APM – professional marks

February 2023

Now there are 20 professional skills marks available rather than four, Brigita Petrova looks at the ways you can improve your professional marks output in the exam.

Everyone studying APM knows the importance of identifying the relevant critical success factors (CSFs) for an entity. Once you know what you need to excel at in order to be successful, you can start making progress towards that success.

Since September 2022, students have had a new CSF that they must consider in order to pass the APM exam. That is scoring as many of the 20 newly introduced professional marks as it is humanly possible. This appears to be rather challenging for most exam sitters, leading to a global pass rate of 34%, with no material difference to those of previous sittings.

I believe the main reason for this is the fact that many students either missed out this new CSF completely or did not work on it enough when preparing for the exam, whether being unaware of the change (unlikely) or being unsure about how to deal with it. As such, they were left with only 80 rather than 96 technical marks to score from, and that meant having to score about 10% more than in the old format just to scrape a pass.

The ACCA have provided a lot of information on the professional skills required (link to ACCA website) – make sure you take advantage! Here are a few of my tips to help you master this new essential element and improve your chances of success in the exam.

Go for the familiar

An easy way to bag a couple of marks early in the exam is to start with question 1 and set your report layout. This should be easy; it is standard and something required both in past APM exams, as well as in other professional papers.

Ensure you look at the requirements and set up headings based on them throughout your report.

This would give you structure, as well as another mark for communication skills.

Verbs matter

For example, if the requirement says ‘evaluate’ you must do so. Headings referring to what is good, what is bad and your opinion on whether it is more good or bad overall, can take you a long way towards scoring on the respective skill. ‘Assess’ requires a similar approach. Make sure you look at all implications of the suggested approach/decision, etc., rather than talking only about its advantages (if you consider it suitable) or disadvantages (if you believe it is a bad idea), and provide your overall opinion on the matter.


If you don’t, you miss out both on technical as well as on professional marks for analysis. After all, APM is a work simulation and in real life no CEO would be happy with your advice if you only told them WHAT to do, without explaining WHY this is important.

Sometimes it might even mean you just need to state the obvious, which you are tempted to miss out, simply because it is so obvious – but markers cannot see inside your head, so help them give you the credit you deserve.

Be critical

I doubt at your workplace you take everything that’s said and done as excellent. Just like you would question some assumptions, actions and statements at work, you should do so where appropriate in your exam. Challenge those with the appropriate justification and you can score well for scepticism.

Answer the question

No CEO would want your opinion on general matters. Less is more, so cut out any padding and don’t go off tangent. Also, anything not applicable to the specific exam case shows a lack of commercial acumen. Therefore, the more tailored your points to the case and the more helpful for resolving the relevant issues, the greater your marks output on both the technical as well as the professional front.

Last but not least, if for example you need to advise a company whether they need to switch from one approach to another, do not just go through the advantages and disadvantages of each. While this gives you technical marks (if correct), it will score you more professional ones if you relate the two approaches by comparing and contrasting them with each other.


Manage your time so you can write a few points under each requirement, rather than writing loads on some and nothing on others. Time yourself per question rather than using average time per mark, writing the easy points under each requirement first.

Don’t skip calculations just because they seem hard, or leave them unfinished.

Presenting a complete budget or a benchmarking exercise, even with some wrong numbers or completing an EVA calculation (despite having some wrong adjustments) will work in your favour. It looks professional – your CEO gets exactly what they requested, and you can add some valuable comments on the results that would still score you marks, if correct in relation to the numbers calculated.

Plan ahead

Think about all of the above in the first few minutes of tackling the question. Invest more in brainstorming and planning your answer at the start, leaving a little less for writing. It will help you focus on the more significant rather than peripheral points, and ultimately improve your efficiency.

Planning ahead must start NOW – waiting till exam day to incorporate the above tips might be just a bit too late. Do that with each question you practise now and let me congratulate you on your exam success later!

• Brigita Petrova is a senior lecturer at LSBF. She is a former PQ magazine Lecturer of the Year