Taking CIMA Exams during “Lock-down”

We cannot escape turning on the TV these days without being bombarded with news and analysis on assessing the global impact of COVID-19.

Trying to continue our daily life and routines has been nearly impossible given the restrictions we all face right now, however, CIMA kept the show rolling by allowing students to take CIMA objective tests and case study exams from home.

I spoke with three different students (one wanted to remain anonymous) to get an insight on how they prepared for their latest CIMA exam from home

Joanna – Certificate Level

I am relatively new to CIMA. I’m currently studying Certificate level via Kaplan and have so far completed BA4 and BA3. I am a mature student and I work as an Academy Trust Business Manager. My study is being sponsored by my workplace as part of my ongoing professional development.

Agnes – Management Level

I’m a third year BSc in Accounting student. I started studying CIMA from the Certificate level 3 years ago when I started my university course. I’m currently one case study away from completing the management level.

I also started the blog https://passfinancialcertifications.finance.blog/

Q – How did you prepare for the exam? Was it significantly different to your usual preparation?

Joanna: “I had to do lots of practice using an online whiteboard for my calculations as no pen or paper was allowed when taking exams online. This felt like an added pressure whilst revising, however, I soon got the hang of it and by the time I sat my exam I was fine.”

Agnes: “My exam preparation was exactly the same as before. I continue to use CIMAStudy and Kaplan resources, focusing mostly on practicing objective test questions and reading through all chapters until I understand the material.

However this time, I spent additional time researching the at home exam procedures.

Normally when you go to PearsonVue centers you don’t have to worry about the exam procedures too much. With online [at home] testing, you are the one starting the exam, checking in, making sure the system runs properly so it’s key to read through all the exam instructions and practice testing the system to avoid surprises on the actual exam day.

Also, it’s important that you double check for any errors in your PearsonVue and CIMA accounts. For example my PearsonVue dashboard didn’t show any exam booked until the last day before the exam.

So double check because you may lose your exam fee if for some reason you get the process wrong or don’t correct errors in time!”

ANON: “If anything I found studying for this exam easier due to having a lot of spare time on my hands as I had been furloughed. I study through distance learning as well so I didn’t really see any changes to my normal routine.”

Q – How did you feel sitting the exam at home?

Joanna: “I was worried that I may encounter technical issues as I had read lots of negative feedback about the online process. I was also concerned that I would run out of time with not being allowed pen and paper.”

Agnes: “I felt good about sitting my test at home and I’m happy to see that CIMA stepped up and introduced at home testing. It really shows understanding that these unprecedented times require higher flexibility in exam delivery to meet students’ needs.

Having said that, I didn’t like some of the new rules of at home testing. The one ‘deal breaker’ rule for me was the fact that, for at home testing, CIMA doesn’t allow any scratch paper which would be similar to the erasable notepad students get at PearsonVue centers.

[Agnes took the F2 Advanced Financial Reporting paper]

“Using the calculator, then opening the whiteboard feature, inputting your results, having to close it to then go back to the question display is too time consuming in my opinion. My classmates shared this opinion as well and I have reached out to CIMA through our student representative.

I was also worried about noise as I live with my family and a loud dog. The CIMA rules state that noise may terminate the exam and result in a non-refundable fee.

So I chose to sit my exam at 7AM for that reason to make sure I was uninterrupted. I think this is another reason why I prefer PearsonVue centers as I can get a guarantee that silence will be adhered to, whereas being at home is more risky if the proctoring system suddenly picks up on some random noise and terminates the exam  “

ANON: “Sitting an exam at home has its pros and cons. The pros being you dont have to travel anywhere and take it from the comfort of your home. On the other hand I felt i was less in the zone for this exam, when you go to the Pearson Vue centres it makes it all a bit more real and helps me get really focused for the exam.

The real issue is that you cant make notes with paper which I think 99% of all students do. With E2 this wasn’t really an issue as there are not any calculations but when you come to the P & F exams this will prove a real issue.

