Marginal Gains

March 2024

As Manchester United bring Sir Dave Brailsford on board, ACCA’s Jacky Bateman and James Patrick look at the lessons students can take from Brailford’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy to improve their exam results.

In business it’s not uncommon to see leaders use a set of transferable skills to move from one industry to another. The diversity of roles and sectors our members work across is proof that the ACCA qualification equips individuals with the skills to be successful leaders no matter the business area.

But despite the increased professionalism of sport and its transition to ‘big business’ in recent decades, leaders who crossover from one sport to another are still relatively rare. Particularly within the football world, where the cultural blueprint has typically been to treat ‘outsiders’ with a sense of cynicism and trepidation. So, eyebrows were raised when Manchester United recently turned to a man so closely connected to the sport of cycling to head up their new footballing operations committee.

Sir Dave Brailsford is largely seen as the man chiefly responsible for transforming British cyclists from also-rans to world beaters. Leading Team GB’s cycling programme, he turned the Brits into an all-conquering winning machine bringing home an impressive haul of 16 golds across the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Before, overseeing Team Sky’s almost total dominance of the Tour De France between 2012-2018, where British riders Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas OBE all took home the yellow jersey.

At the heart of his success was his steadfast philosophy to achieve ‘marginal gains’ in performance. Describing this approach to achieving performance improvements, he said to the BBC: “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

The good news is that this simple approach to enhancing performance can be used in places other than the velodrome or football pitch. You can adopt this strategy to improve your studying effectiveness and exam performance. What’s more, using a marginal gains philosophy can be particularly powerful when you have access to performance feedback. To guide you on where you can prioritise your time and energy to make the most meaningful and significant improvements.

hat’s why, if you’re an Applied Skills student, you should be using My Exam Performance as a key part of your exam preparation.

My Exam Performance

My Exam Performance is our award-winning free exam feedback tool for non-variant Applied Skills exams, providing students guidance on how they performed in areas such as time management, the syllabus areas, objective test questions and in their constructed responses for each exam. Upon taking an Applied Skills exam, My Exam Performance is added to your myACCA account and can be viewed whenever you wish. Each exam feedback report becomes available shortly after the publication of your result and provides next steps advice on how to use the feedback.

Guidance you can use to give you the best chance of success in your future exams. Since its introduction over a year ago, students have told us just how valuable My Exam Performance has been in gaining a greater understanding of where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Not only that, in our student survey 81% of students told us that using My Exam Performance gave them additional motivation to continue with their studies.

Receiving and taking on board feedback is an important part of our personal and professional growth. So when using My Exam Performance, whether you’ve passed or failed an exam, it’s important to approach your feedback with an open mind. Doing so will give you the best opportunity to foster a continuous learning mindset, essential for achieving those marginal gains and giving you the potential to improve your future exam performance.

If you’d like to know more about My Exam Performance visit our website, where we have lots more tips and advice on how to get the most out of your feedback reports. Watch our videos on how to use My Exam Performance.

  • Jacky Bateman is Head of ACCA Qualifications. James Patrick is ACCA’s Head of Education Solutions and Student Support