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Time allocation = football formation

Back of the net! Master tactician Sunil Bhandari has a novel way of getting you past this tough paper. Go on my son!

September 2017

So what has sparked me to write this article on ACCA P4 Advanced Financial Management? Well, these comments from students on the June sitting for a start… “A hard one”; “Pretty brutal”; and “A toughie” is how it was described. One PQ even questioned the idea that P4 can be taught!
Another concern was with Q1, which threw quite a few exam sitters. How can you answer a question if you can’t calculate the first bit, many wondered. “I got stuck on first bit of Q1, so how do you then answer what flows?” said a disgruntled sitter.
Another felt the examiner had taken time pressure to another level.
These were comments published on the PQ website shortly after the sitting of the June 2017 paper.
I totally accept the right of students to air their views and opinions. That's perfectly fine. I understand that there maybe an element of frustration or unhappiness if a candidate feels, let us say, ‘hard done by’. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
However, my attention was drawn to the last comment about the apparent level of time pressure experienced by P4 students. To be fair this is neither new nor unexpected. It’s the same comment made over and over again.
Given this fact, I decided prior to this paper, to take a radically different view on how to use the 195 minutes in the exam room. The ‘old school’ way of allocating time using 1.95 minutes per mark along with attempting Q1 first is, in my view, exactly that – old school!
I looked at time allocation by thinking of it like a ‘football team formation’. My line of thinking is: I am a manager of a football team and I must get the maximum out of my players. It sounds a bit crazy, but as we know this is a challenging paper and needs a different type of mindset.
Hence I derived this radically different way to use your exam time.

Let me explain each ‘position’ in this exam time football team and how you use the 195 minutes available:
5 = ACCA P4 candidates should start the exam by reading the requirements of Q4, Q3 and Q2 in that order. Jot down on the exam paper which of the five core topics that make up the P4 syllabus are being tested in each question. Then cross out the question you will not attempt and rank the remaining two in your preferred order of attack.
45 = Spend exactly this time on your first Section B question. If possible, try to front-load the theory parts, as it is far easier to control your time on the written elements.
45 = See the 45 above, but apply to your second Section B question.
You want to score as high as you can, which is obvious, try to reach a minimum of 30/50 after completing Section B.
10 = As all football lovers like me know, the ‘No 10’ position is a key one. Same is true in an exam context. Use this time to read Q1, starting with its requirements. Understand clearly what you have to do and which of the core topics are being tested.
40 = This is the part that takes self-belief! Attempt all the theory/written elements upfront. Q1 normally contains a mix of theory requirements not all of which relate to potential calculations. The unrelated written parts are easy to attempt first of all.
However, candidates will be requested to comment upon the calculation parts of Q1. Although this may seem implausible, believe me that it is feasible to complete the related comments on the numbers prior to hitting the calculator.
Q1 often requests candidates to outline the assumptions made and reservations surrounding the calculations. These can be explained using the data in the question and application of your P4 syllabus knowledge.
In addition, candidates can take an assumed value for say an NPV, business valuation, etc, and give a semi-generic view on this. I accept you will not get a perfect mark, but the aim is to ensure you score a pass-worthy percentage overall. Experience tells me many students fail to make any comments at all on the Q1 calculations. That’s like missing an open goal!
50 = Now is the time to use the calculator. Complete the numerical demands of Q1, knowing that you can’t go over time, as the exam invigilator will call time.
Finally, I am no José Mourinho that is true. But as a manager he has to get the best out of his players. As a P4 tutor I want students to do their best in the exam room. By adopting the ‘exam time football team’ approach I believe you will score the goals that you need to win your game.
• Sunil Bhandari is a P4 freelance tutor

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