Good exam technique = exam success

December 2021

Jacky Bateman, Head of ACCA Qualifications, and Lisa Gilmore Head of ACCA Content and Development, explain how technique is all…

Our recent exam session in September was successful, with almost 94,000 students sitting exams and 3,222 completing their final examinations and becoming ACCA affiliates.

Two exams really stood out in September, as we saw lower than usual pass rates for both Performance Management and Advanced Performance Management.

We want to share advice with our students directly from the examining teams on important exam technique for these exams and encourage students to make effective use of the many ACCA resources available.

Performance Management

• Ensure that the fundamental management accounting techniques are thoroughly prepared and understood, as some students, whilst able to tackle small parts of a technique to answer the objective test questions, are not showing the depth of understanding to apply techniques to constructed response questions. Be prepared to apply these techniques to different contexts and remember that the principles of a technique do not change regardless of the context, so students should rely on their technical knowledge of a technique and apply it.

• Focus on adding more depth to narrative answers. For example, in performance management questions where students are asked to compare performance over two years, it’s not enough to say performance is better or worse; this has to be supported with relevant reasons as to why performance has changed. Students should use the information provided in the scenario to provide the evidence for their analysis.

• For some questions the examining team have provided response templates for students to use. These templates are provided to help students with the answer and help them keep their focus. But some students are spending time re-formatting these templates or ignoring them altogether.

Make proper use of the response templates when they are provided in the exam.

Advanced Performance Management

• Be able to bring forward the management maccounting techniques learned from previous studies. This assumed knowledge is essential for APM, and the examining team expect students to be able to understand cost structures, perform costing calculations using techniques like activity-based costing, do variance analysis, produce a budget and so on. Students are more likely not to perform well on APM questions which rely on some of this brought-forward knowledge and yet at Strategic Professional these should be considered straightforward marks.

• Read the requirements carefully and focus answers on what’s being asked. Often APM questions will ask about specific parts of a performance management model or technique, but it has become a common problem where students write about the whole model rather than just focus on the part asked for. This has a doubly adverse mimpact as the answers to the part required are too brief and lack depth and it’s wasting precious time, leading to students feeling pressured for time.

• Ensure that answers are sufficiently detailed to reflect the number of marks available for the requirement. Worryingly at APM, many students’ answers are too brief, and the examining team have commented that they are frequently seeing short answers of three or four sentences for a 14-mark requirement which will not be sufficient to score a pass. Students should look at the mark allocation and think carefully about how many points they should be making for the marks and about their time allocation to ensure they allocate sufficient time per the mark allocation.

• Many students are not developing their mpoints or applying their points to the question scenario. This is essential for APM as performance management is context driven. The examining team are looking for students to say what their point is, then say why that is relevant to that company and if required, so what is the impact of that. This approach of developing points, using evidence from the scenario, is what scores marks in APM. Many students are simply providing the ‘what’ i.e., the knowledge element but with no application mor justification.

Key resources to help

We urge all students to read the examiner reports for their exam. These should be used in conjunction with the published sample exams as they contain detailed and practical advice on exam technique, how to break down and tackle requirements and how to practically construct manswers using the CBE tools. We really cannot stress enough how valuable they are and how they will make a real difference to your understanding.

The practice platform is also essential preparation for exams. Students should become familiar with the layout of exams, practice how to manage the exhibits, and practice questions using the CBE tools and functionality. Practicing this in advance will give students more time to think and demonstrate their analysis, evaluation, and justification skills in the exam.

Students who use the practice platform perform better than those who don’t. On average, the pass rates across Applied Skills and Strategic Professional in September were over 12% higher for students who engaged with the platform.

Other resources include technical articles and exam technique articles and videos. You can also use self-check quizzes to check brought forward knowledge; and for APM complete the Knowledge Recap e-learning modules to address any potentially weak areas.

It’s also important to complete the Ethics and Professional Skills Module in advance of attempting the Strategic Professional exams.

Students who do so are statistically proven to significantly increase their chances of passing these exams.

A final word of advice to students is to recognise that studying smartly is the only way to qualify as an ethical and professional accountant. There are no short-cuts, and we protect the integrity of the ACCA Qualification. Good Luck in your future exams!