Category Archives: CIMA Exam Tips

10 CIMA Exam Revision Tips

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Learning the content of the CIMA syllabus provides it’s own challenges but if you can’t convert that knowledge into a pass mark on exam day then you will be in trouble.

Here are my top 10 (in no particular order) revision tips that will help you pass CIMA exams.

  • Have a peaceful study environment: this means no distractions, no TV, no Facebook and no music playing. Studying for 90 minutes in this environment will be much more beneficial than “studying” with the TV for the whole afternoon on the coach.

 

  • Create a revision plan: hardly rocket science, but by creating a revision plan it  gives you a structure a clear guide on what you need to cover. And don’t forget to include enough time for mock exams.

 

  • Study in the mornings: If I know I’m going to have a busy day, I’ll try to squeeze in an hour before work. Firstly, I am fresh and can concentrate better and secondly I am in much better mood for the rest of the day knowing I’ve already hit the books.

 

  • Study on the go: Take some revision notes with you on the commute to work, take some pictures of the key models and theories on your phone so you can refer to them at any time (doctors waiting room, on the bus etc). Being away from your desk is not an excuse not to study.

 

  • Take a break: probably one of the most under-rated things you can do. If you have a whole dedicated for revision, don’t forget to take a break for a couple of hours during the day. Go outside for a walk, for for lunch, talk to friends. Staring at your books for hours on end will have little benefit – take a break and your mind off CIMA once in a while.

 

  • Use the office to study: some people find there are too many distractions at home to study. Well, if you can, use the office as a place of study, study in your lunch breaks or after office hours – you could find you’re more disciplined when in the office environment. I’ve know colleagues who have taken the day off but come into the office to study for the day.

 

  • Mock Exams – lots of them!!: I mention it a lot on here, mock exams are vital if you want to pass CIMA exams, or any exams for that matter. Diving straight into mock exams will prepare you and highlight your weaknesses. Start taking them a few weeks before exam day and learn from them. Practice, practice, practice. Here is my advice on some of the best CIMA mock exam resources – while you can find my advice on how to pass CIMA objective tests here.

 

  • Be creative: use lots of different ways to revise for your CIMA exam. Use YouTube videos, make notes on A3 paper and stick to your wall, download podcasts, use post-it notes, buy the re-vision packs, start a study group. This is a great way to keep study fresh, interesting and give you a better chance to pass your exams.

 

  • Reward yourself: when you reach milestones in your revision plan (passing mock exams for example) you should reward yourself. Go out for a drink, order a pizza or take the next couple days off studying.

 

  • Learn exam technique: it’s easy to get bogged down in details and theories and forget about picking up the easy marks in exams. Learn exam technique and make sure you pick up the easy marks on offer (i.e. the report or email layout in the case study exams).

CIMA Students Success Stories

Tackling a professional accounting qualification is not a walk in the park. Whether you’re studying for ACCA or CIMA you will need to devote enough time and effort to be a successful student.

And with the February case study exams beginning next week here are some words of wisdom and tips on how to pass CIMA exams from fellow students.

All of the comments, quotes and stories were posted on the official CIMA connect website and can be found here.

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Operational Level

OCS Student – Evelina

How did the case study exam compare to what you had expected? 
I did several trial exams before the real exam and practiced a lot, therefore the format of questions in the real exam was as expected. Before the exam I learnt how to deal with the time pressure, so I managed to accomplish all tasks on time. I was also well familiar with the pre-seen material about the company which was very helpful. However, I need to admit that answering questions in the online environment and in the meantime taking notes on the notepad was quite unusual.

What is your winning formula?
Have a clear study plan and study frequently in order to build up knowledge and skills. This has to be done focusing on CIMA exam format and suggested ways of answering exam questions.

Can you offer some advice to other students?
My main advice for the students would be to spend time on CIMA frequently while ahead of exams not trying to put all learning in the last week before the exam. It is essential to do revision of the materials covered and practice questions a lot

P1 Student – Kristiyan

How did the OT exam compare to what you had expected? 
It was exactly what I expected. I was well prepared, so the only thing that surprised me was the Pearson VUE scratch “paper”. I lost a lot of time trying to scratch it… New people should be aware of that and plan their time and font accordingly.

What is your winning formula?
Learn -> Practice -> Learn from the mistakes -> Practice -> Practice -> Practice -> Pass the exam

Can you offer some advice to other students?
If you practice a lot of mock exams at home, you will feel the same relaxed way on the examination. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Management Level

MCS Student – Jacek

How did you prepare for the exam and which resources did you find most helpful?