They do provide a whiteboard software which you can make notes but I find this will be a real detriment to me so when I come to those exams I’ll have to change my whole exam practice technique and get out the old habits.”

Q – How did you feel after the exam?

Joanna: “I felt relieved that I’d got through the entire process without any issues. Results were available to view within a few minutes of finishing the exam so no anxious waiting around.”

Agnes: “I felt confident after the exam. I think I managed my time well and I didn’t feel like I struggled too much with any particular question.

Shortly after the exam I received an email with a provisional score report and 2 days after I got a confirmation of a pass. Certainly, my preparation strategy paid off as I scored 150/150.”

ANON:I passed the exam so that was a real plus but it felt like any other exam to be honest, no real changes of feeling after.”

Q – What advice would you give CIMA students sitting exams at home?

Joanna: “Make sure you do all of the relevant system checks on Pearson Vue to minimise any technical issues on the day of exam.

My advice would be just go for it!

It is fantastic that CIMA have made it possible for us to continue our studies during the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Agnes: “Research online exam procedures and test the system prior to booking to make sure your equipment is compatible.

Also don’t hesitate to ask questions and contact PearsonVue or CIMA if you are afraid you don’t know how to run the system on the exam day.

Also, do your best to focus and make a clear study plan to stay on track despite Covid distractions.”

ANON:I think the main thing for taking your exams at home is to make sure the room you’re in meets the requirements, you don’t want to be running from room to room trying to find a suitable location like I was!

As already mentioned, practicing not making hand written notes is a must.”

Q – How was your experience of studying CIMA while on “Lock-Down” due to coronavirus?

Joanna: “I really missed being able to go into the Kaplan Centre for my face to face classes but I’ve quickly adapted to studying via webex instead. I’m now studying my next module and will be booking another online exam in the next few weeks.”

Agnes: “I struggled more than usual because of the added stress. Sometimes it was hard to focus on studying with so many historical moments unfolding right in front of us. The increased health and economic uncertainty also made my outlook more pessimistic during that time but ultimately I decided to focus on the positives and think about the benefits of progressing on my CIMA journey.”

ANON:Overall, I didn’t find the experience too bad due to me using the distance learning method, I’m sure the students who are used to classrooms this may have been very strange for them.”

*Note: Thanks to all of the other students who reached to me on twitter to share their experiences, and to be honest it sounded like a mixed bag of opinion with some students facing real difficulties with sitting the exam at home, while other students seemed to fare OK.

Thanks Joanna, Agnes and Anonymous for sharing the above!

Good Luck if you are taking your next CIMA exam from home.

CIMA OCS May 2020: ChargeIT

The May and August 2020 pre-seen materials were released and it’s proved to be a groundbreaking day for CIMA.

Firstly, it’s the first set of pre-seen materials released for two exam sittings.

What’s more, CIMA announced, that due to the COVID19 outbreak, the May case study exams will be available for students to take at home!

CIMA will be releasing further details in the coming days.

Anyhow, on to my SWOT analysis of the pre seen materials for the chargeIT OCS exam.

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Strengths

Innovation through Research and Development

It’s clear from the outside that the ChargeIT main strength and source of competitive advantage lies with it’s research and development department. This focus has led the company to exploit new technologies in the development of new batteries for it’s products.

ChargeIT are acutely aware of this strength as the pre seen also mentions;

The R&D department is also responsible for the design and
functionality of the electronics used in all of ChargeIT’s products.

This also includes supporting other areas of the business with electronics knowledge and understanding.

The company is keen to pass on this strength across the whole business and ensure all areas have an understanding of electronics.

Weaknesses

The Finance Department

I don’t want to be too critical of the finance department being an accountant myself but it’s clear from the pre seen materials that the finance department SHOULD be contributing more than just day to day operational tasks.

You might also consider this on the flip side and see it as an opportunity to grow the skill set and scope of the finance team. Here is an example of what I mean;

  • Budgets are annual “top-down” approach.
  • Monthly reporting actual v budget is performed by senior management with no finance team input.
  • The finance departments role hasn’t changed since 2001

There is also mention that chargeIT uses a standard absorption costing method – is this ideal for chargeIT?

Remember the OCS exam tends to look at costing system methods, so focus on this area in your studies. Make sure you can explain the different methods and apply it to the chargeIT scenario.

Opportunities

The demand for Robotic technologies

Robotic technologies are everywhere at the moment and given the case study exams now revolve around the 2019 syllabus, it’s always good to be aware of the features and application of new technologies.

To be more specific of the opportunities for chargeIT, this is an extract from the pre-seen;

Robotic vacuum cleaners, whilst still one of the smallest categories, showed strong growth with sale volumes rising by 17.5% in 2019.

Sales of gardening power tools in Eastland increased in 2019 by 3.9% to E$324.4 million whilst sales of lawnmowers contracted by 1.1% to E$356.9 million. Robotic lawnmowers however showed strong growth from E$51.5 million to E$58.9 million.

Simply put, the sales of lawnmowers in Eastland have decreased by 1.1% where as robotic lawnmowers have increased by 16%! Add this to the fact chargeIT have a strong focus on new technologies and R&D there is a strong opportunity here.

Threats

HR Processes and Infrastructure

There are a couple of mentions in the pre-seen materials that chargeIT has experienced rapid growth in the last few years.

While it has done wonders for the revenue and profit numbers, such rapid growth also creates a risk that the company infrastructure is not adequate to keep pace of the business.

Below is the specific threat mentioned in the pre-seen;

Human resources are the responsibility of the HR Manager. The company has expanded rapidly which has created a number of issues in managing human resources.

It has been recognised that there is a need to build new processes for human resource management to ensure the well-being of both existing and new staff.

The positive note here is the fact the company has recognised this risk and there is a need to build and improve HR processes to attract and retain their staff – particularly important if they want to keep their best members of the R&D team – which will in turn main their competitive advantage.

CIMA May 2020 – Astranti OCS Course

I used the full course from Astranti to pass my OCS exam first time in 2015 and have used them ever since.

They have revamped their content for case studies to include even more helpful materials and resources for students taking the OCS exam.

Offer valid until 6th April

CIMA Case Studies: May 2020

The May 2020 CIMA case studies represent somewhat of a milestone as the pre-seen materials released will cover TWO exam periods – both May and August 2020 case studies will use the same pre seen materials.

This is my understanding after speaking with a few tuition providers as well as indicated on the CIMA Exam Timetables pictured below.

You can see that the August 2020 has NO pre-seen materials release date, this is due to the August case study exams using the same pre-seen materials from the May exam.

What does this mean?

These are only my assumptions and thoughts, but this gives students who are planning to take a case study in August 2020 some flexibility as to when they want to start their exam preparations as the pre-seen material for their exam will be available in March.

I would suggest, though, not to start preparing for an August case study too early.

You do not want to peak in June or July when your facing an exam in August.

Even if you have access to pre-seen materials in March, I wouldn’t go overboard on revising the pre-seen just yet.

I’d also recommend speaking to your learning provider to understand if there are any implications on their materials and resources for the case study exams.

Effective Studying for CIMA Case Study Exams

With this new information in mind and the fact the case studies are now based around the 2019 Syllabus content, it’s a good time to remind ourselves how to effectively study for a case study exam.

The below video from Astranti is a great summary on how to approach a case study;

  • Have a study plan
  • Practice exams are key
  • Hard work is required – don’t leave it until the last minute
  • Study without distractions

It’s all common sense stuff but with the pre-seen materials only a couple of weeks away it’s the perfect time to start planning how you will pass the May CIMA case study exam.

Pre Seen Materials

Planner

This is a reminder that the pre-seen materials can be found in your CIMA planner, under the resources menu.

*You will need your usual CIMA ID and login details to access it.

I will be providing my own SWOT analysis on each exam once I have had time to digest the pre seen materials.

May 2020 Case Study: Astranti Courses

I believe the quality of the content and support provided by Astranti with their CIMA case study courses is second to none. I used their courses to pass my case study exams first time.

Well worth a look if you haven’t already seen what they offer.

Exam Dates 13-15 May

Exam Dates 20-22 May

Exam Dates 27-29 May

Here is what you can expect from their course.

Complete pre-seen pack (pre-seen, strategic, industry analysis and top 10 issues)
3 x Full tuition videos
2 x Study texts
2 x Live Masterclasses
4 x Full Mock Exams (based on May 20 scenario)
Detailed marking and feedback
Ethics Pack
Pass Guarantee

Good Luck!

CIMA P1: Management Accounting

It may seem odd but the CIMA P1 Management Accounting paper is the toughest exam students will face if we look at the historic pass rates.

The overall pass rate for P1 is just 45% with only 50% passing it first time, to give you some context, this is much lower than the strategic level P3 exam which is 54% overall pass rate and 62% of students pass first time!

With this in mind, this blog post is designed to help students pass the CIMA P1 exam under the new 2019 syllabus first time.

What’s new in 2019 P1 syllabus?

A newly added P1 syllabus area is ‘rationales for costing’.

This is a new addition but it should be familiar knowledge from your previous studies such as AAT or the CIMA cert paper BA2.

It contains basic costing knowledge – being able to identify cost classifications such as material, labour and overheads while also being able to identify costs by behaviour such as fixed, variable and so on.

While this is not too difficult it’s important not too gloss over the basics as its fundamental knowledge and new exam questions have been written specifically to test this aspect.

Cost Accountant Vs Management Accountant

One interesting addition is that CIMA want you to know the difference between being a ‘cost-accountant’ and a ‘management accountant’.

These terms may be used interchangeably in job roles, however, the new syllabus content is keen to portray a management accountant as a much higher-level strategic decision maker and is surely indicative of CIMA trying to raise the profile of the profession. And rightly so.

Similarly, we have inclusion of the CGMA cost transformation model, which CIMA have published themselves, to explain how effective costing can actually become part of a company’s competitive advantage.

As anticipated, with a nod to the new future of finance 2019 syllabus, CIMA have included the shiny new subject of digital product costing. A new topic which will hopefully be as interesting as it is relevant for students.

Here you will need to know the difficulties of ascertaining a product cost for, let’s say, E-books and software downloads. Also you should understand the benefits of using a digital costing system in this new part of the P1 syllabus.

The P1 Basic’s Remain

Nevertheless, the majority of the P1 syllabus remains the same as CIMA expects students to have a firm grasp of the core costing knowledge.

Students are still required to perform the reconciliation of marginal and absorption costing profits and know the usefulness of each method.

In terms of other costing techniques – there is still throughput accounting, ABC and standard costing too.

We are still expected to tackle topics such as linear programming, time series analysis, break even calculations and risk techniques.

Budgeting for Success

Budgeting, of course, is still big in this management accountancy P1 syllabus.

We are still expected to perform budget calculations in regards to fixed, flex and cash budgets and to know the differences between a functional, master, and principal budget.

Types of budget like zero-based budgeting, activity based budgets and rolling budgets are considered core knowledge in P1, meanwhile, the subject of Beyond Budgeting has dropped down from P2 into the P1 paper.

We also have a extra learning outcome relating to ‘stress testing budgets’ which is basically the ability to assess how vulnerable a budget is to a stressful event(s) such as loss of a major customer or supplier.

Could the numbers cope if supplier prices were to rise 20% for example or rental prices were increased on company premises?

POINT TO NOTE

Joint product costing has been raised in prominence but interestingly enough CIMA have removed environmental costing and quality costing from the syllabus.

Both are frequently examined areas for operational case-study so a decision to remove them at P1 will have impact on the OCS exam going forward.

In addition to this, CIMA P1 students are no longer required to learn about the modern-manufacturing environment (TQM or Just-in-time production and McDonaldisation have been removed) – these topics may appear elsewhere on other papers – but not P1 any longer!

Variances are still an important part of the syllabus – we need all of these – including the ‘much disliked’ fixed overhead variances splitting into capacity and efficiency.

