants of the program.

    Thanks once again.

    • Thanks Zuko…
      I’m really happy to hear that you’re planning on supporting others πŸ™‚ It’s amazing how far a little support and relevant information goes when you’re feeling alone and misunderstood. Never underestimate the value you can have in someone else’s life and studies πŸ™‚

  6. Hi Yvonne
    Great Article
    I am 32 years,completed my degree via UNISA last year, currently employed. I really want to complete the CA journey, but only qualify to do post graduate degree in Accounting Science, not the CTA. Should I decided to continue next year with this,would I qualify to enroll for CTA and won’t my age be a problem to complete articles or can I start with my articles even though I do not have my post grad degree? Do you perhaps know the remuneration scale currently for articles students in the Western Cape at Accounting firms?

    • Hi Brumilda,
      UNISA has a two-year CTA programme, so you’ll probably register for CTA Level 1, since you completed your degree last year. It will mean you’ll do CTA 1 & 2, and finish in 2019, but it’s doable. I would suggest you keep up-to-date with that content. A year’s worth of time between third year and CTA is not a good idea.

      Age is only an issue if you allow it to be. Compare it to your average retirement age (approx 60 – 65)… Even if you qualify at 40… you still have a good 20 years of your career ahead of you! Have you looked at all the success stories of people who started their businesses or careers in their 40’s, 50’s, even 60’s!? Don’t let age be your decision-driver.

      I wrote something on doing articles before your CTA… … take a look, it will help you πŸ™‚

      Market-related salaries are really tricky to pin down. Different firms, sizes, client bases, areas… I really can’t give you much help there! If you don’t have CTA, obviously you’ll get less, and it also means that you’ll probably go to a medium / small-sized firm (the big firms really only want CTA-grads)… again, this can affect the salary. There isn’t really an industry-standard for you!

  7. Hi Yvonne

    I Most. I did my undergraduate degree in Banking Management, and then went on to do my Honours degree in Accounting. I would want to be a CA. What would be the route that I take.

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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