I was using CIMA Official Exam Practice Kit published by Kaplan and I was satisfied with this material. It is logically written, concise and contains many relevant examples thereby allowing effective learning. I also tried to read more widely around key subjects with the focus on the industry from the pre-seen material. I used different publicly available industry reports and well-known business publications such as Financial Times and Harvard Business Review. I also took two practice exams delivered by Pearson VUE which really helped me to identify my weaknesses and practice time management. It is also worth to mention that I was relentlessly thinking about practical application of business models as it was far easier to fully understand the theory.

What is your winning formula?
WINNING FORMULA = STUDY PLAN + IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS PLAN. Unfortunately, it seems that there are no shortcuts. I strongly believe that organising appropriate amount of time is the most important success factor.

Can you offer some advice to other students?
Prepare a reasonable and feasible study plan and stick to it. Try to think about practical application of business models as it would be far easier to fully understand and apply the theory.

Strategic Level

SCS Student – Rebecca

Did you use a tuition provider?

Yes, I studied with Kaplan Financial throughout all exams.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Getting the balance between working full time and studying, not so much of a juggle for the final case study exam as the majority of my studying was done in the classroom, but travelling to Leeds from Hull every Saturday after 5 days of working was quite draining.

I made a study planner right at the start of tuition which I hung in my kitchen so I could see if I was achieving what I’d set myself to do. My employer is also very understanding when it comes to studying and offer paid study leave nearer the exam. Lots of sleep was helpful too!

What is your winning formula?
I always try to start (and stick to) a study plan as early on as possible, I think it’s much easier to make the links between the 3 subjects (F, P and E) later on in the studying, when completing past exam questions, if the basic understanding is there. I recommend visual aids for revision, mind maps, images and silly acronyms really help to implant the knowledge in my head. The sillier the better as I’m more likely to remember them!

 

 

Industry Analysis – Feb 2016 OCS, MCS and SCS

If you are looking to pass the CIMA Case Study exams first time then you need to have a firm grip on the latest industry analysis. And with just weeks (days in the case on the OCS) to go, these resources and videos below are an excellent source of information.

Industry Analysis – OCS Feb 2016: First Class Bakery

The February OCS exam is focused on the baking industry with a company called First Class Bakery. It was a small family run business that recently 80% of it’s equity shares to a larger company called Universal Foods Groups.

Below are some I’ve found on the baking industry, trends and what consumers are demanding. While there is also a preview video from Astranti on their Industry Analysis for the Feb OCS.

You can find the full astranti video at their website here

 

Feel free to add any additional links or comments in the box below.

Industry Analysis – MCS Feb 2016: Pizzatime

Meanwhile, the MCS students have been given the mouth watering company called Pizzatime. Their role in the exam is of a finance manager and will need to have a different approach than then OCS.

Pizzatime have over 970 restaurants but they started in 1969 when two brothers came up with a simple idea of opening a pizza restaurant. Now they have a whole army of restaurants in different countries. The Feb 2016 MCS exam has a focus on franchising, so with this in mind the first link below shows the 2016 industry trends for pizza restaurants.

Finally, Astranti have also produced a video on their suggested Industry Analysis for pizzatime and preview is available below. Could be crucial in gaining those extra marks to pass the upcoming CIMA exam.

You can find the full video at their website here

Industry Analysis – SCS Feb 2016: Rio

The students who will be taking the Feb 2016 SCS exam will be eager to get over the line and become CIMA qualified.

The exam is focused on a fashion retailer called Rio and your role in the exam will be to give insights on special projects and strategic matters as a senior finance manager. As well as brushing up on your theory and pre-seen material, familiarising yourself with the fashion retail industry itself will help you on exam day.

So here are a few links of Industry Analysis that make for interesting reading.

The below video is a preview of the industry analysis by the tutors at Astranti financial training.

You can find the full video at their website here

 

Good Luck!

CIMA Release 2015 Exam Success Rates

CIMA have officially released the 2015 exam pass rates and they make for interesting reading. Below is a screenshot of the results for the Case Study and Objective tests.

The official comments from CIMA executive director Dr Noel Tagoe of the pass rates under the new 2015 syllabus were of a positive tone

“Our new exam system has now been live for a year, and we are seeing students feel increasingly comfortable with it, and increasingly confident in preparing for the more flexible, on-demand tests. As a result, pass rates are either remaining steady or are becoming higher, which is great news for our thousands of students looking to progress through their exams as fast as possible”

Dr Noel Tagoe – CIMA executive director of education

The CIMA 2015 Syllabus change was a massive shift in terms of how each subject is examined. It was especially tough for those students who were part way through their studies and had to adapt and decided to sit a case study in the first sitting.

