Thursday, 6 March 2014

CIMA New Syllabus Case Study 2015

So T4 is now leaving us, with the last sittings due this year - to be replaced with the new strategic case study exam. If you don't pass T4 by the end of this year, you will have to take that new case study next February.

That case study will be quite different from T4 - here are the key differences:
  • Computer based only
  • Consists of a range of tasks (3-5) not one big report
  • Once each task is complete you can not go back and work on that later on and you can not complete later tasks before earlier ones.
  • No calculations - figures will appear in the questions but you'll be analysing them rather than doing the calculations themselves.
  • Greater testing of E3, F3 and P3 knowledge - you'll need to know those syllabuses much better than you do for T4.
  • There will be a new preseen every sitting (rather than one for every two).
I saw the CIMA sample mock at the CIMA conference and have recreated one for you so you can see exactly what you'll be faced with. Take a look at our 2015 new syllabus website where you'll find the mock exam. Alternatively visit our case specific webpage where you can find some more specific information on the strategic case study. I've also recorded a you tube video "CIMA 2015 New Syllabus Case Study Sample" running you through the case study.

So what does this mean for those of you currently taking T4. Simply put - you should aim to pass T4 by the end of this year. Why? Firstly it will save you having to refresh all your E3, F3 and P3 knowledge which is a greater part of the new case study. Secondly it's a completely different format which will be unfamiliar - better the devil you know! Finally - the preseen at T4 lasts for 2 sittings, so if you fail one you don't have to familiarise yourself with a new preseen!

CIMA are being bold in this change and I think it's a good thing. The days of paper based exams have finally come to an end and surely that's got be right given how little we physically write things now. Long live the digital age!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Part b – The easiest marks on the T4 paper?

Part b – The easiest marks on the T4 paper?

Possibly the easiest place to earn marks in this paper is in the part b requirement. The reason stems from the way examiner wants you to answer this which makes it both quick to do and easy to score good marks. Let’s take a step back though – what is part b?

Part b is a “communication requirement”. You are expected to show you can communicate a point from the exam quickly and well, in a letter, memo, email, notes to presentation slides or indeed presentation slides themselves. It may include a requirement to produce a graph based on numbers you should have calculated earlier in your appendices.

So what makes this the easiest place to earn marks in this exam? Well the key lies in the way the examiner wants you to answer this section. The aim is that you are making brief, clear points of roughly two lines each, with each of those lines representing a mark in the exam. This means that you can easily score 8-10 marks in writing no more than a page on part b, whereas on other sections you would probably need nearer to two sides of full report writing style.

The second element that makes it easy is that it is often based on one of the main issues in the report that you should have already discussed. This means you should have already thought about this so there is no new thinking to be done. This will help to speed up writing of this section. Indeed, I’ve known many students doing the PC exam cleverly rewriting and rearranging material from their report to do superb part b's very quickly indeed.

My final message is one of time management. One of the examiner’s favourite comments in Post Exam Guides over recent years is that the Part b section was not completed by many candidates. While it does appear that this seems to be improving over recent sittings, it’s vital that you don’t fall into the time mangement trap – do leave yourself enough time to do part b as it’s such a quick and easy way to score good marks that doing it well could easily be the difference between a pass and a fail!

If you have not read it yet, the best guide to what the examiner wants from part b is in the guide written by the examiner. This is an excellent summary of what you need to do for part b – do digest this, and make sure you practice lots of part b’s prior to the exam so you maximise your marks in what is often a very easy section.

CIMA T4 | Ethics

Ethics – Don’t let it be an afterthought for you!

Ethics is 10 marks in the exam, and significant enough that it is a whole section in your report, yet it is often the forgotten element of T4, which people treat as an after-thought – something to do at the end if they’ve got time. In our post-exam research of over 200 CIMA T4 students, over 20% did not complete this section, meaning an almost certain failure. The examiner has noticed this problem too. In the September 2011 Post Exam Guide it was noted that many students did complete two ethics issues, and two is the minimum you need. In my experience, the people that get good marks in this section tend to cover three issues.

There are two parts to ethics, the first of these is the analysis of ethical issues. Marks are awarded for recognizing each of the ethical issues and explaining why that is ethically right or wrong.

In my experience, people are good at identifying ethical issues, but poor at saying why they are ethical issues. Ethics is about doing the right thing. Bribery is wrong because the person taking the bribe doing what is right for them personally rather than the organization they’re working for. Take care to ensure you focus on why something is wrong thing to do given our moral values and cultural norms.

The second element to ethics is to make solid ethical recommendations. Remember there are just as many marks for the ethical recommendations as there are for analyzing the issue, so you should be writing just as much on these as you are on your analysis. This is a common mistake in scripts I mark where the recommendation ends up being a single line or two at the end.

One key to success in ethics is to ensure you have a standard structure for every ethics issue. I recommend using the following sub-headings every time to make sure you’ve never missed this out: What are the facts, Why is it an ethics issue?, Business consequences, Recommendation 1 (short term), Recommendation 2 (Long term). To see some excellent examples see our ethics sections in our mock exams or if you really want to master ethics in your exam work through our comprehensive guide and examples in our ethics e-book. All of these materials are also available as part of our full T4 course.

Friday, 15 February 2013

What are key problems people have in the T4 TOPCIMA exam?

After each exam we produce a ‘live’ google spreadsheet where people can discuss the
real CIMA T4 exam immediately after taking it and share the order they got for the
issues. These are very popular, with over 100 people completing this for some exams.
But what are the key things that you can take out of this feedback as you approach
your next exam? Here’s my take on some of the most interesting findings.

The first thing to note is how poorly people are able to stick to their planned timings
in the exam. On average in 2012 just 29% of people kept to the timings they had set
out at the start of the exam. In my view sticking to planned timings for each section is
absolutely critical to passing as it creates a balanced script, so it is vital you practice
your timings prior to the exam and aim to stick with them whatever you face in the
exam. See my suggested timings on our time management page and do use our exam
timer with your mock exams to help support you to do this.

In the exam you should be writing about 4 key issues but in 2012 over 40% of
candidates did not achieve that. This compares with nearly 84% completing part b
in two of the 2012 exams – something that must warm the examiner’s heart given
how often this used to be commented on in the Post Exam Guides. So, good time
management to get to part b, poor time management when writing the issues and
recommendations. Make sure you do both on exam day.

Reading people’s comments, the most common topic is the difficulty in recent exams
of calculations. In the August 2012 exam over 70% of people on the spreadsheet
referred to the calculations as part of their comments (most complaining about how
hard they were). There’s no doubt calculations in recent exams have become much
harder, so this is a vital area to master. Lots of practice on post exam calculations is
really important therefore. Our calculations ebook can help you in this area.

The other most common topic is the order of issues, which is perhaps not a surprise,
as it’s the main thing people are interested in as a poor order is likely to make a
significant impact on your final mark. I would say, though that it’s also clear that
many people do pass even when their order is quite different from the examiner’s so
it’s not the end of the world to get this wrong and there is definitely a tendency for
people to get overly concerned about their order. Do ensure you have a set approach
to ordering your issues, decide and then move on. Dwelling on your issues order is a
much bigger mistake as if you take too long here you will not finish your script.

It’s well worth a look at these spreadsheets, particularly some of the student’s
comments as they give you a good indication of the problems people are typically
having and should help you to think about what you need to do to avoid falling into
the same trap come your exam day. Here then are the 2012 post exam spreadsheets:

Saturday, 20 October 2012

CIMA T4 Insights | TOPCIMA Calculations

After weeks of what seems like relentless effort, my colleague Duncan Dicks and I have finally completed the long awaited CIMA T4 Calculations Pack. Perhaps now I see why everyone complains so much about the calculations in the exam having been through so many and having to try to get perfect answers to them all! Trawling through years of T4 past papers and using our experience and expertise as CIMA tutors and markers, we have now compiled an extensive collection of calculations based on the real calculation questions in the CIMA T4 case study but which do not require an extensive knowledge of a pre-seen report, making them perfect for exam practise.

Despite years of working on the TOPCIMA T4 paper, in the creation of the Calculations Pack, Duncan and I have gained a far deeper insight into the calculation section of the CIMA T4 TOPCIMA exam. Here, for you, are the lessons we learned and what they mean for you as a T4 candidate:

1.       There aren’t many ‘theory’ calculations in past TOPCIMA papers, that is to say many of the calculations require a clear head and common sense rather than technical knowledge of calculations from previous papers. There’s little point therefore spending a lot of time reviewing past technical knowledge – your time is much better spent looking at recent CIMA T4 exam questions.

2.       The main exception to this is primarily the NPV calculation which turns up frequently and needs to be able to be carried out very quickly.  In some cases there may be three options with an NPV required on each.  In this case there is usually only a single revenue and single cost line so don’t be put off, they’re usually straightforward, but you do have to work quickly to get everything done.

3.       Other calculations which require some theoretical knowledge have turned up including payback period (discounted and undiscounted), share valuation, return on investment. Make sure you've revised these topcis.

4.       Many calculations are simple calculations of annual profit, comparison with budget or cash flow forecasts.  These just require you to keep track of the figures carefully. Be diligent throughout.

5.       Probably about 75% of the time, the question is explicit about what is required.  Phrases such as ‘The Finance Director has asked you to calculate the operating profit for each option’ often turn up.  Sometimes the calculation required is strongly hinted at with phrases such as ‘the target Return on Investment is …’ or ‘The company uses a cost of capital of…’.

In both these cases it isn’t uncommon to find students who have calculated something completely different to that expected, and often something that isn’t helpful to the decision being made. Take care and do what the examiner wants, then remember to use that information when you are analysing the information in the body of your report.

6.       Occasionally it is simply up to you to decide what calculation, if any, would help the company to make a decision.  Think carefully about this.  It is frequently the case that students calculate say a unit profit when the total profit is the decision making factor.  Read the question carefully and think about what will best help your analysis.

These questions are unlike anything from previous papers so practise of TOPCIMA style questions is key. Do as many practise questions as you can, and ensure you do them under strict timed conditions, so that you are practising doing them quickly and so you leave plenty of time for the rest of the report. Calculations are very important, but not so important that you should spend any more than 20 to 25 minutes on them in the real exam. 

Get a sample of the calculations pack here

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Best Approach - 10000 hours!

In the early 1990s psychologist K. Anders Ericsson did some interesting work with the Berlin elite Academy of Music. Amongst the highly talented group of students, he was looking to find out why some students were truly outstanding, while others were simply just good. The students were split into 3 groups according to ability, and he started investigating their musical backgrounds. Of course, in a field such as music, you might expect that innate talent was the key difference between these students. An interesting fact arose, however from the study – when they totted up the accumulated hours of practise of each of the three groups, the top group had practised on average, approximately 10,000 hours, the second group, 8,000 hours, and the third group just 4,000 hours. While innate talent no doubt had a part in whether students followed a career into music, it seems that once above this level it was the number of hours of practise done that made the true difference in student’s abilities.

This reminded me of a student I recently had the pleasure of working with one-to-one. He was studying for the final level CIMA exam, TOPCIMA, and, coming from France, not only had to deal with a very tough final level exam, but the difficulty of preparing a professional report in a second language. Taking the March sitting of the paper, he had less than a month left to prepare for the exam when he got in touch with me, and after I marked his first script, which was average at best, I didn’t think his hopes of passing were that great. How wrong I was! I’m not sure I’ve ever known a student work so hard. In the week approaching the exam, he was sending one fully completed mock exam at a rate of almost one a day. While I did not have time to review all of these, I soon realised from those I did provide feedback on, that not only was he doing a lot of work, he was also working hard to incorporate my feedback into his answers. By the time I reviewed his final mock script just before the exam, he was passing with ease, and, of course, he also passed the final exam. To me, it demonstrated how much someone can improve in a very short period of time when they are truly committed.

I contrast this against another student who had failed TOPCIMA many times. He had attended a number of my TOPCIMA courses, and while he found this exam difficult, he also did little else outside of attending the course. After yet another failure I told him that it was pointless attending yet another course. The commonly used phrase “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!” came to mind, and knew that by working one-to-one with him we could massively improve his mark. I put this to him, and after a couple of false starts of working together, he wrote a very honest e-mail saying that he wasn’t sure he could find the time that working with me one-to-one would require, and he declined to continue. He is still yet to pass.

You may not need to put 10,000 hours of work into becoming a master of accountancy and business, but by putting in the hours as you approach your next set of exams, whatever your innate talent, you too can put yourself in a position where, like my student from France, you too are in a very good position to pass your exams.

Friday, 7 September 2012

CIMA examiners review - T4 TOPCIMA

As I was discussing the exam with the examiner when writing the CIMA Learning System, one key thing that stood out for me, was her criteria for what would make a script pass or fail when it came down to her final review. Prior to this it wasn’t really something I’d thought much about – for me people should be just aiming to get over 50%, and that was that. It’s really not quite that simple though. Lots of people who get 45%-49% on the first mark can still get through based on the examiner’s review of these scripts, and there are a lot of people in that bracket. Convincing the examiner that your script is one that should be marked up and passed is critical.

One interesting thing she said was that people who had done no calculations would never be put up. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say you can’t pass with no calculations, and I’ve known a number of people who have, but it does mean that not doing calculations is not the best strategy for most people. The argument was that, as accountants, you should be doing calculations. Fair enough, I’d say.

More importantly though in the final reckoning was one key thing – the logic of your recommendations. A couple of key questions to ask are – “If I were a director of this company, would I think that this report was offering good, solid advice that I’d be likely to take?”, or put another way “Does the advice in this report leave the company in a strong position, given the issues it faces?”.

Nick Best