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CIMA assessment: a step too far?

Educators must empower students to think flexibly and take control of their exam journey, says Mark Foley

April 2016

CIMA’s decision to revolutionise its assessment methods is having far-reaching consequences for organisations with finance study programmes. As other institutes also move to more flexible examining models we examine the impact this is having on students and employers.

What has changed?
Assessments are now more flexible. This means students can now plan the timing of their exam dates for the CIMA objective test papers so they, in effect, peak at the right time and maximise their chances of passing their exams. With ACCA moving to four exam sittings a year, greater flexibility is being given to the student to take ownership of their exam and study journey.
CIMA describes this is as an opportunity for the student to take more control of their studies. This supports the view of self-direction, personal responsibility and accountability, all key characteristics of CIMA-qualified accountants. This approach would allow CIMA students to develop these behaviours earlier in their studies and become well-rounded finance leaders on qualification. It also allows students the incentive of planning their studies around holiday, work and life-changing commitments.
The amount of flexibility provided by the institutes should only be applauded, and already we are witnessing significant real and meaningful benefits:
• Students can complete the exams in three years and avoid studying during critical year-end routines.
• Students’ study can be staggered so they are not all out of the office at the same time.
• Students can take more control of their own study pathway and ease the administrative burden on training managers.
• The case study exams try to mirror time pressured work tasks, set by a line manager, and so aim to demonstrate application to work-based scenarios.
However, employers are advised to retain some structure and ownership of the study programme as deferral rates are higher than ever. We are now seeing students deferring their exams at short notice with little penalty.
While in certain circumstances this is commendable, proficient exam standard students are choosing to defer and in some cases citing their own lack of self-belief as being the key reason for deferral.
Exam dates used to be compulsory; now it depends on a number of factors such as work and social commitments, desire and confidence. The consequence of this has been a dramatic lengthening in the time to qualification.

The consequences:
There are consequences to these changing patterns:
• It’s more difficult to keep track of progress given there are fewer formal sittings.
• It disrupts staff scheduling and their availability for critical work tasks.
• It disrupts career and succession planning. Having a prescribed exam date provided some inevitability – whether you felt ready or not, the exam was there for the taking.
• Work and study become less integrated and, as a consequence, it becomes confusing to know what knowledge is being imparted and when this can be applied in the workplace.
• It takes longer for a student to qualify and may affect their promotional and remunerative opportunities.

Tips for employers:
1. Utilise your training provider’s progression planning calendars (where available) to stay on top of exam results, course timings and anticipated study completion dates.
2. Amend internal training study policies outlining a specific deferral authorisation process to ascertain the reasons for the request and decide on whether it’s appropriate to grant the deferral.
3. Provide training contracts with a specific recommended qualification date, which provides some rigidity and reduces the number of times a student will defer.
4. Ensure exams are taken within two weeks of revision course completion to maximise the chances of exam success.
5. Encourage students to contact either their account manager or tutor with regards to building confidence or perfecting technique and advising on delivery methods for all learning styles.
6. Finally, it’s more important than ever for employer engagement on practice assessment performance to identify more objectively if students are ready to sit their exams and avoid unnecessary deferral.
• Mark Foley FCCA is Head of Kaplan UK Account Management

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