Clancy Peiris explains how you can put your technical knowledge into practice.
Each level of the CIMA professional qualification culminates in a case study exam, which integrates the knowledge, skills and techniques from across the three pillars into one synoptic capstone examination.
The case study exam is a role simulation.
It requires candidates to perform authentic work-based activities presented during the course of the exam, drawing together learning from each of the three subjects to provide solutions to the issues and challenges asked.
In short, CIMA case study exams are designed to test what you can do, not just what you know.
To achieve a high score in the case study exams, you will need to strike the right balance between technical understanding and practical application to the issues and challenges raised in the scenario. You will also need to provide clear and comprehensive explanation for your recommendations or arguments. The below paragraph is an extract from a real Management Case Study exam answer from August 2020 (Variant 1: Task 1), where the candidate scored 120. I will use this answer to illustrate 5 things you can do to demonstrate your ability to apply your technical knowledge and skills to a real-life business scenario.
‘‘I would like you to: Firstly, prepare briefing notes for me to use in my presentation to the Board. Please use Note 1 and consider both financial and nonfinancial factors. (60%)’’ [sub-task 1]
“Net present value and IRR Net present value (NPV) is the most c ommonly used method for project appraisals. It is preferred to IRR because it is an absolute measure so it allows for comparisons between different projects.
For the pool and the gym projects at Alpaca1 , we can firstly see2 that both NPV’s are positive and so each project would be acceptable as the expected present value of cash inflows are greater than the present value of cash outflows. Secondly, we can see that the gym project has a higher NPV (M$8m) compared to the pool project (M$7.5m), 3 therefore if we are restricted with our capital investment funds for any reason (such as external limitations), then it is favourable to proceed with the gym project4 over the pool project, due to the higher NPV.’’
1: Mention names
This is an elementary tactic, but it demonstrates that you’re familiar with the information provided in the scenario. Therefore, make sure to mention the name of your organisation, line manager, colleagues, stakeholders, product, or project in your answer as the candidate does in our example with the company name (Alpaca).
2: Write in the first person
Remember that CIMA case study exams are business simulations of real-life job tasks that someone at that level is expected to perform.
The question requirements are conversational and arrive in the form of an email in which your line manager asks you to perform a set of tasks. Therefore, you need to write your answer representing the job role (e.g. Finance Officer in the Operational Case Study exam) using phrases such as ‘’we should consider…’’ or ‘’I recommend that…’’. As you see in our example, the candidate used ‘’we can firstly see…” and “if we are restricted…” to build his answer.
3: Paraphrase scenario information
You should draw on information that’s provided in the pre-seen and/or unseen materials.
However, you shouldn’t simply repeat the information given in the scenario but rather paraphrase it. In other words, draw on relevant information to support the point you’re making.
For instance, the candidate in the above answer mentioned ‘’…gym project has a higher NPV (M$8m) compared to the pool project (M$7.5m)…’’ to support his interpretation of this information as explained in my next point.
4: Provide your interpretation (and discussion) of scenario information
Pay attention to the exact task you are asked to perform, focus on the purpose of providing the information and the format you need to deliver it in (e.g. email, report, briefing note). The main aim here is to help you stay on track and address the question requirement, but by default, you’ll also be demonstrating your technical knowledge and ability to apply it to a real-life business scenario – why is that? Because you will be using evidence from the pre-seen or unseen materials in your answer.
In our example, the candidate recommends one project over another project with appropriate justification, based on his/her interpretation of the information provided ‘’ … if we are restricted with our capital investment funds for any reason (such as external limitations), then it is favourable to proceed with the gym project over the pool project, due to the higher NPV.’’
5: Operationalise the theory in the context
In our example, the first two sentences outline “textbook theory” about NPV and IRR and you can see that the “game” of applying technical knowledge to a practical scenario starts from the third sentence onwards. The candidate demonstrates the ability to put his/her knowledge on NPV and IRR to “practical use” by arguing that ‘’both NPV’s are positive and so each project would be acceptable as the expected present value of cash inflows are greater than the present value of cash outflows’’ followed by a logical conclusion as I explained earlier.
When we talk about “application of knowledge” it may sound a little scary at first,
but as you’ve now seen, it’s simply about putting your knowledge to practical use – quite possibly what you already do most days at work.
It’s essentially like reading the instructions for putting flat pack furniture together and then using the knowledge from the instructions and the tools provided to do it (although sometimes, it’s a lot more challenging than it looks!).
I hope that using a real answer as an example has given you a more tangible idea of how to put your technical knowledge to the fore and successfully pass your CIMA Case Study exam.
Good luck with your studies!
• Clancy Peiris, Senior Learning Development Manager, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA & CIMA)