Case Study Results

I feel particularly sorry for the students who sat the OCS in August as only 34% of them passed the exam, which makes me wonder what the reason was. Especially considering that 64% of the students passed in the previous sitting.

Was it simply a tough exam? Or where the questions too vague and difficult to understand the requirements?

In that respect, I consider myself somewhat fortunate to have sat the OCS in November when perhaps they took on board some of the criticisms or feedback from August.

Another interesting point here is how many people passed the MCS (Management Case Study) with the last three sittings getting a 62%, 77% and 78% pass rate. Even the Strategic students had a really healthy pass rate of 70%, 67%, 62% in the same period.

What this could tell us is the fact that by time you reach you the MCS and SCS level you will have the necessary skills and experience to apply yourself well. It’s an interesting thought as I would expect the OCS pass rates to be the highest.

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Objective Tests

Personally, I’ve yet to sit an objective test under the 2015 syllabus so I was really interested to see how people get on during 2015.

However, there was nothing really surprising that stood out. The E1, E2 and E3 exams are generally well passed. But the difficulties usually come with trying to pass the Financial Reporting or Performance Management papers.

I am slightly concerned about the pass rate for the P2 and F2 papers – both of which I will tackling in the next six months – only 44% of students passed P2 first time while 47% of students managed to pass F2 first time. So that’s less than a 50% chance of passing my next exams first. <— this reinforces the fact I feel that I will need to work extra hard to pass these papers at the first attempt.

Nevertheless, there was some intriguing reaction on the CIMA group on LinkedIn <— well worth joining if you are not a member already.

The general consensus being that the available exam materials for the objective tests are quite poor and can contain mistakes.

Students are also questioning the amount of time they have to complete the objective tests. Although there was some praise for the BPP materials and CIMA Aptitude materials for the objective tests – so this is worth bearing in mind you are preparing for exam any time soon.

You can find the full list of CIMA 2015 Exam Pass Rates here.

 

The CIMA Examiners Report

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One of the most under-rated documents produced by CIMA is the official Examiners Report that is available shortly after the case study exams.

The CIMA examiners report can be used in two different ways.

Firstly, a couple of weeks before you sit any case study I would suggest digging out the report for the previous sitting.

Even though you might think it’s not relevant as it relates to an old case study, the information you can pick up from the examiners report could prove to be the difference between as a pass and a failure.

The main reason I suggest you read the examiners report is that IT’S VITAL INFORMATION THAT HAS COME DIRECTLY FROM THE EXAMINER – it’s free information that CIMA provide and is there to guide students in not repeating the mistakes from previous students.

November 2015 OCS Examiners Report

CIMA released the report for the operational case study from November 2015 and here are the key points made by the examiner. Take notice if you want to understand how to pass CIMA case studies.

  • Overall performance was much better than August sitting (where only 1 in 3 passed).
  • There didn’t appear to be any signs of time pressure from students.
  • Some candidates are wasting time with formatting, report headings and unnecessary introductions comments such as;

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help address your problems, it is my pleasure to help you. Was it July when I produced that cash flow forecast? It seems only yesterday… how time flies”. <—- Whilst the integrated case study is designed to represent a real life work situation, these sorts of comments waste time and score no marks.

  • Many candidate answers would be improved if they added “because of ….” at the end of a sentence to explain their responses.
  • Many candidates used adjectives such as “crucial”, “vital“,“very important“, when asked for benefits or advantages but failed to explain why.
  • Similarly when commenting on variances it is not enough to say that “it is adverse therefore we must have spent more”. To score well the answers must give possible reasons why this is the case. 
  • Candidates struggled applying knowledge from P1 and F1.

I find that the first page of the CIMA examiners report is the most crucial – this is where you will find general feedback from the examiner rather than the specific details of each variant and how they were marked.

So you don’t even need to read the FULL report if you’re struggling for time, the first page is where the most useful comments are.

Post-Exam Reflection

However, as well as using the report to prepare for your case study exam, I believe it’s a useful tool for reflection as well.

The full report includes a breakdown for each variant and goes question by question explaining what was answered well and what areas needed more attention.

I would suggest using the exam paper, suggested answers and examiners report together so you can read through the questions, model answers and the examiners thoughts on how it was answered in reality.

It’s a great way to analyse your performance and identify any weaknesses. This is especially crucial if you are re-sitting the case study in the next sitting.

