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Welcome to PQ’s one-stop briefing for the new ACCA Professional Level exams, which come into play from September 2018 – courtesy of BPP’s Tony Sharples

January 2018

From September 2018, ACCA are launching new Professional Level exams, Strategic Business Leader (SBL) and Strategic Business Reporting (SBR), which are intended to increase the transparency of professional skills within the ACCA qualification and further align it to the needs of today’s employers.

About Strategic Business Leader:
SBL is ACCA’s new four-hour case study, which combines essential components of both P1 and P3 in a single exam and so the change is significant. Students will be required to complete several tasks around a single company scenario within which additional material, in the form of exhibits, may be introduced.
The new exam aims to assess the technical capabilities that potential leaders need to be able to demonstrate within organisations, but it will also be focused on professional skills and behaviours that employers have said they require in today’s workplace.
Developing an ability to demonstrate the five new ACCA Professional Skills of analysis, evaluation, scepticism, commercial acumen and communication will be a new essential study component, as students will be expected to demonstrate the right blend of technical knowledge, ethics and ACCA professional skills in their answers. SBL will have no pre-seen information, which means students will need to be adept at quickly assimilating new information. All questions are compulsory and each examination will contain a total of 80 technical marks and 20 ACCA professional skills marks.
It is worth noting that much of the SBL syllabus has its roots in P3 Business Analysis and P1, Governance Risk and Ethics. New to SBL is a focus on demonstrating leadership and innovation to strategically lead organisations to a more profitable and sustainable future, which builds on existing or recommended areas of competitive advantage.
I would advise all SBL students to think about the following main syllabus requirements, so the challenges are fully understood at the very beginning.
1. Apply excellent leadership and ethical skills to set the ‘tone from the top’.
2. Evaluate the effectiveness of the governance and agency system of an organisation including the organisation’s social responsibilities and the reporting implications.
3. Evaluate the strategic position of the organisation to identify feasible strategic options.
4. Analyse the risk profile of the organisation and of any strategic options identified.
5. Select and apply appropriate information technologies and data analytics, to identify strategic opportunities and implement strategic options.
6. Evaluate management reporting and internal control and audit systems to assist the achievement of an organisation’s objectives.
7. Apply high level financial techniques from ACCA skills exams in the evaluation of strategic options and actions.
8. Enable success through innovative thinking and in the management of change.
9. Apply a range of ACCA Professional Skills in addressing exam requirements to support current and future work experience.
It is essential that students appreciate that SBL has areas of technical knowledge which are similar to P1 and P3, the way in which this knowledge is examined will be different. Unlike P1 and P3, SBL will not test individual theories or models in isolation and it will not require these theories or models to be quoted in answers to exam questions. Instead, understanding the technical theories, models and knowledge will be essential for answer planning as these provide students will a ‘toolbox’ to help them approach the practical tasks that they will need to complete.
Therefore, the use of models in the exam will be a judgement made by students and is part of the ACCA Professional Skills for analysis and evaluation. My approach will be to focus students on learning through activities and question practice, so it becomes quite natural to determine which theory or model will add value to answer planning and widen the breadth and depth of ideas discussed in a fully written up answer.

About Strategic Business Reporting:
SBR represents the evolution of P2, Corporate Reporting, which will have a greater emphasis on resolving ethical issues and communicating financial analysis to company directors and other stakeholders. The length of the exam remains at three hours 15 minutes; however, section A will now compromise of two question scenarios in place of P2’s single 50 mark scenario. This provides the ACCA SBR Examining Team with the opportunity to assess a wider topic range in a single sitting and to examine extracts of primary group financial statements and associated notes, rather than set a full consolidation. I am expecting this new approach will alleviate some of the time pressure which P2 students have traditionally experienced.
Students will need to think about the following main syllabus requirements prior to starting their SBR studies:
1. Discuss, apply and evaluate the concepts, principles and practices that underpin the preparation and interpretation of corporate reports.
2. Examine corporate reporting from a number of stakeholder perspectives and assess and evaluate the reporting decisions made by management and their implications.
3. Use an understanding of the IASB’s Conceptual Framework as a basis for judgement in applying International Financial Reporting Standards in corporate reports.
4. Reflect on the usefulness of corporate reports to discuss the nature of the information that would help stakeholders assess the future prospects of the entity. This involves the analysis and interpretation of corporate reports and the provision of advice on the reporting implications of transactions.
A new approach for new exams
Learning materials have evolved and we are introducing a new Workbook format specifically for SBL and SBR which integrate the development of knowledge and professional skills in two ways.
1. All Workbook syllabus chapters include new Activities which use scenarios and requirements similar to questions seen in SBL and SBR to improve application and understanding. Each activity provides tutorial advice for students on how to improve their technical and professional skills marks.
2. Each Workbook includes a series of five new Skills Checkpoints (see table, right).
Each Skills Checkpoint provides a step-by-step approach to developing each Professional Skill by using an integrated case study scenario, and providing tutorial guidance on how to achieve the ACCA Professional Skills marks available in SBL, and to improve the five essential financial reporting skills I believe are required to be successful in SBR
Tuition courses for SBL and SBR should integrate the development of knowledge, professional skills and exam technique.

Planning for September 2018:
There are two exam sittings remaining before the September 2018 Professional Level changes come into force. The key transition rules are that any student who has passed both P1 and P3 by June 2018 will not be required to sit the new 4 hour SBL paper. Students passing only one of P1 or P3 will not be rewarded with an SBL exemption. Any student who has passed P2 will be exempt from the new SBR paper.

March 2018 sitting:
This is the sitting where your priority should be to focus on clearing both or any remaining P1 and P3 papers if you are eligible to do so. Sitting these papers in March will allow you a resit option in June if things don’t go to plan.

June 2018 sitting:
Any student with either P1 or P3 outstanding should sit the remaining paper in June in order not to waste their existing P1 or P3 pass. Remember if you only pass one paper this will mean that you still have to sit the new SBL paper.
Students who have passed both P1 and P3 may still choose to sit P2 in this sitting. There is a lot of crossover between P2 and SBR so a student should not let the changes delay any attempt of P2. If you would prefer to wait for SBR to be introduced you could always sit an option paper and leave SBR until September 2018.

Keep going:
The key point to bear in mind is to keep progressing with your studies. Do not be tempted to miss an exam sitting as it will be harder to pick up your studies after a break!
• Tony Sharples, BPP

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