The Final Step: Passing the CIMA SCS!

Well, that’s it!

SCSResult

I passed the CIMA SCS exam with a score of 108 and I’m absolutely relived, delighted and exhausted at the same time. The mental stress over the last few weeks waiting for the result was almost as draining as the exam itself.

I got the result last week but wanted a few days to digest it and look back over my journey CIMA now I have reached the end.

Here are my thoughts on passing the SCS exam;

Think Practical, Not Theoretical

The case study exams are a chance for you to show off your business acumen and real world thinking, it’s a not time for you to spout off the finer points of the CIMA syllabus. Which is a great way to pick up marks if you are struggling to recall the theory and models behind a question.

Be practical in your answers, have you recognised the issue? Have you addressed and have you explained your reasoning with links to pre-seen and/or industry news.

Immerse Yourself in the scenario

It might sound borderline obsessive, but I was preparing for my exam every day for pretty much the whole six weeks. However, that doesn’t mean I was stuck to my desk with notes and reams of paper.

I would read the latest industry news on my mobile when on my commute to work, I would think about real industry issues while pushing the pram around the block. I would try to recall my SWOT analysis and Zoom company issues when on my lunch break at work.

It was on my mind a lot as I knew it was the final CIMA, the last push.

The motivation for this exam is the highest you will experience, so I found I wanted to study and prepare of the exam pretty much with any spare time I had!

I also felt quite lucky that the scenario was effectively about Uber! So it felt very relevant and it is industry I was interested in anyhow.

Planning and Structure

When it comes to exam day, the importance of planning your answer and being structured and pragmatic cannot be understated.

The SCS (under the 2015 syllabus) is always split into three sections, one hour each with the last section usually split into four separate sub questions of different nature, almost like a quick fire round.

So be aware of how many points you need to make for each requirement, balance out your advantages and disadvantages. It’s all common sense stuff but when the 3 hours starts ticking down on the exam clock, pressure can do funny things to a person.

Just remember to answer the requirements and ensure you capture the maximum amount of marks for each requirement. Practice this in your preparation and it will become second nature.

CIMA SCS Resources

Alongside the SCS Course from Astranti, I found myself using the Kaplan Knowledge Bank to refresh my memory and also the post exam kits from previous SCS exams to dig into past exam questions as well as the essential examiners guidance.

SCSCourse                                2019-10-07 13_29_08-Start

 

CIMA MCS Nov 2019: GSC

The November 2019 MCS case study is based around a sportswear company called GSC, it specially designs, markets and sells high performance sportswear in a country with a highly developed economy.

Remember, MCS students, your role is similar to finance manager and you will be reporting directly to the Finance Controller of GSC.

I have looked through the pre-seen and applied the porters five forces model to GSC.

Pre-Seen Materials

CIMA released the pre-seen materials for November 2019 MCS case study, you can find the official pre seen document from CIMA here. 

*note you will need to be logged into CIMA connect to access the pre-seen materials.

Porter’s Five Forces

Analysing and understanding the industry conditions GSC operations will aid the strategic decision making process, so I’d thought I would look at these five forces in the context and GSC and how it can potentially be applied on exam day.

I wrote about this E2 model some time ago on the blog, you can read more about it here.

Competitive Rivalry – HIGH

It’s clear the competitive rivalry in the sportswear industry is high, there are hundreds of brands to compete with and an ever changing consumer preference on the sportswear they want to wear.

This makes the increased revenue growth year-on-year that GSC has shown since 2015 very impressive and paints a picture of a well run and ambitious company.

An important point to note from the pre-seen is that;

……. GSC positions itself as a differentiated, high-quality and high-performance sportswear provider and, therefore, considers primarily the activities of other organisations that position themselves similarly, when performing competitor analysis, rather than focusing on the activities of the low-price, fashion-orientated retailers…..

Threat of New Entrants – HIGH

It’s relatively easy for a new competitor to enter the market, there are no high barriers to entry and the competition can range far and high. Whether it’s a specialist sports footwear company that is starting or a new clothing range. The threat will always be high and this can be illustrated by the sheer volume on competitors on GSC’s plate.

Nevertheless, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the constant threat of competition can encourage innovation and will act as catalyst to keep pushing GSC and the other market leaders forward.

Buyer Power – MEDIUM

I was tempted to put high here, as in reality is there nothing fundamentally to stop consumers switching from GSC to other brands. However, in terms of my own buyer habits I tend to find I am quite loyal to these kind of brands and it appears that GSC already have a strong repuatation with the 18-35 year olds and are developing their presence on social media to also establish there connection with the 13-17 year old range as well.

