No option with the options

The ACCA optional papers are tough. Pass rates rarely get above 40%. You need all the help you can get and here’s out tips for the March sitting.


Since September 2018, Q1 has focused on a range of issues from syllabus section A (strategic planning and control), section C (performance measurement systems and design) and section D (strategic performance measurement).

Section A (50 marks) contains one compulsory question. In recent exams Q1 has often required linking a business’s mission to its performance objectives using the concept of CSFs and KPIs.

You may well also have to critique and recommend improvements to performance reports and the balance scorecard could well be tested in this context.

The assessment of performance is also likely to be tested and this could easily include bench-marking as a theme.

Financial performance measures (ROCE/RI/EVA, ect) are also likely to be commonly examined in Q1, but don’t neglect non-financial issues from syllabus section D, such as quality management and reward systems.

From September 2018, we have known one of the section B questions (Q2-3) will come from syllabus section E (performance evaluation and corporate failure).

In section B, commonly tested areas include quality management information reporting (e.g. Big Date, Lean Information), the application of strategic models (such as PEST, Porter’s 5 forces, the value chain), HR frameworks (e.g. reward and appraisal systems), risk management and environmental management accounting.

Keep checking the ACCA website for articles in the lead up to the exam. Any articles written by the examining team are often tested and are very important to read.

The article on the examiner’s approach is especially worth analysing.


The exam will comprise of two compulsory questions within section A, which will both be of a case study style.

The first question will be 35 marks in length, the second for 25 marks.

One will focus on personal tax issues, the other on corporate tax issues.

Q1 is for four professional skills marks, and in section A there will be five marks on ethics.

Section B will comprise of two compulsory 20-mark questions. These will be in a more succinct, note-form style.

The whole syllabus is examinable throughout the paper, which will examine the candidates’ ability to analyse and evaluate the tax implications of various situations, numerical calculations will only be required to assist in producing an answer and no purely numerical questions will be set.

Topics or scenarios we would expect to see are:

  • Personal income tax scenarios which could involve: investing in a pension; investing in EIS, SEIS or VCTs, share schemes; employment income possibly with termination payments; a personal service company; property income; or a takeover.
  • Unincorporated business – particularly including loss reliefs, partnerships or basis period rules.
  • A question focusing on overseas issues – this could be income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax or a corporate scenario.
  • Capital gains tax versus inheritance tax including availability of relief.
  • Corporate scenarios – likely to focus in more depth on intangibles; research and development; losses; corporate groups of consortia.
  • Special corporate scenarios such as liquidation; purchase of own shares; close or investment companies.
  • A business transforming scenario question such as selling a sole trader business, incorporation, or, in a corporate context, the sale of shares versus the sale of trade and assets.

Other common types of questions/calculations to expect are:

  • Reviewing a pre-prepared computation to spot, explain and correct errors.
  • Calculations such as ‘tax saved through an action’, ‘after-tax proceeds’, ‘the value of a post-tax inheritance’, ‘net spendable income’, or the ‘net of tax cost of something’.

Don’t forget that across the scenarios we will typically expect to see VAT marks available – partial exemption, land and buildings, transfer of going concern, capital goods scheme, overseas VAT and registration/group registration tend to be frequently examined.

There will also likely be a couple of marks for stamp duty points if you remember to think about it in your planning.

Finally, don’t forget your basic administration points are also likely to be examined: when do we need to pay tax, when do we file a return and what if either of those are late.


By now you should have a good idea of what to expect – the most recent AAA exams have contained no real surprises, although you should be prepared for the look and feel of the embedded email and supporting exhibits used in the case study (take a look at the specimen exam and past exams using the ACCA website to see what we mean).

Section A will comprise a case study, worth 50 marks, set at the planning state of the audit for a single company, a group of companies or potentially several audit clients.

Candidates will be provided with detailed information, which will vary between examinations but is likely to include extracts of financial information, strategic, operational and other relevant information for a client, as well as extracts from audit working papers, which could include the results of analytical procedures.

The date will be set as 1 July 20X5.

Candidates will be required to address a range of requirements, from syllabus sections A, B, C and D thereby tackling a real world situation where candidates may have to address a range of issues simultaneously in relation to planning, risk assessment, evidence gathering, and ethical and professional considerations.

Four professional marks will be available in section A and will be awarded based on the level of professionalism with which a candidate’s answer is presented, including the structure, layout and clarity of the answer provided.

Section B will contain to compulsory 25-mark questions, with each being predominately based on a short scenario.

There are no option questions in AAA.

One question will always test syllabus section E, and candidates should therefore always be prepared to answer a question relating to completion, review and reporting.

There are a number of formats this question could adopt, including but not limited to matters to be considered and evidence expected to be on file, a going concern assessment, the impact of subsequent events, evaluating identified misstatements and any corresponding effects on the auditor’s report.

Candidates may also be asked to critique and auditor’s report or a report that is to be provided to management or those charged with governance.

The second section B question can be drawn form any other part of the syllabus, including sections A, B, C, D, and F.

Syllabus section G on current issues is unlikely to form the basis of a question on its own, but instead will be incorporated into the caste study either of the section B questions, depending on question content and the topical issues affecting the professional exam.

General Advice

The previous version of this subject regularly tested topical issues that were covered by the examiner’s technical articles (for example, the evaluations of misstatements in December 2017).

There are also five exam technique articles that you must read covering ethics, risk, accounting issues, audit procedures and reporting.


Since September 2018, every exam has had questions with a focus on section B of the syllabus (Advanced Investment appraisal) and section E (Treasury and Advanced Risk Management Techniques).

These syllabus areas are therefore high priority areas for your revision.

We would expect section A questions to cover a number of different syllabus areas, emphasising the need to have a good broad knowledge of the syllabus (so you are strongly advised not to target your revision on a small number of syllabus areas).

However, questions are often based on core syllabus areas such as: project appraisal (domestic and overseas), business valuations and business/financial reorganisations – these areas often include cost of capital calculations.

Risk management may also feature in a number of different ways, e.g. value at risk, real options, hedging, and risk mapping.

For Q2-3 section B expects:

  • Risk management (currency or interest rate).
  • Dividend policy and general financing issues.
  • Real options.

General Advice

The 50-mark compulsory question will, inevitably, draw from a number of different syllabus areas.

The examiner has said that he does not plan exams by referring to past exams (i.e. checking that the whole syllabus is being tested over the course of a number of exam sittings).

These factors mean that question spotting is extremely difficult for this paper.

Remember that this is not a maths exam – in all questions the examiner is interested in your ability to communicate well and to give good management advice that relates to the scenario in the question.