25 Tips for ACCA Exam Success

Here are 25 Tips to help you Pass your ACCA Exams. Much success in ACCA examinations can be achieved by following these simple guidelines which are relevant to all ACCA Examinations. I will be covering paper specific advice in another article.

Planning Phase:

1. Planning

Before you start to prepare for your next ACCA exams, take some time out to decide how you plan to prepare yourself for the examinations. Do not wait until the results of your previous examinations have arrived since by then you would have already wasted two precious months of the exam session.

When planning, consider for example the exams that you intend to undertake, the amount of time you have to prepare for the exams, your expected work routine, family commitments and so on. Try to draft a timetable based on the number of expected days you have for each paper you intend to appear in the ACCA examination.

When forming your own timetable try to be flexible and realistic. The most important thing however is to actually draft one since a written plan is more likely to secure your commitment and motivation early in the exam session than one that only exists in you mind.

2. Familiarity with Syllabus and Structure

Studying the syllabus of ACCA exams would help you to focus on just the examinable topics. Syllabus guide also details the depth at which a certain topic is examinable by referring to the ‘intellectual level’ of a particular topic. Guidance about intellectual levels referred to in the syllabus and how to use them can be found here.

It is essential that you cover the entire range of topics given in the syllabus. You should also try to familiarize yourself with the exam structure early in the preparation.

3. Examiner's Approach Interview

Examiner’s Approach Interviews available at ACCA Website give you first-hand insight into what examiners are looking for in answers provided by a student, which syllabus areas they consider to be most important and how they intend to approach the examinations in the future. They are therefore a must read for anyone intending to perform well in the ACCA exams.

Examiner Approach Interviews may be accessed from the following link.

4. ACCA Approved Study Texts

You may wish to consult notes provided by your tuition providers or friends but you must always study at least one of ACCA’s approved study texts (latest versions) to be on the safe side. The approved study texts are thoroughly reviewed by ACCA for coverage of the entire syllabus and also for any revision incorporated after changes in the syllabus. Therefore, you will be taking a huge risk by relying solely on exam notes which may not be as comprehensive or up to date as the text books.

Studying Phase

5. Objective Oriented Approach

Try to set achievable targets for each day. The targets you set should be focused on factors that will actually help you to succeed in ACCA exams (e.g. to cover a chapter or syllabus area in one day, to attempt a past paper, etc). Setting targets based on for example number of hours may not be as effective.

6. Concepts

Always try to understand the underlying concepts behind a given topic. While you may be able to earn some marks for pure knowledge (particularly in the Knowledge Module), most number of marks in ACCA exams are for application of your concepts in a given scenario. Building your concepts right from the beginning in your ACCA studies will help you further down the road as you build upon those foundations in the more advanced papers.

7. Seek Help

 If you are struggling with a particular topic, do not be embarrassed in asking your teacher or a friend to help you. Get help immediately and avoid letting things to pile up until it is too late.

Practicing Phase

8. Past Papers Practice

Extensive past paper practice under exam conditions is essential to improve time management, concept building and stress management during the exam. Nothing hurts your chances to pass more than unanswered questions because of lack of time. Always time your practice questions and although it might be very tempting, never peek at the answers before you have finished! Simulating exam conditions during past paper practice will not only help you in keeping track of time during the exam, it will also assist you in managing stress.

ACCA students are extremely lucky to have Model Answers to past paper questions from the examiners themselves. It is very helpful and vital resource for students as it provides them insight into how an answer may be ideally structured and drafted.

However, care must be taken when studying the suggested answers. Firstly, the answers may only reflect the syllabus, laws and standards in place at the time of the respective examination. Exam kits from ACCA approved publishers may be more appropriate for practice of subjects that are constantly evolving such as Financial Reporting and Taxation. Secondly, do not waste time memorizing chunks of the model answers since they have been provided for the purpose of guidance only. Examiner cannot possibly expect a student to produce an answer of such caliber and depth under exam conditions. However, you should try to learn the general content, logic, flow, style and structure of the model answers and try to reproduce those qualities in exam.

