10 reasons why students fail APM

June 2022

Brigita Petrova explains how you can become part of the one-third of students who actually get a pass.

APM is typically at the bottom of the list when looking at ACCA’s global pass rates. Only about a third of those sitting it are successful – read on to find out why and how you could become one of them.

Those who fail usually do a few of the things below, so learn from their mistakes and smash your APM exam!

1: They spend too long learning knowledge during their exam preparation

The truth is you can learn the knowledge you need in about half a day and the key is to know it really well, so focus on practising past exam questions as early as possible. Remember, around 70% or even 80% of your exam marks come from your ability to apply that knowledge.

2: They answer as if this is an academic exam

Avoid any fancy introductions, conclusions, repetition and waffle. As nice as all that padding might sound, the CEO has no time and interest in it. All they want to know is how you can help their organisation. So approach it as a workplace simulation, as if you are reporting to your senior management and go straight to the point, short and sweet.

3: They pre-learn and talk about matters in general terms

The organisations in your exam will have specific issues that need attention and this is what you must address in your answers.

Pay attention to the type of organisation and its environment, its mission, objectives and key stakeholders. You must identify what this specific organisation has been struggling with and provide ideas that relate to those issues, not reproduce definitions and answers you have pre-learnt.

4: They lack basic knowledge

While there aren’t tons of knowledge in your APM syllabus (well, not new knowledge at least) there is no excuse for not knowing (and understanding) the little core knowledge well.
You can’t ignore matters such as quality, budgeting, costing, etc., and absolutely must know how to do pay-off tables and EVA (the only two computations you can pre-learn for this exam).

5: They panic and lose common sense

They panic at seeing something that looks unfamiliar, complicated or they have simply forgotten. The truth, however, is that even if you ignore the knowledge element, but approach the question with some sound logic and business acumen and immerse yourself in the scenario, you should be able to score well enough to pass it. This is such a practical exam so put your thinking hat on and approach it from a real-life perspective.

6: They don’t understand what performance management it

Some students never quite grasp what performance management aims to achieve, which is why they struggle to come up with sensible answers to question requirements.

Once you realise you are looking at the processes that management employ to achieve success, whilst maintaining the stakeholder interface, your job becomes much easier.

Whatever you do, think about two main things: the organisational objectives and the impact on its key stakeholders.

7: They don’t answer the question set, or they read and write at the same time

As a result they answer what they expect or wish was set, ending up with the right answer to the wrong question and the impression they have done well. It’s crucial to read and think very carefully about each requirement, as well as to plan all your points on a question before writing them. This helps you stay on track and make sure your points are relevant, as well as to avoid overdoing it.

8: They make good but unjustified points

Often the ideas students drop in their answers are good but score nothing as they tell the examiner WHAT they think, but not WHY they think it’s important. There are no 0.5 marks in APM and lists gain no marks, so make sure you justify each point you make. Some technical knowledge can help with it, but aim to back them up with case clues as much as you can. Also, you are much better off putting down seven or eight justified points in an 11-mark requirement, rather 11 that lack justification.

9: They don’t practise to time

Taking a couple of hours for an answer to a 25-mark question is not cool. You don’t have that luxury in the exam and if you don’t practise under the time pressure you face on the day, your time management goes out of the window, leading to a disaster. Make sure you use the ACCA CBE practice platform a lot and time yourself, get used to putting a few (even if not many) points under all requirements, rather than overdoing it on some and having 0 on others.

After all if the CEO at your workplace gave you five tasks and you reported back on only three, they’d be very disappointed, right? Having seven points down in a 11-mark requirement and three down in a six mark one is safer than pushing for 11 in the first and having 0 in the second one.

10: They don’t do mocks and get feedback

You should know the importance of feedforward controls, so don’t skip on those. Do a few mock exams to time to practise your exam technique and see where you crack when under pressure.

Get a tutor to check some of your answers so you know whether you are actually scoring or just think you are. Consistent feedback and learning from your mistakes can make a real difference to your performance.

While the above list is not exhaustive, improving on those 10 points raised should improve massively your APM exam score. Good luck!

• Brigita Petrova is a tutor at LSBF