Measure it, get it done

If you are an ACCA student nearing the final stages of your studies you might be thinking of choosing APM as one of your two optional papers and specialising in exactly that (performance management), putting yourself in the shoes of a strategic management accountant.

But you might have already noticed that, despite it being a fascinating practical subject, APM has been consistently one of the exams with the lowest pass rates amongst the whole ACCA qualification; consistently, around two-thirds of sitters fail at each sitting.

Do you know why? Let’s have a look at the challenge and how you can succeed.

Performance management

This is the processes for achieving the objectives of an organisation while managing the stakeholder interface. It is crucial to an organisation’s success; as you would discover in your APM studies, an entity with poor performance management will most likely fail.

Now think about your personal objectives –the same is true about you and your APM exam (or any ACCA exam). So being good at the ‘first principles’ in APM could be also the secret to APM exam success.

Principle #1 Feedforward and feedback controls: Feedforward aims to correct the system before it fails and as such it tends to be more expensive – but also more useful.

Don’t wait until you fail the exam; plan to avoid this, think carefully about your preparation. A good feedforward control could be choosing to study with an approved learning provider, rather than on your own or using some random help. They can guide you teaching you all the relevant knowledge and techniques way before you sit the exam. Which can help to protect you from failing!

Feedback is also useful, although it takes place after the system might have become out of control. However, it can still work as it identifies areas for improvement and triggers change.

So during tuition aim to get homework and term tests reviewed by your tutor when you learn a topic, and do sit a mock exam during revision.

Measure your performance

A vital part of performance management is the process of creating measures that can be used for both planning and control. They are called key performance indicators (KPIs) and can help to indicate your progress, introduce necessary changes for improvement and monitor and control your steps to success.

A lot of these are applicable to you: number of questions practised per week/day, marks scored, time taken per question, etc.

Principle #2 Critical Success Factors (CSFs): As the name suggests they are the things an organisation must excel at in order to be successful.

What CSFs do you need to pass the APM exam? Inevitably, technical knowledge and exam technique, the ability to deal with stress and manage time well, being professional, practical and logical are among some of the many you will need.

In addition, there are some APM-specific CSFs on exam technique. Like a clever question approach, broken down into the following order:

• Starting from requirements – identify tasks based on wording and mark allocation.

• Thinking of answer structure and clever use of headings.

• Analysis of scenario on your question paper while reading it.

• Brainstorming – dropping in ideas you could use.

• Planning answer and choosing your points to use, so you maximise marks.

• Writing a clear, sharp answer – essays are a ‘no-no’, but justifying each point is a must. When practising, your KPIs will show how well you are doing and where you need to improve.

Principle #3 Short-termism, a threat to performance: Short-termism is actions taken to improve an entity’s short-term position at the expense of its long run performance.

So look at your short-term sacrifices in relation to your long-term future. Attending that party, watching TV or hanging around with friends might be tempting; you think study can wait, you will manage it tomorrow. Enjoy yourself today, but tomorrow you will struggle even more. And especially so on exam day: the more you neglect your study now, the harder it becomes to pass and longer it takes to qualify.

Principle #4 Systems methodology: This relates to the importance of the quality of and the link between input, process and output in performance management. ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ means good input into a bad process produces rubbish output. Rubbish input into a good process does the same.

So use quality tuition and resources (good input) and practise well (good process) to achieve a good quality exam output!

• Brigita Petrova is a tutor at LSBF