All of the previous examiners reports are available from the CIMA connect website.

CIMA Mock Exam Resources

The key to passing any CIMA exam is to master the mock exams before you sit the real thing. It’s no use accumulating all of the theory behind the exam if you haven’t taken several mock exams in the lead up to exam day.

This statement rings true for the objective tests and case study exams.

You must really push yourself to take mock exams in test conditions so you are well prepared on the day.

CIMA Case Study Mock Exams

The case study exams require a range of knowledge and skills and none more so than being able to digest the unseen material in the exam and answering the questions in the time available.

Here is a short overview of the FREE case study exam resources.

  • CIMA offer exam practice direct with Pearson VUE here.
  • Astranti offer a FREE mini-mock case study exam that takes 90 minutes to complete and replicates the real scenario you will be facing (see picture below).

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If you have any additional resources please mention in the comments below for other students to follow.

Tutor Feedback and Exam Marking

The free resources offer a good starting point but I found, when passing the OCS exam in November 2015, that the feedback from a CIMA expert tutor was invaluable and ensured I had an impartial view (and detailed feedback) when marking my mock exams.

Here are the steps I took when sitting the OCS.

  • I refreshed my knowledge on the syllabus areas that would examined. Ensuring I was comfortable with the key models from P1, E1 and F1.
  • I took the three Astranti Mock Exams with tutor feedback that are based on the actual pre-seen material you will be using the exam.
  • A week after sending my mock exam answers to Astranti I received a fully marked document with 9 pages of feedback (see sample below).
  • It’s a brilliant way to identify your weaknesses as well as gaining confidence you are on the right track. In fact one of the questions in the mock exam actually came in my OCS variant in November.

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If you want to follow the same path you can find the Astranti resources below.

Operational Case Study: OCS Mock Exams

Management Case Study: MCS Mock Exams

Strategic Case Study: SCS Mock Exams

*objective mock exam resources will be posted later in the year once I have some experience with taking the exams under the 2015 syllabus.

Integrating Work Experiences and CIMA

Finding different techniques to revise for exams can be difficult. Trying to recall pages and pages of notes and study text in the exam isn’t ideal.

So speaking as an older CIMA student (over 30) it makes sense to try to think about the practical experience you have gained and apply to your CIMA studies on exam day.

Trying to remember the various IFRS’s and IAS’s is nearly impossible; however, I’ve found it very helpful to think about the day job and the tasks I am performing when faced with a question or topic I am unsure of. Thinking about my practical experiences in the office sets off a trigger that allows me to answer the question or recall information I need.

I’ll give you a great example of this.

I was revising for a case study exam earlier this year and had four or five accounting standards that I thought could come up on exam day. In particular, was the one on exchange rate gain and loss.

IAS21 – The Effects of Changes in Foreign Exchange Rates

IAS21

You can see from extract above the official documentation on IAS21 (in fact ALL of the accounting standards) are very dry and formal. And it’s a time consuming process to go through it over and over again so you understand the purpose of the standard, put it into your words and apply it correctly.

Relate it to Work Experience

Instead, I relate the accounting standard to my actual work experience as a general ledger accountant.

Every month end we ran the foreign currency revaluation on the open AR/AP items and any exchange rate differences were posted to the income statement as a gain or loss.

For example: Receivables Ledger issued in $

Jan 2001 – AR Invoice             $1650         1.61        £1025

Feb 2001 – AR invoice            $1650         1.68       £982

The $ invoice was issued in January when the exchange rate was 1.61, however in February the exchange rate went up to 1.68. The $ is still open but it’s now only worth £982 when translated to the companies reporting currency, so the difference needs to be posted to the income statement in February period as a cost.

Debit – Unrealised gain/loss expense account  £43

Credit – Receivables  $43

This gave me a much better understanding of IAS 21 as I was responsible for posting this transaction in the monthly accounts.

It also enabled me to explain the standard in simple and practical terms. Vice versa, when reading the full accounting standard I had a clearer picture of it’s purpose and was able to understand the more complex or long winded elements of IAS 21.

So when I was ready to sit the case study I knew if a question came up on the effects of exchange rates and how to treat I immediately knew IAS 21, the theory behind and how to practically apply it.

Next time when you’re struggling to remember key models and accounting standards try and relate to your day job and you might find things become much clearer!

Peaking at the right time

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I’ve sat many exams with varying degrees of success. I’ve gone into exam halls knowing I will fail the exam before I even sat it while other exams I’ve left knowing I’ve breezed it.

