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ACCA September exam tips - Essential papers

BPP's top team provide their tips for the September essential papers - P1, P2 & P3


P1 Governance, Risk and Ethics
ACCA P1 has had the following exam format since it was first examined in December 2007.

Section A: One compulsory question worth 50 marks which uses a lengthy scenario, often based on real-life events, to test all three main syllabus areas. Typically, this consists of four written requirements, some of which may be broken down into smaller sub-requirements where discrete syllabus content will be tested both as knowledge and application.

Within the total of 50 marks, there will be 4 professional marks available for producing some form of written communication (such as a briefing note, press release or letter to shareholders) which tests a candidate’s ability to write logical, structured and appropriate content suitable for a particular purpose, often with the aim of presenting a certain point of view.

Section B: A choice of two from three written questions that are each worth 25 marks and typically test up to two syllabus areas by applying the syllabus to a smaller real-world scenario. Again, candidates will be expected to apply their knowledge to the scenario in order to score well.

P1 has the following syllabus areas:
A Governance and responsibility
B Internal control and review
C Identifying and assessing risk
D Controlling risk
E Professional values, ethics and social responsibility
General advice:
From this sitting onwards, you will no longer be given the 15 minutes ‘reading and planning’ time separately as the exam duration is now 3 hours and 15 minutes to include reading, planning and writing. We would still advise you to use a period similar to this however to continue to plan the things you need to include in your answer. It is essential that you use the information in the scenario to make your answers relevant – due to the size of the scenario typically presented in question 1, we would advise that you still use this notional 15 minutes to plan this question above all others.

During this time you should also think about how you will produce your answer – pay attention to the verbs used in question requirements as these indicate the number of marks available. For example, the verb “explain” requires a sentence and will score one mark if properly explained whereas the verb “list” simply requires you to present information with no further explanation: this will typically only score . mark per point listed.

The June 2015 exam tested content from the examiner’s technical article on corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and strategic CSR so you should ensure you are familiar with any new articles that have recently been published just in case – they can be found here: http://www.accaglobal.com/zm/en/student/exam-support-resources/professional-exams-study-resources/p1/technical-articles.html
You can expect to see the use of stakeholder, ethical and other CSR theories applied to scenarios, as well as the use of risk and governance syllabus content, especially relating to board directors, remuneration and reporting – you should be aiming to revisit as many past-paper questions as possible as we are starting to see exam requirements that reflect those we have seen before.
Good luck!

P2 Corporate Reporting (international stream)
The ACCA P2 exam format is a 50 mark compulsory question in Section A and a choice of 2 from 3 25 mark questions in Section B.

Section A
• This will be a 50 mark compulsory case study including preparation statement of financial position and/or a group statement of profit of loss and other comprehensive income or statement of cash flows which may include a foreign subsidiary, discontinued activities, disposals and/or acquisitions. This will include other accounting complications such as financial instruments, pensions, share-based payment and impairments.
• There will also be discursive requirements on a linked accounting adjustment and social/ethical/moral aspects of corporate reporting.

Section B
Section B normally includes:
• Q2 & Q3: 2 case study questions: one a multi-part question covering a range of topics or a theme such as deferred tax, foreign currency transactions, financial instruments, pensions, share-based payment, non-current assets (recognition and/or impairment of tangible and intangible assets), borrowing costs, the effect of accounting treatments on earnings per share or ratios; the other an industry-based question (NB: no specific knowledge of the particular industry is required) testing a range of standards such as accounting policies and the framework, leases, grants, IFRS for SMEs, reorganisations, provisions, events after the reporting period and related parties.
• Q4: a discussion question looking at current developments in corporate reporting and problems with existing standards, such as revision of the conceptual framework, leasing, improvements to disclosures, regulatory issues over adoption and consistent application of IFRSs, implementation issues, application of the definition of control and significant influence (equity accounting), improvements in performance measurement, classification in profit or loss vs OCI (see exam team article), integrated reporting (see exam team article), revenue recognition (see exam team articles). Will also normally include a related computational part based on figures from a case study.
One of these questions can also include elements of group accounting, especially if question 1 is a statement of cash flows question.

General advice
Make sure you plan your time at the beginning of the exam (and stick to it) to ensure you don't over-run on particular question – it is 1.95 minutes per mark (or 1.8 minutes per mark if you allocate 15 minutes to reading the paper and choosing your Section B questions). That applies within questions between the separate parts as well.

Don't spend too much time on numerical parts at the expense of the written parts. It is often easier to pick up marks in written questions than in complex numerical ones. Work on the basis of 1 mark per well explained point for written questions.

P3 Business Analysis
Section A will be a compulsory case study question with several requirements relating to the same scenario information. The question will usually assess and link several subject areas from across the syllabus, and will require the demonstration of high-level capabilities to evaluate, relate and apply the information in the scenario to the question requirements. There is often some financial or numerical data in the scenario and marks will be available for numerical analysis which supports your written argument.

Section A continues to consume time in reading and absorbing – three pages of text and numbers are becoming the norm. Thus, students must not underestimate the importance of practising these 50 mark questions not only from a knowledge perspective, but, critically, from a time management and “effort” perspective: reading; assimilating; utilising; all take time and to be effective in these three activities needs practice like anything else. Your prospects can dramatically improve if you follow this advice.

Section B questions are more likely to examine discrete subject areas. They will be based on short scenarios, and you will be expected to apply information from the scenarios to the question requirements. Again the questions can be drawn from all areas of the syllabus, and the limited extent of the choice (two from three) reinforces the importance of covering all areas of the syllabus. It is also highlighting the point that we have seen calculations examined in the optional Section B questions as well as in the compulsory Section A question. This is a trend we expect to continue. A study strategy which includes making time to revisit the numerical areas of the syllabus to refresh knowledge would be wise.

P3 has the following syllabus areas:
A Strategic position
B Strategic choices
C Strategic action
D Business and process change
E Information technology
F Project management
G Financial analysis
H People

To stand the best chance of passing P3, you need to have a good understanding of the entire syllabus. This will enable you to choose the questions you believe are the easiest to pick up marks (for instance because it is easier to understand the requirements, or easier to structure an answer, or easier to pick up knowledge marks) rather than having to choose questions because of your own restricted knowledge of the syllabus. A review of the exams in the past couple of years reveals that all the key areas of the syllabus have been examined which, again, shows the danger of question spotting or ignoring areas.

General advice
The P3 exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long. There is no longer 15 minutes ‘reading and planning’ time as this has been incorporated into the actual writing time. This has resulted in 1.95 minutes of writing time per mark on offer.

Ultimately when it comes to using the time in the exam hall it is important that you play to your strengths and use it in a way that works best for you.

You may prefer to use the first 15 minutes of the exam to plan your answers, alternatively you may choose to start the exam immediately and reallocate the 15 minutes previously making up the ‘reading and planning’ time across the whole exam, thereby planning question by question.

Regardless which approach you adopt it is crucial that you have determined which approach you feel most comfortable with before entering the exam hall.

Ensure you place close attention to the verbs used in question requirements. The verbs used indicate the number of marks available. For example, the verb “explain” is a level one ACCA verb and requires a brief explanation and will score one mark if properly explained. The verb to “discuss” is a higher, level three verb, and requires more input as it means making arguments for and against a particular issue.

Visit the technical articles page of ACCA’s website. There are often very useful articles on ACCA’s website which cover key exam topics and subjects which may help with your exam preparation. All technical articles can be found here: http://www.accaglobal.com/uk/en/student/exam-support-resources/professional-exams-study-resources/p3/technical-articles.html

Good luck!

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