So I believe there is an element of customer loyalty here that will keep alot GSC customers coming back to the brand.

Supplier Power – LOW

GSC require specialist fabric materials for their sportswear and this is mainly sourced from Asia and Latin America, but the fact GSC have 6 main suppliers mean that the power they wield is relatively low (in my opinion).

If one supplier decides to up their prices for fabric, then GSC will have alternative providers they look towards to negate this potential increase in cost.

…..In 2019, nearly 75% of the fabric used in GSC’s products was sourced from six specialist fabric suppliers…..

Substitute Products – LOW

As GSC have pursued the strategy of differentiation, then there will be very few products that can be considered a substitute for these high performance sportswear items.

If the consumer needs a durable, high performance sports/footwear then the products that GSC produce will be in demand without the threat of a potential substitute product.

SUMMARY

All in all, the main industry challenges that GSC will face will be competition from other brands and companies and the fact anyone can start a sportswear company without significant barriers. They also need to maintain consumer loyalty and the fact they are looking towards the 13-17 year old market through social media is a great way to attract customers and get them buying into the brand at a young age.

As I mentioned, the high competition can be used as positive as it will keep GSC on their toes and make sure they keep bringing innovative products to market.

Astranti Case Study Course

The Astranti MCS course for the GSC case study is packed full of videos and analysis on the pre-seen materials and what might come up on exam day, but the mock exams with detailed and honest feedback will be a great help in passing the MCS exam.

MCSOffer

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

MCScourse

 

CIMA OCS Nov 2019: Chokolate Box

The November 2019 Operational case study pre-seen materials were released and the students tackling the exam will be facing the “Chokolate Box” scenario.

Pre-Seen Materials

It seems to have been a bit of mystery where and how to find the pre-seen materials released by CIMA, but they have actually reverted back to the CIMA Connect site.

With that in mind you can find the official pre-seen materials for Chokolate Box.

Dark Chocolate Opportunities

The news articles at the end of the pre-seen materials are usually a good indicator of what type of questions or areas the case study will take on exam day.

And there are a couple of pointers that suggest while dark chocolate has been booming in recent years, a new trend among consumers is developing on “all natural” products and the additional health benefits they bring;

Below is an extract from Page 14 of the pre-seen;

……Dark chocolate has performed well over the last few years due to its ability to meet consumer demand for a healthier but indulgent treat. However, growth in dark chocolate sales volume is expected to slow in future.

Instead, the rejection of artificial ingredients and the demand for ‘all natural’ products by consumers, has resulted in strong growth for raw chocolate confectionery….. 

The above statement ties in with the Health Food Weekly article at the end of the pre-seen that suggests preserving the cocoa flavanols in the production process make dark chocolate an even healthier treat that help lower blood pressure and possible lower the risk of diabetes.

Below is an extract from Page 25 of the pre-seen;

….there are a small number of specialist products on the market which have been made using a process which preserves the cocoa flavanols, however these products are expensive and generally not available in high street shops…

Chokolate Box Opportunities

This would suggest that Chokolate Box might pursue opportunities to use their own production facilities to preserve the cocoa flavanols and develop a more natural product that isn’t widely available to meet consumer demand.

What does this mean for OCS students?

Well, you might asked to comment on the costing of a new product line and the disadvantages and advantages of different costing methods.

Perhaps TQM total quality management will be a subject that is discussed if Chokolate Box are deemed a premium brand.

The staff at CSSC tuition put together this article for me on Hot Topics for the CIMA OCS exam which is well worth a read for those taking the Chokolate Box exam in November.

Industry News

It was a case of perfect timing when I was reading the news and looking at the OCS pre-seen materials, as this article on how Nestle are launching a luxury range of bespoke KitKat flavours that will cost 14 GBP per bar is an interesting reminder of how brands are looking to diversify their range and take a share of the luxury premium market that Chokolate Box are operating in.

It also suggests that there is significant demand for luxury chocolate.

I would suggest to read the article and think of how you can relate it to the Chokolate Box scenario, what would happen if one of their rivals were to do the same. Or perhaps it’s a option that Chokolate Box could pursue themselves.

Case Study Courses

NovOCS

I’ve used Astranti to great effect when passing the OCS and MCS CIMA exams, below is a 30 minute preview of the Astranti pre-seen analysis for Chokolate Box that you can expect with their full course.

CIMA 2019 Syllabus

Planning for the CIMA Syllabus Change

Are you ready?

The updated CIMA syllabus for 2019 comes into effect from the 4th November 2019, which means students sitting objective tests from that date onward will be tested on the new 2019 syllabus which is geared towards finance in a digital age.

However, the first set of CIMA case study exams to be examined under the new syllabus won’t be until February 2020. 

But fear not for those students who do FAIL a November 2019 case study under the old 2015 syllabus as you will still get one chance to pass the next case study sitting in February 2020 under the 2015 syllabus.

By now, hopefully all students are aware of the transition arrangements you could be facing and how best to approach them to ensure you do not waste any time with your studies.

Transition Tool

If not, CIMA have this excellent transition tool that will help you plan your path to becoming qualified under the new 2019 syllabus.

The CIMA 2019 Syllabus

The qualification structure itself has not changed, there are still the three pillars (enterprise, performance and financial) and there are still case study exams to be completed at each level (operational, management and strategic).

It’s only a change in terms of content with a focus on Finance in a Digital World, it stems from a shift in the mindset that management accountants are simply not just cost controllers but should be creating value and leading the transformation in business.

This below video from CIMA sums it up nicely.

Operational Level

2019OP

The biggest changes here are with the E1 paper that has practically been overhauled with a shift lots of new content “Managing Finance in a Digital World”.

In the 2015 syllabus, CIMA looked at other departments like HR and marketing but now it’s been replaced with how finance interacts with the organisation (point E below).

Meanwhile, P1 looks the same in terms of the structure however, more subtle content has been added like big data analytics and spreadsheet modelling, which reflects the current trends in industry.

Students studying F1 in the new syllabus will be pleased to hear that Group Accounts have been moved into the F2 paper, while the only addition to the syllabus is IFRS 17 Leases.

Management Level

2019M

E2 has shifted it’s focus from Project Management to Managing Performance, there is a new section on this paper focused on business models and value creation. While the human aspects of the old 2015 paper now look towards managing people and projects.

P2 Advanced Management Accounting remains the same in name as the 2015 syllabus but there is now a bigger focus on activity based management and responsibility centres while areas like the learning curve and budgeting have been reduced.

Finally, F2 sees a new topic “D. Integrated Reporting”. The subject of group disposals have been removed, although this is replaced by the former F1 topic of group accounts. The accounting standards that are examinable have also been updated, i.e. IFRS 15 Revenue from contracts are now included.

Strategic Level

2019S

The main shift from the 2015 to the 2019 syllabus with E3 strategic management paper is role of information systems has been replaced with digital strategy and how technology has impacted the strategic process.

P3 has seen the old subjects like cash flow risk, currency risk, interest rate risk and hedging techniques moved to the new F3 paper. While the 2019 syllabus for P3 contains the new subject of “cyber risks”.

As mentioned, F3 now contains more content on cash flow and currency risk while the old content in 2015 now has a digital focus and the strategic applications of financial accounting.

Key Points

  • The exam formats remain the same.
  • The new objective tests start on 4th November 2019.
  • The new case study exams start from February 2020.
  • If you fail a November 2019 case study exam, you can re-take it in February 2020 under the old 2015 syllabus.
  • The transition tool from the 2015 syllabus to the 2019 syllabus can be found here.
  • CIMA does not expect any significant change in pass rates, the 2019 exams will not be “tougher”.

For can find further information on the CIMA 2019 syllabus direct from CIMA here.

CIMA Case Studies: November 2019

It feels like the CIMA August case studies have just finished and here we are considering the next cycle of exams.

Having just sat the SCS exam a couple of weeks back myself, I felt that my preparation BEFORE the pre-seen analysis was released really helped me hit the ground running for the 6 week’s of work ahead.

The November pre-seen materials release dates are;

  • OCS – 20th September 2019
  • MCS – 27th September 2019
  • SCS – 4th October 2019

*at the time of posting this blog post, OCS students still have over two weeks to look back at the post exam kits and practice some questions.

Here is what I did and why;

CIMA Post Exam Kits

I had two weeks before my pre-seen materials were released and I spent this time looking back at previous exam kits and attempting some of the real exam questions students faced.

You might think, well why I do I want to learn and attempt questions on a scenario that I won’t be facing in November? IT’S ALL ABOUT PRACTICE! Honing your writing skills and being able to put together a balanced answer with enough depth.

The scenario is irrelevant at this stage.

You can find the all of the CIMA case study post exam kits on the CIMA connect site, for example here the kit for the 2015 Operational Case Study.  (do a google search if you are struggling to find them for the MCS or SCS).

