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Why the ‘why’ is the key to passing P3

Paul Anderson explains what you need to do to get through this tough paper

March 2018

The ACCA P3 exam requires key skills and techniques that you will need to develop to be successful. Here I’ll explain my five most important techniques.
1.Use models to provide answer structure:
The P3 syllabus includes over 40 models and you need to be familiar with all of them. The examiner does not always ask for them by name so you need to know which model fits with each part of the syllabus and when to use them. For example, the examiner may ask for you to ‘assess the macro environment’.
Even though it is not explicitly asked for, there is an expectation you will use the PESTLE framework. Using the syllabus guide and an official text can help you understand where each model may be relevant.
There are no marks for academic answers that explain a particular model. At this level you are expected to use the models as a framework for your answer; to create the structure. An easy way to think about it is to use the model to provide the subheadings in your answer. If you avoid using models you will struggle to cover the depth and breadth required to score sufficient marks to pass.

2. Make your answers relevant and specific:
Regurgitation of the scenario or your study notes will not score well in P3. Instead, to score the necessary marks for analysis your answer needs more relevance and specifics.
A key to making answers relevant is to use the scenario and match your knowledge to it. For example, let's say we have an owner managed business where the owner is risk averse and wants to grow slowly and we are asked if the business should grow via an acquisition. When studying acquisitions, one of the first things you will have learned is that they are a quick way to grow, which is normally seen as an advantage. But we must match our knowledge to the scenario. In this scenario, acquisition is not appropriate as our owner manager is risk averse and wants to grow slowly.
Answers must also be specific. In question 1a of the December 2017 paper the examiner commented: “Some candidates… reproduced a fact from the scenario without analysis. For example, ‘the production process is patented’.” These candidates have identified something important but it won’t score marks as there is no analysis. We are not told whether the patent is a strength or a weakness or why it has been categorised as such. The candidate could have added some specifics, such as stating that the production process can’t be copied and therefore it makes the business stand out from the competition. This analysis, the why, is essential for scoring marks.

3. Include quantitative data when relevant:
Questions will often include some numbers, perhaps extracts of financial statements or a table of data. You are expected to use these numbers to complement the qualitative analysis, to help explain the point you’re trying to make. Not using data will result in you losing a considerable number of marks. For example, if in a question asking you to analyse an organisation’s strengths and weakness you are given a set of financial statements you might be able to see that debt is falling, or revenue is growing. These are both strengths that can be used to form good points in your answers.
You may have to create some of the numbers for yourself through calculations. But these shouldn’t be technically difficult and will have been studied in earlier papers. The test is whether you can calculate them quickly and use them to give advice or analyse an organisation.

4. Ensure broad syllabus coverage:
In this paper question spotting doesn’t work. Relying on tips is very dangerous. Anything can be examined. In December, the examiner stated that many students failed the paper because, despite having a strong attempt at part a of a question, they lacked the requisite knowledge to attempt part b, which came from a different syllabus area. Before starting to write an answer to an optional question you must have read all parts of the requirement to ensure you can have a good go at all parts of the question.

5. Manage your time well:
There are a few key rules when it comes to managing your time.
● Only answer the question that has been set. For example, in December 2017 Q3b the examiner set a question on the disadvantages of outsourcing. However, some candidates gave the advantages of outsourcing. This was not asked for, would not have scored any marks and therefore wasted the candidate’s time.
● Set a deadline for each question – 50 minutes for a Section B question, 100 minutes for section A. Stick to it. When your time is up move on to the next question.
● Use the number of marks to help you understand how much you need to write. For example, if you were given a Five Forces question for 15 marks you are looking at around three marks per force, so you need to write perhaps three to five sentences. Don’t write two-and-a-half pages about each element just because you know lots about Five Forces; you are wasting your time. You can only score 15 marks no matter how brilliant your answer is.

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