CPA Australia Taxation – Which elective to choose?

There are two Australia Taxation subjects offered in the CPA Program:

(i) Australia Taxation (AT) and

(ii) Australia Taxation – Advanced (ATA).

If you haven’t studied taxation before, you will likely be required to take a taxation subject as one of your electives, and so you should enrol in Australia Taxation (see the subject outline here). If you have studied taxation previously and want to learn more complex topics (and potentially become a registered tax agent with the Tax Practitioners Board), then you should enrol in Australia Taxation – Advanced (see the subject outline here). CPA Australia have also advised that students can take both taxation subjects as part of the CPA Program, so you can build upon your tax knowledge across two ‘electives’.

Australia Taxation is pitched at a more foundation level, covering income tax (including income, deductions, capital allowances and capital gains tax (CGT) for a range of different taxpayers), fringe benefits tax (FBT) and goods and services tax (GST). The study guide is about 500 pages long, and you should be prepared to allocate 120+ hours to your study, depending on your previous education and experience. 

Australia Taxation – Advanced is pitched at a much higher level, with a significant level of assumed knowledge from the Australia Taxation subject.  It is highly complex in many areas (e.g. international taxation, corporate financing, consolidations, etc), often requiring multiple read-throughs and strong focus. The study guide is about 600 pages long, and you should be prepared to allocate 150+ hours to your study.

You can join the combined subject Facebook group for AT and ATA here.

As a general rule, we only recommend taking ATA if you are (or going to be) working in public practice (e.g. as a tax agent)…due to is specialised focus and detail. As another general rule, we only recommend taking ATA as a standalone subject each semester…due to its length and complexity.

Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule…especially if tax knowledge interests you (or you do the taxation work for your employer), or if you have sufficient time up your sleeve to take on multiple subjects (e.g. if you’re not working or only working part time).

Here are some questions you should consider before deciding which tax subject to enrol in:

  • Have you previously studied taxation/revenue law? If yes, then you may not need a tax elective…and ATA may be more appropriate to expand your knowledge. If no, then you should enrol in AT.
  • How long ago did you study taxation/revenue law? If in the last 2-3 years, then you might not benefit from doing AT; but if it was much earlier, then I’d recommend taking AT as a refresher.
  • How did you perform when you previously studied taxation/revenue law? If you just passed, then take AT to upskill. If you excelled, then you might be better off taking ATA to broaden your knowledge.
  • Do you have interests in other electives? Some of the other electives provide you with more rounded knowledge in business and finance, such as Contemporary Business Issues or Digital Finance; so, if you don’t need a tax elective or you’re not planning on becoming a tax practitioner, you may benefit from gaining broader awareness / knowledge in these other areas.
  • How much time do you have to study? If time is limited, then ATA might be out of reach; note that around 45% of candidates fail this subject each semester, so you need strong discipline and time management to get through it successfully.
  • Will CPA Australia allow you to take ATA without first attempting AT? Make sure you call CPA Australia’s Member Services first to confirm your specific requirements.

I hope this information helps and wish you all the best with your tax subject selection and studies!

Regards, Russell

June 9, 2021

11 responses on "CPA Australia Taxation - Which elective to choose?"

  1. Hi Russell, could you please provide more information in relation to the following or advise where I can read more about it? Thank you

    ”There are some big changes ahead. So long as you’re aware of them, and you’re ready to navigate through them (expecting some hiccups along the way), then you’ll be mentally prepared and on the right track. Get motivated, keep engaged and prepare yourself for challenge…it’s going to be an interesting ride, and I look forward to you joining me this semester!”

  2. The changes refer to the structure of taxation within the CPA Program…as released for Semester 1, 2019.

  3. Hi Russell, if I have done Australia Taxation at Uni, could I do both Australia Taxation & Advanced – Australia Taxation as electives? Thanks

  4. Hi Alicebb892, yes, I understand that it’s possible to do both of these electives with CPA Australia. However, there are 2 decision points here. Firstly, instead of Australia Taxation, do you instead take another elective to give yourself broader coverage? This might be something for you to consider. Secondly, if you do take both taxation subjects, do you do them in the same semester? My recommendation would be no. Australia Taxation – Advanced is extremely long and complex and I’d recommend taking this by itself. Good luck with the decision.

  5. Hi Russell, thanks for the reply. Firstly, I plan to do only 1 subject per semester since I am working full time. Regarding the Taxation subject, I was having a dilemma about this. I am working in SME Public Practice and Tax is our strong point. I am just worried if I took the advanced Taxation, I will not be using this practically if the material is too advanced. I took the Australian Taxation 4 years ago so I do not think I remember all of the materials, do you think this won’t be a problem if I only take the Advanced Taxation?

  6. Hi there, 4 years is a long time in tax…so take Australia Taxation and aim for a strong HD 🙂 One word of caution: don’t take it lightly because you’ve studied tax before and work in tax…that’s a trap many students fall into. You can always view the study guides before making your decision – they are in the Files section of this CPA Australia Taxation Facebook group:

  7. Thanks for the advice Russell, I only got a pass for it in my uni so I will definitely aim for HD:). Used to be my least favorite subject since it is a whole new system for me (born in a country that have poor tax system) but I love learning more about it! Thanks again.

  8. Hi Russel,

    Can you please let me know what has changed in Australian taxation subject from Semester 1, 2020 to Semester 2, 2020?

    The book for S2-2020 is third edition and for S1-2020 it was second edition so keen to know what was updated.


    • Hi Muhammad,

      The main changes for S2, 2020 include:

      – New formatting and style guide (look and feel)
      – Changes to all dates (to FY2020), rates, thresholds and relevant legislation (e.g. SBE immediate write-off threshold)

      The modules and learning objectives remain the same.


  9. Hi Russel,

    Is advisable or not, to do electives unit before the core units?

    I am looking in doing both Australia Taxation & Australia Taxation – Advanced as electives.

    Thanks for your response in advance.

    • Hi Julio,
      I generally recommend to do EG, FR, SMA, then electives. But, everyone is different and needs to take into account their own background and preferences. Taking 1-2 tax subjects before SMA, for example, is fine. But, it also means that if you want a career change after next year, your elective subjects have already been taken / locked in! Another reason is that you need to finish the main 3 core subjects before attempting GSL, so doing 3 core subjects first means that you can choose when to do GSL (and/or combine it with an elective).

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