Do you know the essentials?

Check out our ACCA exam guidance for the SBR and SBL March exams.


It is vital that you read the examiner’s approach article, available on the ACCA website.

ACCA has also published several exam technique and technical articles that you should read as part of your exam preparation. These are available in the exam support resources section of the website.

Section A will be two questions worth 50 marks in total. The first question will be based on group accounting and may include complications such as a foreign subsidiary, discontinued activities, disposals and/or acquisitions.

Be aware that this question may test consolidated statements of cash flows as was the case in December 2018.

In answering the first question it is vital that you explain the principles underlying any calculations you have performed, as this is where the majority of the marks can be earned.

The second question will cover the reporting and ethical implications in a given scenario.

Make sure you consider any threats to the fundamental principles of ACCA’s Code of Ethics and Conduct in your answer. Remember that the markers are looking for application to the scenario of relavant ethical principles/requirements of IFRS.

Section B will be two questions worth 25 marks each. Section B can deal with any area of the syllabus and may be based on a short scenario, a case study with several parts, or an essay.

Section B will always include a question or part-question involving the analysis or appraisal of information from the perspective of a stakeholder.

For example, in the December 2018 exam this involved explaining the nature of tax accounting in the financial statements to an investor.

Even if this sounds daunting make sure you have a go at answering the question. There is no ‘right’ answer at this level – marks will be awarded for sensible points that have been applied to the scenario.

Current issues could be examined in either section A or section B. The Conceptual Framework has featured significantly in SBR exams to date – be prepared for this to be the case in March as well.

General Advice

One last thing: make sure you plan your time at the beginning of the exam (and stick to it) to ensure you don’t over-run on a particular question – it is 1.95 minutes per mark (or 1.8 minutes per mark if you allocate 15 minutes to reading the paper).


Strategic Business Leader is ACCA’s case study exam at the Strategic Professional level.

As with all other ACCA exams SBL is examined as a closed book examination. Unlike the other Strategic Professional level exams, which are three hours and 15 minutes, the SBL exam is four hours. SBL builds upon the knowledge that you gained at the ‘Applied Knowledge’ and ‘Applied Skills’ level.

However, it does also have its own distinct syllabus content.

As with all other ACCA exams the pass mark for SBL is 50%.

You will not be issued with any pre-seen information in advance of sitting your exam – everything you will require will be made available to you within the examination itself.

The SBL exam will focus on one main organisation, and all of the question requirements will relate to this organisation.

You may have to take on a variety of roles, which may require you to adopt an internal or external perspective when answering questions.

You will also be required to respond to a variety of people within the organisation.

All the questions in the exam are compulsory. Every exam will consist of 80 technical marks and 20 professional skills marks.

Question requirements in the exam will assess and link several subject areas from across the syllabus, and these will test your ability to construct written responses and to carry out numerical analysis.

General Advice

While four hours (240 minutes) may initially sound like a lot of time in which to attempt the exam it is crucial not to become complacent in how you use this time.

The exam is demanding and as such you need to give careful consideration to how you will manage your time to make the most effective use of it.

ACCA recommend spending 40 minutes reading, planning and interpreting the requirements and the information/exhibits provided.

Based on this estimation, when planning the amount of time you will spend on each requirement you should look to allocate 2.5 minutes per mark on offer.

This time allocation is based on the fact that the exam is 240 minutes long; once the 40 minutes’ reading time is deducted this gives 200 minutes to write up your answer in order to earn the 100 marks on offer.

Based on the fact that you can earn the 20 professional skills marks by the virtue of attempting the 80 technical marks on offer, we can divide the 200 minutes remaining over the 80 technical marks to give 2.5 minutes per mark.

It is important to note that you can spend longer than the recommended 40 minutes reading and planning your answer.

If you do choose to spend longer on this task then you will need to bear this in mind when you come to writing your answers.

Alternatively, you may prefer to work on the basis of two minutes per mark (being 200 minutes divided by 100 marks).

Regardless of the method you choose to use when allocating your time it is crucial that you stick closely to your timings, as this should help to ensure that you do not spend too long on one question requirement to the detriment of those you are yet to attempt.

The SBL exam will contain all of the information that you will require to answer the question requirements. This information will be presented in a series of exhibits.

To help you locate the exhibits most relevant to answering a specific question it is therefore important that you take the time to read the question requirements set carefully as this should help to direct you.

Furthermore, reading the question requirements carefully is important, as this will indicate the role and the perspective from which you are expected to answer the question.

Identifying this early on is important, as it will drive how you construct your answer.

Clearly, if you have gone to the trouble of preparing an answer plan it is important that you use it when writing up your answer.

To get the most from your answer plan it is important that you include as much detail as you think will be helpful when the time comes to write up your answer.

When planning your work it is important to bear in mind the ACCA’s guide of using 40 minutes for reading and planning.

As mentioned earlier, you need to remember that some question requirements may require you to conduct numerical analysis. For example, you may be asked to analyse the performance of the organisation featured in the exam.

It is important that you plan the numerical analysis that you intend to perform to ensure that you only focus n performing those calculations that are going to support your answer and provide you with something to talk about.

Producing lots and lots of unnecessary calculations for the sake of it will only serve to waste your time in the exam.

To stand the best chance of passing this exam, you will need to have a good understanding of the entire syllabus.

However, it is important to remember that, unlike other exams that you may have sat in the past, questions in the Strategic Business Leader exam will not ask you to simply regurgitate your knowledge of a particular topic or theoretical model.

Requirements will test your ability to apply your understanding of the subjects covered in the SBL syllabus in the context of the question scenario.

Furthermore, requirements will not specifically ask you to use a particular model in answering the question.

Whether to use a theoretical model when constructing your answer will be a matter of judgement that you will need to weigh up in light of the information presented to you in the exam.

Attempting plenty of questions in the lead up to your exam is the most effective way of devolving your judgement in this area.

You need to understand the difference between technical marks and professional skill marks.

Technical marks relate to the knowledge (which we discussed in the previous section), and there are 80 on offer in the exam.

By contrast, the 20 professional skills marks are awarded for displaying the following skills and behaviours:


Commercial acumen




Every professional skill will be tested in every SBL exam sitting.

The professional skill being tested will be specific under the question requirements.

As you prepare to attempt the exam it is crucial that you take the time to attempt as many practice questions as you can.

To increase your chances of exam success you need to ensure that you take sufficient time to develop your understanding of professional skills.

Make sure you visit the technical articles page of the ACCA’s website.

There are also a number of articles about how to approach the exam and how to display the professional skills in your answers.

All technical articles can be found here.