You should be looking to peak at the right time and put the hours of study in that will give you belief and confidence to pass. As you can see from my progress, I passed E1 with 59% and just scraped past F1 with exactly 50%.

So I was worried heading into the OCS that I really needed to knuckle down if I was to pass, especially considering I was exempt from P1 due to the transition from the 2010 to 2015 syllabus.

However, I passed the OCS with a score of 102 out of 150 and believe it was down to peaking at the right time. I felt confident entering and LEAVING the exam hall.

In my opinion, there are several key areas you need to balance out and consider to achieve good marks – if you can manage these factors well than you’re well on the way to a good mark.

1. Study Plan – before you get the books out you need to create a realistic study plan. And by realistic I mean allowing enough time to cover the whole syllabus, mock exams and enough time to have a break away from the books. Studying 3-4 hours a night, every night will lead to a meltdown. I also tend to allow a bit of slack as I never stick 100% too it.

2. Vary Your Study – just making pages and pages of notes on the theory will probably lead to a fail, especially in the case study. You need to vary how and what you study. I usually make some notes and illustrations of the key models on A3 paper and stick on my walls in the spare room. Also use YouTube videos, pod casts and forums to discuss the key topics and any problems you have.

3. Exam Practice – I find it a real struggle to do proper exam practice. But if you practice mock exam after mock exam (4-5 weeks before actual exam) you will know what you need to brush up as well having plenty of practice for exam day. If finances are a problem there are plenty of free questions on the CIMA website as well as free mini-mock exams from Astranti.

4. Healthy Body = Healthy Mind – I’m not suggesting you train for a marathon but going for a run is a great way of clearing the mind and feeling refreshed. Sometimes taking your eyes off the text books for an hour or two and doing something else (run, jog, walk) is a great way take a break and put you in a positive frame of mind.

Exam Preparation

Preparing for the exam and exam day is vital in my opinion.

Once you have covered the whole syllabus, you should concentrate on taking mock exam after mock exam to highlight your weaknesses and practice your exam technique.

Personally, on the week of the exam I prefer to do very little work.
No mock exams, just some revision on the key models, scenarios and theories.

And maybe answer a few light questions or even try to relate the subject to anything that is currently happening in the news (tax evasion, marketing etc.)

Finally, the day or two before the exam I will check the examiners report for the previous sitting and see what previous candidates did badly and try not to fall into the same trap.

All of these points are common sense when you think about it. It’s just about finding the time and discipline to stick them all.

CIMA Exams – one at a time?

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The new CIMA 2015 syllabus, in my eyes, has changed dramatically when you consider the examination structure. The objective tests can be scheduled at any time and have been reduced to 90 minutes with several smaller questions covering the whole syllabus.

It’s a welcome relief not to have face the 180 minutes hand written exams for each subject area, however, the new case study exams at the end of each level are as broad as they are challenging. Trying to revise for all three subjects and apply it to the pre-seen material is definitely a big, big challenge.

Personally, I have yet to sit one of the new operational exams in the 2015 syllabus and I am thinking about the path I will take next.

The exams for the 2010 syllabus were scheduled at certain times during the year, which usually meant students (myself included) would study for two papers at a time.

  1. To add variety to your studies
  2. To make the most of the exam timetable

However, the new syllabus means you can sit the exams any time you want. Well, the case study exams have set times but you can sit the objective tests whenever and, what’s even better, is the fact you get the results there and then!

Meaning, if you  fail an objective test you can re-take it the following week or month, ensuring you don’t lose too much ground when waiting for your next exam.

Nevertheless, it’s given me a bit of a problem when considering the approach to study for the CIMA objective tests. Do I just focus on one exam at a time, or do I attempt to sit two or three at a time?

There is an interesting article on the CIMA website that highlights the pros and cons of either approach. You can find the document here and it’s well worth a read.

The main points worth considering are the impact on the case study when deciding what path to take on the objective tests. If you take just one exam at a time “You may need to refresh your knowledge before taking the case study“.

Alternatively, by taking three subjects together (or two) “You will see clear links between each subject to prepare for the upcoming case study

Currently, I am swaying towards studying for one objective test at a time so I can focus my attentions on the one subject and ensure I pass first time. Also, by focusing on one subject at a time I should be in a position to take the exam quicker – perhaps in a two month period? Meaning I won’t have such a long gap between papers and ultimately the case study.

I guess it’s all down to personal preference but the 2015 CIMA syllabus is certainly much more flexible than ever before.

 

 

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