In terms of advanced variances, planning & operational are staying with us, so are sales mix and quantity variances. However, you may be pleased to see that material mix and yield variances are being removed for new exams.

The CIMA Student:  P1 Exam Tip

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As a final note here – remember CIMA can ask you for backward variances – where you are told the solution and you need to work backwards to find what ‘actual hours’ or the standard rate must be.

These involve a good knowledge of variance formula’s – so work hard on this area!

On the whole, the new P1 exam seems more straightforward, modern and aligned with later papers such as OCS and the P2 paper. Pass rates are yet to be announced under the 2019 syllabus but I have a feeling they will be better than the 2015 syllabus P1 results.

So good luck with your CIMA P1 exam/resit – try to get through this transition from 2015 to 2019 as soon as you can!

CIMA Feb 2020 Case Studies

The February case studies give students an extra few weeks between the pre-seen materials being released and the exam itself – when compared to other sittings.

Nevertheless it can be difficult to get the ball rolling with your studies at this time of year, so here are some excellent videos on all three of the upcoming case study exams to get you prepared to pass first time!

CIMA OCS: Lottie Graphite Top 10 Issues

You can find the full video set on the Lottie Graphite OCS case study here.

CIMA MCS: Trevel Records Strategic Analysis

You can find the full video set on the Trevel Records MCS case study here.

CIMA SCS: Shinepodd Top 10 Issues

You can find the full video set on the Shinepodd SCS case study here.

Good Luck with your studies!

CIMA MCS Feb 2020: Trevel Records

Pre Seen Materials

The February 2020 pre-seen materials have arrived for the CIMA MCS Management Case Study and it’s based around a company “Trevel Records”.

The pre-seen materials are available in your CIMA Study Planner, through the official CIMA website here. I’ve noticed this new process from CIMA is more efficient as I found the pre seen document was available first thing in the morning, unlike previous sittings when it seemed to a lucky dip when you can find the pre seen document!

Astranti Case Study Course

The Astranti MCS course for the Trevel Records case study is packed full of videos and analysis on the pre-seen materials and what might come up on exam day.

FEBMCS2

Here is what you can expect;

  • Complete pre-seen pack of videos
  • 3 x Full tuition videos
  • 2 x Study texts
  • 2 x Live Masterclasses
  • 3 x Full Mock Exams
  • Detailed marking and feedback
  • Ethics Pack
  • Pass Guarantee

Trevel Records: News Reports

The pre seen document is 31 pages long and students have a tendency to focus on the financial statements and company background and gloss over the final few pages.

However, these News Reports can provide you with a link to the unseen material on exam day as well was an indication on what type of questions may come up.

The news reports shouldn’t be underestimated – here are my thoughts on three of the different articles/reports at the end of the Trevel Records pre seen document.

Fortuna Daily News “Summer Sandals”

The first news article emphasizes the importance of producing music that is seen to be timeless or lets say seasonal records.

Dwyre Colt who wrote and recorded (no involvement from Trevel Records) the song Summer Sandals is receiving around 500k a year from royalties from a song that first came out over 20 years ago, as radios play his song every summer and it’s seen as a summer anthem.

A couple of key points to consider here;

  • Do Trevel have a robust enough contract with their artists if they produce a timeless anthem. i.e. will the label benefit financially for ongoing royalties?
  • Should Trevel encourage their artists to produce and record Christmas songs or Holiday songs that could potentially be a lucrative long time earner?

Fortuna Business Daily – Live Music

It’s interesting to read that the global market for live music is worth $27bn while recorded music is only $21bn, especially considering the stance that Trevel has on generating income from their artists tour performances.

It appears that Trevel (and perhaps their competitors too), see their artists touring is in fact the best way to market and advertise the brand.

Here are a couple of quotes from page 14 of the pre-seen

Trevel actively encourages its acts to tour and perform live concerts, but does not require any royalties or share of the ticket sales if they do so.

And..

Trevel usually gives new artists a small financial contribution towards the costs of touring in order to encourage them to do so.

Given the fact that live music is worth so much and the fact Trevel’s revenue fell from 3249 to 3124m in 2019, could Trevel think about using their artists tours as an additional stream of revenue for the company?

Fortuna Daily News – Bankruptcy

The news that a successful musician has fallen into bankruptcy will perhaps show record labels in a negative light. Personally, my first thought would be that the record label took the lion shares of the profits and left the musician high and dry.

So the first impressions could paint record labels in a bad light.

So my previous point about Trevel Records trying to take additional revenue from artists touring will be harder than it seems due to the moral aspect around the whole issue of how the money is split in the music industry.

To turn this point on its head;

Trevel could use this article in a positive light and perhaps setup some kind of fund or charity for musicans that have fallen on hard times.

This could of positive publicity and corporate social responsibility initiative will help the image of Trevel and could see them stand above their competitors when it comes to attracting up and coming talent.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I find these articles at the end of the pre-seen a great way to start asking yourself some questions and preparing a few scenarios in your head about how Trevel can respond to specific challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Good Luck with your exam preparation!

CIMA OCS Feb 2020: Lottie Graphite

Pre-Seen Materials

The pre-seen materials for the February 2020 CIMA case study were released last week and I’ve had time to read through the materials and prepare my own SWOT analysis of the company.

You can find the official document from CIMA on your study planner here – it will require you CIMA ID and login.

Astranti Case Study Course: Lottie Graphite

I used Astranti to pass the OCS exam and would fully recommend their case study course with a particular focus on the mock exams and feedback.

FebOCS

SWOT Analysis: Lottie Graphite

A good place to start when faced with the pre-seen materials is to prepare a SWOT analysis, as the outcome will give you some focus areas when preparing for the OCS exam.

Below are some initial thoughts from me on the Lottie Graphite scenario.

Strengths: Strong Identity and Links to Community

Lottie Graphite is based in Gawland which has a high wage economy but despite this fact the majority of the 1000 employees are in Gawland. To quote the pre-seen;

“They believe the culture of the company is key to its success and that this would die if removed from its native and its dedicated workforce”

What’s more, there is also a mention that they run a public factory once a week.

This engagement with the local community will really create strong ties in the area and promote the brand as an open, welcoming and trusted company.

This compliments the fact that the company is a global player that manfactures over 300 hundred million pencils, yet they act like a local employer and remain highly visible in Gawland.

Weaknesses: Budgeting

The pre-seen often points to the company being open to change and very innovative in it’s thinking, as illustrated with the PEXECO pencil.

However, the finance department is still using dated methods like incremental budgeting with a top down approach with gives little motivation or incentive to the functional teams and management that carry out the day to day operations.

This method of budgeting is time saving and straightforward to produce but perhaps a move towards zero based budgeting or even beyond budgeting would a viable option given the profile of the company.

Involving the functional managers in budget setting and looking at the whole cost base from zero may take longer, but it the benefits would improve motivation within the team and potentially improve the Operating Profit Margin of 8.71% in 2019.

Opportunities: Feland Expansion

The clear opportunity I can see in the pre-seen is the expansion into the region of Feland, however countries within this region are becoming more developed and there is a demand for Lottie Pencils there.

It would be a great way for the company to try to really establish itself among the big five pencil manufacturers in the world.

Threats: Competitors

The competition in the industry is fierce as there are thousands of pencil manufacturers all over the world. But Lottie Graphite has established itself as a major player in the market with it’s focus on innovation and developing it’s strong brand.

Nevertheless, there are low barriers to entry in this market and the threat of competition will also be there. There was a concern with lower cost producers in the Far East, but fortunately for Lottie Graphite cheaper pencils produced there tend to have quality issues. But should those lower cost producers find a way to combat the quality issues, it could have be repercussions in the industry.

 

A final point to remember with the OCS exam is the fact you are playing the role of Finance Officer, where your role will be based around preparing the budgets, management accounts and providing analysis. You will not be expected to make or advise on strategic decisions.

Good Luck with your CIMA OCS exam preparation!

 

 

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