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Preparation key to exam success

CIMA’s Jackie Durham explains why preparation is vital if you are to succeed in the exam hall in 2017

February 2017

No doubt 2017 will be very different to 2016. Brexit, the inauguration of President Trump in the US and the inevitable speed of technological change will all result in a rapidly-changing world, with a constantly evolving employment landscape and prospects.
In this environment employability is everything. At CIMA, we have done all we can to ensure a forward-looking syllabus and assessment system that will deliver the skills employers worldwide told us they need from their finance staff. The case studies in particular bring together the knowledge and skills gained at each level into a realistic test of competence. The preparation required for the case studies is very similar to that you would undertake for a job interview, namely background research into the organisation and its markets, customers and financial arrangements, plus an intention to answer the questions set as if they were part of a competence-based interview.
You need to show the CIMA Faculty that you could actually do the job of a finance officer at Operational level, for example – the syllabus has given you the tools and knowledge, but now is your chance to show you know how to use them.

Review your preparation
All well and good, but what happens if the preparation doesn’t pay off? Pass rates are very good for the case studies, but all professional exams are tough; they need to be hard enough to be ‘valuable enough’ and an average student will fail at least one exam on the road to membership. So how do you move onwards and upwards after a setback?
The first thing to do is review your preparation, as exam performance provides essential feedback on your learning experience. Then review what you did in the exam itself – be honest, as learning from your mistakes is the key to success next time around. We have lots of resources on CIMAconnect to help you prepare for the case studies, but sometimes identifying which are most useful is the biggest challenge.
Think about what you did last time, go onto CIMAConnect and see what other people are saying about the exam. Why do they think they passed or failed? Does any of it ring true for you? For example, had you really interrogated the pre-seen? Did you make sure your knowledge from the three subjects was sharp, or were there some gaps you glossed over, or topics you knew were wobbly but hoped wouldn’t come up? Did you get hung up on looking for the competence marks rather than simply producing a good answer to all parts of the requirement?
This reflection will provide insight. In addition, have a look at our self-test checklists, as these will help you reflect further on what you should have done to prepare. Make sure you fill any gaps or address any shortcomings in knowledge or technique before your next attempt.
Unless you were a long way short of the pass mark and have some serious studying to do, don’t leave it too long before booking in for your next case study exam. It is tough gearing up for a new case, but it’s still better to re-sit while the knowledge from the OTs is fresh in your mind and you feel you have learned the lessons from your previous attempt. Remind yourself that the pass rates are good, of the exams you’ve passed to get to this point, and the rewards of a pass next time around.
Suppose it’s the Objective Test exams for the three subjects at each level that are giving you the biggest headache. What can you do then? Again, the first step is to reflect honestly on where you might have gone wrong. We still talk to students who hope that their weak topics won’t come up or assume they are safe to ignore more peripheral learning outcomes in their preparation. Sadly, this is the way to ensure a rough ride through the OTs. You must study and feel competent in all Learning Outcomes across the syllabus as anything can and will be tested.
The positive news is that the pass rates are good and offer a fair reflection of a student’s learning. Get your learning right and you are en route to a pass. Students still refer to subjects like F3 and P3 as ‘tricky’. In fact, all subjects are ‘tricky’ if you aren’t well prepared. As you move up through the syllabus you’d expect the exams to get more challenging, and this is why employers value our qualification. But if you are well prepared and follow our guidance on time management and exam technique you should succeed.
Read my CIMA Connect blog on time management for F3/P3, which includes some fabulous advice (relevant to all subjects) from a successful F3 student.

Trust your judgement
Confidence is important, too. Not over confidence mixed with optimism, but the true confidence that comes from knowing your stuff and being prepared. If you know the syllabus inside out and upside down trust your own judgement when it comes to tricky questions like the ‘select- all-that-apply’ ones. With these, for each of the given responses, simply ask yourself, “am I sure this response is true/correct?” If the answer is a yes, tick that response. If you are not sure, ignore that response and move on, as your first answer will almost certainly be right.
I am studying for some exams (not CIMA) so have to take heed of my own advice! My exams are OTs like yours, and the temptation to go back and ‘fiddle’ with my responses can be hard to resist. But I have learned through the practice tests that as long as I read the questions carefully first time (I learned the penalties of not doing that very early on!), I do select the correct answer…
So remember all your achievements to get to this point, re-book your exam asap, and then prepare to pass next time around.

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