Get on the case

February 2021

Clancy Peiris explains how you can ace the CIMA case study exams.

CIMA case study exams challenge candidates to provide innovative solutions to realistic workplace problems. Sounds stressful? Don’t worry, there is a great tool that can help you prepare: Examiner’s Reports. They are a rich source of advice and reading them may increase your chances of scoring high marks. To help you make a positive difference to your performance, I have put together some key insights from recent reports.

First, surprisingly, candidates consistently make the same mistakes at all levels and regardless of the syllabus. As examiners regularly observe, students scoring low marks usually do some or all of the below:

• Fail to answer the question that was asked.
• Demonstrate limited technical ability.
• Provide insufficient justification for arguments.
• Fail to reflect the scenario or the specifics of the organisation and its environment.

So how can you avoid those pitfalls? Here’s a deeper dive into what the examiners expect you to do.

Before the exam

• Revise study materials thoroughly. You must be confident in all subjects across the three pillars covered in the case study exam. When you revise don’t skip topics even if they are difficult.

• Read the pre-seen material carefully and think about it. Think about the industry and the entity, and try to identify, understand and remember the key themes in the pre-seen material. That is important because the exam tasks are all about applying your technical knowledge to a specific scenario and context.

• Practice tasks from past case study exams. Pick a past case study exam and write a full answer. Once you are done, take a break and then take some time to reflect on whether they are complete and relevant. There is no need to practice under exam conditions yet because the value of this exercise is to ensure you can interpret and answer questions correctly within the allocated time.

During the exam

• Plan your answers and pay close attention to timings. Typing an outline answer plan at the start of each requirement within a task will help you to plan the structure, reduce the risk of forgetting any good points you want to make and ensure that they are presented in a logical and coherent order.

• Use time wisely. If, say, 24% marks are available for a requirement within a task, then aim to spend roughly 24% of the overall time allocated to that task on it. Make sure you address all requirements (or sub-tasks). If you run out of ideas before the time is up, try spending some of the remaining time thinking about how to expand your answer.

• Answer the question. This is the number-one most common mistake. Your understanding of the role simulation, core activities and assessment outcomes included in the exam blueprints will be extremely helpful to understand exactly what the examiner expects in your answer. This is particularly important as most of the requirements you need to meet are given in everyday language in the exam.

• Application to the scenario is key. You need to demonstrate technical understanding in the context of the scenario and the particulars of the issue under discussion. Information given to candidates as part of the task is there for a reason and should be, as far as possible, included in your answers along with relevant information from the pre-seen and unseen materials.

• Commit to an argument. Some answers suffer because candidates seem to be afraid of contradicting the examiner’s suggested solution. In fact, there can sometimes be more than one correct answer in business, so don’t be afraid to give an answer that could prove unpopular with senior managers, even if that means recommending the rejection of a proposal made by one of the directors particularly in the Strategic case study exam. Just ensure you offer a clear and relevant argument that satisfies the requirement.

• Keep your answer relevant. Candidates for the case study exams often investigate the industry and learn about recent events in the business news. The insights from such background research can often help develop answers but the danger is that candidates often feel obliged to offer real-world examples but unrelated to the task. You will get credit for all relevant points made in the answer, including illustrations from the real world. Irrelevant points only waste time.

• Avoid making unsupported statements. Allied to relevance is avoiding making statements rather than arguments. Writing comments such as “this improves decision making” is not enough to gain any marks – explain how and why this is the case.

Explanations can quite often be improved by adding “because of ….” at the end of a sentence. Make sure that you use the information given to you within the case study itself, especially financial information.

Finally, remember, preparation is key for exam success. Good luck!

• Clancy Peiris, Senior Learning Development Manager, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants