SBL – The examiner knows best!

December 2023

Taking ACCA in December 2023? Make sure you read the September 2023 examiner’s report, says Sean Purcell.

You will see many tips on what is coming up in the SBL exam and to be honest all of them are pure guesswork (so please ignore them). The only real tip list that you can rely on are the areas which the examiner says were not well done in the last exam and need improvement. It is in those areas that future questions will be addressing, so make sure you read the report carefully.

The first part of the latest report talks about how you should not use the pre seen information for question spotting, and you can look at how I used the pre seen information given for September 2023 exam on my YouTube channel. You can also join me for a review of the December 2023 pre seen material at a special PQ event later this month.

Keep an eye open for this!

In summary, if you can analyse of the pre seen information from a strategic perspective and look at where the organisation could be challenged, you will provide yourself with a great tool box of knowledge that proves to be very useful whatever questions may come your way.

Another point the examining team made, which I keep going on about, is reference to the fact that candidates are strongly recommended to take mocks on the ACCA’s practice platform. That means don’t do it on Word, Excel or any other copycat software, but do it on the same platform as the ACCA will use in your examination. That is why, despite the platform being a little clunky and not so user friendly, I upload all my mocks to time on the ACCA CBE platform, so my students get an exact replica of what the real exam is like.

If you do not do this you may get a surprise in the exam.

Other key points to draw your attention to in the report include:

Most candidates managed to answer all three tasks

The examining team were encouraged by this, believing it indicates that many students are starting to take control of their time management, which is a positive. I would argue that you should see your exam as a project management exercise in mark acquisition and have strict control of time relative to the marks available.

However, be aware of time-wasting by some students:

  • They wasted time by including material not relevant to the task requirements. For example, there were explanations of the TARA framework in answers to task 2b for which no marks were awarded.
  • Writing elaborate and lengthy plans, resulting in too little time to produce meaningful answers.
  • Making the same point twice or more in slightly different ways. This was particularly evident in Task 1a in this exam, where some candidates repeatedly referred to the motivational leadership style of Corjetz’s current CEO. Markers will not give additional marks for points that are repeated or re-stated, even if they are slightly reworded.

Key causes of failure

  • Lack of development of the points made (that is, not fully explaining why the point was relevant/important in the context of the task). The best way to overcome a lack of development of points is to think about the point you have made and consider the consequence, or the “so what if this happened?”, and the “why?” regarding the points you have made.
  • Lack of application of points made to the case scenario. My advice to improve this would be to try to visualize what is going on.
    In the case of the September 2023 exam, try to get into the mindset of a low-cost airline and how they operate and how they achieve competitive advantage.
  • Lack of analysis skills (demonstrated through an inability to select, and then appropriately use, the full range and most relevant information to answer task requirements). In SBL, there will be no marks given for regurgitation of the information provided in the case and it is important that you take on board the information given, interpret it and draw from it your own conclusions. Try to think about what story is being told here. If you do that, you should be able to help yourself to do much better analysis.
  • Not answering the question that has been asked. It is natural in an exam to be nervous, and the chemicals produced by nerves can hijack our brain and cause us to behave in a way which might lead us to miss read the question. Therefore it is essential that you have a strategy to minimize this risk and my advice would be read the requirements once, and then read the requirements again. Having done that, do a brainstorm and a mark focus on what you think the main answer outcomes are going to be. But before you actually start writing your answer just read the requirements for one final time in case you were suffering tunnel vision on the first two readings. Dealing with requirements this way will make it very difficult to misinterpret the question.
  • Poor level of technical knowledge. No real excuse for this, and it is important that you undertake an appropriate timetable of study so that you are familiar with all the areas required by the syllabus.
  • Lack of commercial acumen. In SBL, we need to act as a strategic business leader, and as such we don’t just regurgitate information. Instead, we draw conclusions from it and commercial acumen even if not asked in the professional skills marks is an important observation to make. Suggestion of actions that would not be profitable or even loss-making should be avoided, and always try to picture your points in the context of their commercial viability.
  • Wasting time by including irrelevant content. Often students will copy and paste large amounts of the material into their answers, which gets no marks – so please avoid such behaviour.
  • Failure to provide everything that the requirements specified. Again, this is something that can happen because we are stressed – we often miss the second part of the question. I refer to this as a rule of “and”, because a task will usually ask you to “do X and Y”. Under stress candidates often answer the X but miss out the Y. Again, careful reading is required.

    You can find the whole report on the ACCA website and make sure you take on board the points I have made above. I look forward to chatting about December 2023 pre seen material later this month.