Read through the pre-seen materials of the scenario and make a few notes on it. Then throw yourself in at the deep end, attempt one or two of the questions from the actual exam and use the pre-seen as a reference.

In total you have five variants of the exam, so there are plenty of different questions available for you to practice on – all free materials!

Attempt one question each day before your pre-seen is released and you’ll see an immediate improvement in your technique, answer planning and ability to produce a balanced answer.

What’s more you have the examiners feedback document in these exam kits which tell you directly what the examiner is looking for and what mistakes to avoid.

November CIMA Case Study Planning

Each tuition provider will have a schedule or timetable that you are advised to follow, but nevertheless an efficient plan should look something like this.

This is based on the November 2019 operational case study with the yellow dates indicating when the pre-seen is released and the exam week starts, but the structure is the same for MCS and SCS (just one or two weeks ahead of the OCS).

You have six weeks from pre-seen release to prepare for your case study.

Nov19 Case Study

A plan is meant to be flexible, so some of these topics will be mixed together.

For example, your pre-seen and industry analysis is not meant just for Week 1, it’s more than likely you will also cover this during the later weeks when you are revising and reviewing feedback from your mock exam attempts.

November 2019 Case Study Courses

I have used the Astranti case study courses for all three of my case study exams to date.

 

2019-06-17 16_39_30-Astranti_ CIMA Operational Case Study Courses - Internet Explorer

Pre-seen materials released 20th September 2019

Pre-seen materials released 27th September 2019

Pre-seen materials released on 4th October 2019

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 (the keys to passing and revision masterclass)
3 x Full Mock Exams (based on Aug 19 scenario)
Detailed marking and feedback
Ethics Pack
Pass Guarantee

CIMA PER: Evidence Required

2018-04-24 10_54_55-Updated-PER-guidance16pp.pdf

This is the third and hopefully final blog post on the CIMA PER.

The reason I am writing this entry is down to the feedback I received from CIMA when submitting my application for assessment.

Before I get into that, here are links to my previous blog posts on the CIMA PER.

CIMA PER: Practical Experience Requirements

CIMA PER: A hands on guide!

In my hands on guide linked above, I gave an example on the evidence I provided to support one of the competencies.

However, the description I gave was too vague and not in the right format.

Thankfully, the good guys at CIMA Membership Applications sent by PER back to me before it went for official assessment and requested I fill in each competency with the below in mind;

CIMA Membership Applications Feedback

*This extract was taken direct from an email sent to me on 13th June 2019.

“…. having had a look through your application I recommend that you provide more detail to evidence your competencies, the descriptions provided are often very brief and unlikely to provide the assessors with enough information to make an informed decision.

When writing your evidence think of the context of the competency and about adding depth to your narratives by detailing exactly what you have done that evidences the competency, how you went about it, how often you were doing it, what the outcomes were etc.

Please ensure that you write in the first person, so that it’s clear you’re talking about what you’ve done yourself.

Simple statements that just reflect the actual competency don’t really evidence the necessary experience has been gained.

No single competency is identical to another, so each narrative should be solely focused on evidencing that particular competency.

Please refrain from using bullet points and ensure you provide full explanations on how you have satisfied each competency category chosen.

As a guideline;

For each Foundational competencies listed you should aim to write between 200-250 words for each individual competency.

For competencies at Intermediate level and above you should be aiming to write between 250-500 words per competency.

Depending on the competency level you have chosen will determine the level of detail you should write.

For instance, If you have a competency level which is “Expert” our assessors will expect more detail to be included in comparison to a competency which is at “Foundation” level.

As general guidance, before you resubmit your online application please consider the following:

– Have I written in first person? Have you explained your personal contribution on how you have satisfied each competency. A lot times applicants can make the mistake of advising what their team does as opposed to what they personally do.

– Have I provided enough detail? It is imperative that you not only explain what you have done but how it has been done. Our assessors a lot of times can defer an application because the applicant has not explained how they satisfied the competency category chosen .

– Have I ensured each competency listed is unique? Our assessors cannot assess an application if the applicant has duplicated information across competencies.

I’ve put your application back to you to add more detail. Please note: any verified competencies that you edit will become unverified and need verifying again.

2018-04-23 15_57_22-Updated-PER-guidance16pp.pdf

My First Submission (returned to me);

As part of the robotic process automation, my team suggested an improvement to automate the intercompany invoice process.

However, to achieve maximum efficiency with this RPA idea, I lead workshops to bring other teams within finance in line with our process for issuing inter company invoices.

This involved me;

– hosting meetings with all countries to present RPA idea and current process for issuing invoices.

– Work with RPA team to ensure they have all required information regarding process automation for intercompany invoice process.

– Help support other finance teams with implementation of standard process so they could also adopt the RPA solution.

– Write SOP and documentation on standard to ensure there is sufficient support and backup for the process.

My Second Submission (sent on for assessment);

Outside of the monthly reporting periods, I have a strong focus on process improvement initiatives (also encouraging my team members to contribute with how we can improve our daily work activities).

One of the main areas of my focus has been the standardization and improvement of the intercompany recharge process.

Previously, all teams within our department followed a different process and flow on issuing internal invoices. I identified that we had a best in class process, as we have a clear reconciliation of all costs to be recharged, smooth process on issuing the invoice and the final invoice is delivered to the counterpart with a clear set of supporting documentation.

With this in mind, I presented our process to other teams with the aim of standarding the processing across all of the other teams/regions.

In order to overcome the resistance presented by some of my colleagues, I told them how much time this saved us and how easy it was for the accountants to reconcile their costs to be recharged.

I also attended meetings with our in-house RPA (Robot Process Automation) team and explained to them the part of the process, which is very repetitive (data entry to raise invoice and sending final invoice, documentation to counterpart) so this could be performed by the robot and give the accountant more time to spend on value added activities like analysis.

I was also required to spend additional time one on one with other Team Leaders to go through the specifics of the process we have, so they can adopt within their team.

Final Thoughts

You can see a clear difference between the two statements.

In hindsight I had rushed my first application just to get submitted and out of the way, but you need to take time and ensure you support the competency you are documenting.

Get it right first time and add the sufficient depth to your PER to avoid it being returned!

*I’ll confirm on this blog post once I have it all approved and final.

The CIMA Case Study: Last Minute Advice

Studying for the CIMA Case Studies require a completely different approach from the objective tests. I also find there is also added weight of pressure and expectation that comes with a case study exam.

It’s a milestone.
It’s three hours long and you will have write somewhere between 3000-4500 words.
No select all that apply (thank god).
No flag for review.

You get the picture.

The Case Study Countdown

With the SCS exam in my sight, I feel like a boxer in a training camp for a big title fight. I have the experience of the previous two case study exams, not to mention the countless objective tests to date.

But this is the big one.

Potentially the final CIMA exam I will take.

The preparation also mirrors that of a boxer entering a training camp, once the opponent (Zoom) has been announced (pre-seen materials released) there is an intense six week training camp.

And much like a boxer, I am trying to peak at the right time with my preparation of pre-seen analysis, question practice and finally leading up to the fully marked 3 hour practice mock exams.

That would my advice to anyone CIMA student sitting a case study, the preparation is all about doing the right things at the right time, gradually build yourself up until you are confident enough to tackle a full mock exam in exam conditions.

As I have just entered the final two weeks before my exam on August 20th and I feel confident at this stage, well in terms of my preparation.

It all seems to be falling into place – at the moment I feel calm.
This can and probably will change as the final few days tick down.

Be Practical and PLAN!!

With this in mind, I thought I would share my TWO top tips on how to handle your case study exam.

Be Practical Rather than Technical

A case study answer that goes in depth on technical detail will score lower than a hands on practical answer.

And you should use this to your advantage, if you are struggling to refer back to the technical side of the syllabus then you should think practically.

DON’T PANIC!

When planning your answer, think;

How I do answer this in terms of the scenario?
Give practical advice on the situation.
Avoid general wishy washy statements.
Backup your thoughts with reasons how and why.

Plan your Answer

I spend around 20% of my time at the beginning of each section planning my answer. Firstly, identify the requirements and calculate how many marks I need to score.

A 60 minute question equates to 30-33 marks, so assuming your score 2 marks for every valid point made, you’ll need to make about 16 valid points in that 60 minute question.

A 60 minute question will usually have 4 sub questions inside the task, meaning I’d need to make approx. 4 valid points for each sub question.

If it has 3 sub questions I would make between 5-6 points on each.

Then I make headings for each point I want to make that directly fulfills the requirement. During that time I also add some brief notes under the heading of where I want to refer back to specifics in pre-seen, industry examples or technical content.

With the remaining 75-80% time left, then only I begin to type out my full answer.

Student Advice

Finally, here is some advice from I gathered from twitter on how to tackle your next CIMA case study exam;

 

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