9. Examiner Reports

Examiner Reports are published on ACCA Global Website after every exam sitting highlighting the common mistakes and problem areas encountered by students. It is surprising how few students actually make use of this resource. A careful read of the examiner reports could assist you a lot in improving your exam technique especially in case you have been stuck with a paper for quite some time now and have not been able to figure out the cause of failure yet (or have been attributing it to bad luck!).

10. Marking Schemes

Marking schemes can help you in judging the number of distinct points that you need to mention in respect of a given question and the depth of your answer. Studying marking scheme when practicing past paper questions can assist you in understanding the relative marking for different types of question requirements. A typical marking scheme for example would allocate one mark per point for a basic question requirement such as ‘list’, ‘identify’ or ‘define’. More than one mark per point is usually reserved for question requirements that require students to demonstrate a higher capability such as ‘explain’, ‘compare’, ‘distinguish’, ‘analyze’ and so on. An awareness of the likely basis of how your answer will be marked by the examiner can guide you in writing the right number of points in your answers and in appropriate detail instead of focusing on just one or two main points. So for example, if a 10 mark question asks you to ‘list’ certain factors, it would be safe to assume that a brief list of ten, short and punchy, points can secure most marks on offer. If however a question requires you to ‘explain’, it would be better to provide five points with a bit more detail.

11. Exam Paper Analysis

It may be useful to look at the trend in past examinations. For example, what type of questions are most frequently asked? Which topics are tested most? Has an important syllabus area not been tested in last several attempts? You could use this information to prioritize certain key topics that you would like to focus more on. However, do not rely on pure guesswork. Trying to extrapolate the trend into your next exam sitting may leave you with a few surprises. Just use your analysis as a tool to highlight important areas rather than to eliminate syllabus areas that you feel will not be tested again from your study plan.

12. Examiner Analysis Interview

ACCA publishes Examiner Analysis Interviews for each exam paper on its website detailing the examiners’ view of the performance of the students in previous examination sessions highlighting the prevailing weaknesses among students and the future focus of examinations. Analysis interviews are very helpful in guiding students on how to improve their performance in exams.

Examiner Analysis Interviews can be accessed through the following link.

13. Technical Articles

Student Accountant magazine offers several exam relevant technical articles geared towards topics in which students have often underperform. Pay special attention to technical articles released just before the month of the exam since they might hint at topics that could potentially be tested in the upcoming examination. Examiners also discuss in these articles the impact on ACCA examinations of the changes in syllabus, examination structure, standards and legislature and should therefore not be ignored by students.

Student Accountant magazine can be accessed through the following link.

Preparation Phase

14. Revision

 Allocate sufficient time in your study plan for revision towards the end of the exam preparation. Going through the whole study text when only two or three days remain in the exams is not recommended. You would probably feel overly exhausted and stressed from trying to retain the information contained in the study texts in such a short span of time. A better approach would be to draft your own study notes through out the exam session which you could then use for revision purposes right before the examinations. Exam Pass Cards from one of the approved publishers could prove handy in case you are not in the habit of making your own notes.

15. Visit the Exam Center

I personally know a friend of mine who could not make it to the exam center in time because of a traffic jam. He could have avoided this delay (like most others managed to do so) by knowing alternative routes to the exam center. It is therefore important for you to know not only the precise location of the exam center but also alternative routes to get there. If unsure, plan a visit to the exam center before the exam date. This may also help you in estimating the amount of time required to get there.

16. Sleep well before the exam

Ever got the feeling that you are suddenly forgetting everything you have learned right before the exam? It was probably because you stayed up too late the night before the examination. A good rest before the exam is essential in order to remain alert and focused during the exam. While it may be very tempting at 3 am in the night before the exam to study ‘one final chapter’, fact is you would probably be doing yourself more harm than good. Sleep early and rise fresh on the exam day.

