APM – answer the question asked!

February 2024

Brigita Petrova explains why many Advanced Performance Management sitters fail by not addressing the question properly.

The APM pass rate remains bottom of the list worldwide. The main reason for failure remains not doing what the question asked for, and there are a few issues contributing to it. I have used the Avich question from the March-June 2023 sitting to illustrate them and show you what you might need to fix.

The Examiner’s Report for that sitting said: “The requirements of the question were split into two parts. Part (a) was worth 13 marks and was broken down into two parts. The first of which asked for an allocation of environmental costs (provided in an appendix to the main scenario) and calculation of the annual costs of each, and the second part asked for advice on how consideration of environmental matters could help Avich. There were seven marks available for the first part of part (a), and six marks for the second part. Part (b) was worth 7 marks and asked for an explanation of the benefits of lifecycle costing.”

Answered the question set?

Seems obvious, right? And yet, when asked about the benefits of lifecycle costing, many sitters explained how product lifecycle works. Or when asked about how consideration of environmental matters could help the company’s performance management in areas other than managing environmental costs, they discuss those costs at length… The result?

Writing a lot of (probably) correct but non-scoring stuff. Don’t be surprised: the CEO (i.e. the examiner) didn’t ask you about those, so why would they waste their time with it now? Even if you enjoyed or dreaded discussing the different stages of a product’s lifecycle in your SBL studies, here you needed to focus on the costs incurred during a product’s lifecycle and think how this could be beneficial to performance management. Similarly, you might have thought it was quite natural to elaborate on the environmental costs that you were asked to identify and calculate in the first part of requirement a) but you were told specifically not to do that.

Don’t give in to the pressure; read carefully the embedded requirements and think about what exactly they want. Look for the connection with the specific scenario and beyond what you wish or expect to be asked.

Knowledge gaps

Both EMA and lifecycle costing are topics first introduced in MA, further developed in PM, and yet many students didn’t know how to use them in Avich. Yes, APM is a practical subject where exam success is based mainly on application skills. However, having knowledge gaps from earlier studies means you lack the solid foundation needed to build up strong APM answers. Yes, you need to focus on application, but how can you apply knowledge that you don’t have? How can you give any helpful advice on whether lifecycle costing would help the company, when you don’t even know what lifecycle costing is? How can you classify environmental costs if you don’t know what costs fit each category? Don’t underestimate those knowledge gaps, address them during the tuition stage: a good tutor could help you build a bridge between your earlier studies and APM.

Better understanding and focus

Even if writing in part a) of Avichthe definitions of environmentalprevention, detection, internalfailure and external failure costs,many still failed to put thingsinto context by classifying andcalculating the actual costs fromthe scenario correctly. This showsthat two more things need fixing.

Firstly, relying purely on definitions is far from enough to give you a pass on the technical marks (only two out of seven total marks were available for those) and also leads to a poor professional marks score. Similarly, in part b), talking about lifecycle costing in general terms without going into the company’s context leads to a superficial answer. To add value you should relate the concept to case specifics such as the need of site clean-up, research for suitable sites, the expected life of the sites, etc., and give your view of whether lifecycle costing would be useful. You can’t explain how EMA could help their performance management if you don’t understand what EMA is and how that could relate to that particular start up, looking to get a listing company, that operates in the gas exploration sector.

To do better, ensure you understand the practical aspect of the theory you are learning, going beyond textbooks.

Secondly, you need to stay focused, paying attention to the little details to avoid wasting easy marks. For example, calculations in part a) were pretty simple (as they often are in APM), but needed you to appreciate that some figures were provided in annual terms, others for four years, and others were provided per river, with 10 rivers monitored altogether.

Time management and question approach

Not writing anything under part b) on lifecycle costing, for example, and leaving question parts out in general reduces dramatically your chances of passing: that is 0 marks guaranteed, and is unprofessional, too! Planning time is essential, so put down some points under each task before you start writing.

Next, build up your answer by writing the easiest points within your plan first, ensuring you have some completed points under each task. This would help you spread your answer evenly and touch up on everything you were asked about. Writing as much as you can under, say part a) first (13 marks), means your time could be up before you have written much, if anything, under part b).

The power of ‘why’

Telling the marker what is important, without explaining WHY, does nothing but waste your time. Ensure you justify each point. Start practising questions to time as soon as possible and teach your brain to add justification, when under pressure (use the ACCA Practice platform a lot!).

Remember, ‘What gets measured, gets done’, so aim to get regular tutor feedback as your journey progresses. Do that and you’ll score higher – both in technical and professional marks terms.

  • Brigita Petrova FCCA is a former PQ Lecturer of the Year