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Why are ACCA pass rates so low?

The old adage is true. If you fail to prepare for the ACCA exams then prepare to fail, writes Paul Merison

October 2017

Here is an actual email from a student, typical of what I receive. I got this 12 days before P7 exam day: “Please can you advise me if there are any changes to the P7 syllabus from September 2017. I have failed P7 four times. Twice I have self studied and twice I have used online tutorials as they are cheaper. Three of my results are between 42% and 47%.”
This student is almost guaranteed to fail again, because:
• Getting similar marks each time shows a problem exists and is not going away.
• They have not submitted any specimen answers to their tutor, who could help them work through any problem areas.
• They have no clue about what is on the syllabus, and presumably the recent examiner’s article on P7. When I received the email there was less than two weeks to go before the exam.
Before we start, let’s remember that ACCA is open access and so there are lots of students attempting exams who attend no courses. Many are watching stolen video classes from previous sittings (which means no tutor help is available). This will always hold the pass rates down.
However, I am frequently dealing with students who fail repeatedly, especially ‘wordy’ papers like P7.
So what is common to these students?
• They do not do marked exam practice. The vast majority do not attempt a mock exam or submit homework. This is like trying to pass a driving test without having any driving lessons with an instructor pointing out your errors.
• They believe it is all about memorising things. A worryingly large number think the secret of passing is memorising theory, rather than understanding those theories, and then attempting to explain them in their own words, and applying them to scenarios.
• They have no interest in the real business world. Exam questions often try to mimic real world stories. Why get an accounting qualification if you have no interest in the world where it is useful?
• They don’t really try. I used to teach ICAEW courses in the past, and students expect to be made to practise in class when they attend. Every one of them will sit the mock exam. For ACCA, many take a bathroom break when a question is set, only returning when the tutor shows them what to do.
• Lack of writing skills. Many students write things that are vague and unclear. Their technical knowledge might be correct, and they might even know how it applies to the scenario – they just seem unable to put it into words in a convincing fashion, and the reason for that is… no marked practice!

Resit students
• When students fail a paper, they frequently ask their tutor what went wrong. Many tutors will say they cannot answer that without seeing some work, and ask the student to re-do the most recent exam paper so the tutor can give some feedback.
Based on my experience around 1% of students take tutors up on this offer.
Instead, many resit PQs just ask about any syllabus changes, tips for the next sitting, a list of questions to practise … and then fail again.
• They ignore available resources. I am repeatedly staggered by the number of students who either do not know that examiner articles, examiner’s reports, etc, are available on the accaglobal website (or the articles and tips in PQ of course!). And many of those who do know about them expect tutors to print the resources out for them rather than go do the legwork themselves.
• Exam day panic. The key to passing is what you think and do in the final half an hour before the exam and the first 20 minutes of the exam once it starts. Think through the approach, and write it down next to each requirement at the start of the exam.

Five tips on how to get a pass
1. Practice questions, to exam time, and ask tutors to mark them and provide feedback. Do not let a fail get you down – it is the feedback that is important.
2. Read the five most recent examiner articles for your paper, and the last three examiner’s reports (preferably with the exam paper in front of you). Make notes as you read.
3. If you are attending a class, ask questions. Do not just sit there thinking you can look at it later, because you probably won’t.
4. Stand in front of a mirror and explain a theory or concept to yourself – better still to a friend. One thing tutoring has taught me is that you do not know things anywhere near as well as you think you do until you try to teach someone else.
5. Have a plan for each question type that comes up, and when the exam starts write this plan quickly next to the question requirement (and before panic sets in later in the exam).
• Paul Merison is London Director of ACCA at LSBF

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