Getting Your Case Study Answer on Point

January 2024

Nasheen Wuisman explains how you can maximise your chances of success in the case study exam.

Preparing yourself for the case study exam is all about practising and developing the core skills that the examiner wants to see you demonstrate on the day. So, you have been gaining confidence in your technical knowledge. You have been focusing on the skill of applying your knowledge to a given case study task – to mimic a real- life scenario. You have been attempting questions to time, to make sure you get as much experience in creating an exam standard answer in the time allocated. If you have done well with this last skill then kudos to you as many candidates simply run out of time, and don’t get to cover everything they need to in an answer.

So, let’s start here – under so much time pressure, how do you attempt to cover as much as you would like in your answer?

Structure is everything

Giving some thought to how you might structure your answer in the exam is another core skill which is often ignored, or assumed as something that will fall into place on the exam day.

Good structure will allow you to be able to wedge more into your answer in the allowed time.

It will allow you to focus your answer on the key areas identified by the examiner in the pre- seen, unseen and answer the actual task set.

It will allow you to keep your sentences short and to the point, help add value even – something we know will attract higher level marks.

Creating an organised answer

When you are in the answer planning stage in the exam, you are reading the un-seen, recalling the pre-seen, making links and bringing in concepts you have been revising. You read the tasks and start thinking about where to begin…

Start with organising all your thoughts under headings. It will create the focus you need at this crucial time. Carefully read the task, and use the words in the task set to derive subheadings under which your answer can be structured.

Let’s put it to the test

Here’s a real example, from the Operational Case Study exam set in August last year. In the scenario, candidates were assuming the role of a Finance Officer in a company that manufactured tractors. In the tasks, candidates were asked to react to the news that the product development team had made a remote drive tractor which is operated by an app on the driver’s smartphone/ device.

One task asked candidates to set out how “the costing of the remote drive app is different from costing the additional components of the remote drive tractor itself”.

You may have identified here that the question is asking you to apply your knowledge of costing digital products (from the operational level syllabus) to the scenario. However, you cannot stop there. The question specifically asked candidates to compare the app costing with costing the traditional components. Many candidates missed this completely and wrote only about costing the app.

The trick is to read and understand what the question is asking for. Start with a heading like ‘Costing of remote-drive app versus costing additional components’. You know you need to have ‘versus’ in there because you saw it was asking for a comparison. Getting this heading right then sets you up to address the task fully.

The next step is to work out your subheadings. Each of these will be an area of costing where you can make comparisons between the digital and traditional elements. These could be ‘Initial development costs’, ‘Ongoing development costs’, ‘Production material and labour costs’, ‘Maintenance’ and ‘Overheads’.

Write the subheadings first, before you start making any comparisons underneath them. That way your answer will be structured and read well, so the examiner can clearly see you have systematically addressed every aspect of what they have asked for.
Following this approach means you are planning your answer while writing it at the same time. That will save you precious minutes in the exam and give you the best chance of covering the whole question. Not to mention maintaining your focus on the question asked throughout.

Stay in control

Structuring your answer this way gives you a sense of control in the exam – it will reduce the feeling of stress that can take over when you are not sure if you are on the right track.

It allows you to:

  • Stay focused on the task in hand – and not go off on a tangent. Keep referring to the headings/subheadings.
  • Help keep your points succinct as you have already set the scene with the subheading.
  • Address a particular issue from various viewpoints coherently.

So, when you practice, read the question carefully, write a series of subheadings addressing every part, then fill in the substance.

Mastering this core skill will give you a fantastic chance of not only a good solid attempt of the exam but even some of those higher-level marks, too!

  • Nasheen Wuisman, Senior Manager of Global Academic Progression at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants