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ACCA P4: give it a whirl

Sunil Bhandari explains why you should consider the optional P4

February 2017

As all ACCA students know, to complete their studies they must clear two out of four option papers. One of their choices is P4 Advanced Financial Management. However, this has not been the most popular choice made by candidates – why?
It is accepted that the professional firms of accountants encourage their ACCA students to sit P6 and P7 as they see these papers to be more relevant to the work their employees do. That would mean that the ACCA students working in industry and commerce should take P4 and P5. But this has not been the case, particularly with P4.
When P4 was born in 2007, the original examiner set some reasonable papers covering the key topics of the syllabus. In addition, the examiner published some useful technical articles, the contents of which were subsequently tested in the following exams. However, in June 2009 all things changed.
The exam paper set for the June 2009 candidates was, in my opinion, impossible to complete within the exam time. I have always attempted the published P4 exam papers in exam time to ensure I can understand what the students are facing. The June 2009 paper left me feeling like I had tried to race Usain Bolt over 100 metres!
Hence P4 got a ‘bad boy’ reputation – too hard, unfair, can’t be done, too difficult, etc. Unfortunately, mud sticks. But it’s only mud, it can be washed off.
From December 2010, a new examiner was setting the paper. The papers were by no means easy, but they were consistently fair. The questions have tested the five core areas that make up the P4 syllabus. In addition, we saw a larger number of officially approved P4 articles, including several that I wrote, which assisted students’ preparation for future sittings. Yes, I can’t deny the official pass rates could have been higher and it would be nice to see them consistently at 40%-plus, but that’s a story for another day. The pass rates have generally got better and I believe they will improve even more in the future.
Since September 2015, an examining team has been creating the exam questions. From my analysis of the question styles it appears that the examiner appointed in December 2010 creates Q1 and the three Section B questions are the product of the new member of the examining team.
The really positive news is that the Section B questions appear to be relatively easier than the equivalent ones set before September 2015. In addition, this theme appears to have rubbed off on the ‘Q1 examiner’. The first question is now more ‘do-able’, as students would say. All is looking good for future P4 candidates.
So I say to those ACCA students about to choose which option papers to sit, make sure you consider P4 as a very feasible choice. Ignore all the stories and myths you have heard about this paper. That’s history. All that mud has now been washed away for good.
• Sunil Bhandari is a freelance ACCA F9 and P4 tutor

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