17. Panic Control

ACCA exams require you to apply your knowledge in a given context. This requires you to be able to think logically. Last thing you want happening to yourself is to get panicked before the exam. This can leave you confused during the whole exam and force you into making errors that could be easily avoided. The trick is to just think positive before the exam starts. You may try to recall your achievements and accomplishments, the effort you have (hopefully) put in and the prayers of your loved ones. Stay away from students who are trying to memorize a 500 page text book 15 minutes before the exam. They will only make you more nervous. Just relax and hold your nerve!

Performance Phase

18. Reading Time

Effective use of the 15 minute planning and reading time could help you to produce more relevant, well planned and structured answers in the exam. Reading time is ideal for highlighting and understanding the key requirements of all questions. Remaining time could be used to draft brief answer plans and in case of Professional Stage examinations, you may use this time to select the most appropriate optional questions you wish to answer.

19. Question Requirements

Close attention should be given to the precise requirement of each question. If it appears to you that two parts of a question are asking the same thing, don’t congratulate yourself but rather read the question carefully again. It is important to have understanding of what the examiner is demanding before you proceed to answer the question. It would be a waste of time if you realized half way through the answer that you have misinterpreted the requirement of the question.

20. Answer to the Point

ACCA marking scheme is very specific in rewarding marks. If a seven-line introduction to an answer does not relate to the question requirement in any way, it will not attract any mark. It is therefore more worthwhile to go straight towards answering the question requirement rather than wasting time in lengthy introductions. A valid exception to the above would be instances where you have been specifically asked to draft answer in a form of a report or a memo. In such cases, try to keep the into as brief as possible.

Examiners also encourage students to include several different points in their answers rather than explaining few points in too much detail. Studying marking schemes and examiner reports could help you understand these aspects of exam technique.

21. Plan you Answers

Examiners always appreciate well-structured answers. A little planning at the start could help you give the necessary structure and coherence to your answers. Try to insert short answer plans before the answers which should be crossed afterwards to avoid confusing the examiner. This gives examiner the impression that you have tried to organize your answers and also, in case time runs out, an answer plan mentioning the key points could be rewarded few marks even if the answer was left incomplete.

22. Facilitate the Examiner

Examiners have a tough time checking loads of answer sheets from hundreds of exam centers worldwide. Make every effort to ensure their time is not wasted unnecessarily while checking your answer sheet. Mark the question numbers clearly and try to follow the sequence of sub-parts to avoid confusion. Writing is perhaps not something that could be changed over a short notice. However, if people in the past have found your writing hard to read, try to improve it over the course of time. Make sure you leave ample space in the answer booklet for any unanswered question that you may wish to return to later in the exam in order to avoid having to squeeze your answer in a little space or asking examiner to find the remaining portion of the answer elsewhere in the answer book. Cross out any rough workings clearly to avoid any confusion.

In short, make life easy for the examiner and at least you will avoid any repercussions for not doing so.

23. Do not leave any question Unanswered

If you fear you will not be able to complete the answer to a question in time, simply jot down a list of main points before proceeding to answer in detail. In case you were unable to complete the answer, examiner would know that you aware of the main points and reward you accordingly. If you do not know the right answer to a question, guessing would not hurt specially in the objective type questions in the knowledge module. However, always answer questions that you know first and leave the guesswork towards the end of the exam.

24. Review

As you advance in ACCA examinations, it becomes increasingly hard to complete the exam in the allotted time. If luckily you have some time remaining towards the end of the exam, review the entire question sheet first to make sure you have missed any question part. You may then quickly review your answer booklet for any obvious errors. If you still have time left, try to improve answers that you feel you can most easily do in the remaining time.

25. After the Exam

If you have another exam scheduled soon, try not to waste too much time discussing the exam you have already given with your friends (especially if it did not go too well!). Go home, get a good rest and come fresh and well prepared for the next exam.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. Please share this article with your friends if you found it useful! I will be posting some exam specific advice for ACCA students soon. Best of luck with your Exams!

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