ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide
ACCA PM Examiners’ Guide

At Fundamentals level you need to demonstrate a good understanding of the main areas of financial and management accounting. To do this you must demonstrate to the examiner that you have mastered the technical skills of accountancy.

This guide summarises the key issues that examiners have highlighted in recent reports. In particular, it identifies the areas where students have performed poorly and where future students need to give more focus.

We strongly recommend that you take heed of this information as it comes from the people who will decide whether you pass or fail!

Find the full list of Examiners’ Reports on the ACCA website here: ACCA PM Examiners’ Reports


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1.   Apply your answer to the scenario

Being able to do well in the exam does not only mean learning core syllabus topics but being able to apply this knowledge to the scenario within the question.

Students are expected to use specific details on the case within the question and comment using the relevant theory/knowledge to back up their points.

This is what examiners had to say about recent candidates’ performance in this area:

“Textbooks all give examples of suitable goals and performance measures for the Balanced Scorecard, but a key requirement of this type of question is application to the scenario.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“Many candidates did not apply the information given in the scenario to their answers in the written sections, and tried to rely on knowledge alone. Application of knowledge to the scenario is a vital skill, and will be tested throughout the ACCA syllabus.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide

“Section A questions aim to provide a broad coverage of the syllabus, and future candidates should aim to revise all areas of the F5 syllabus, rather than attempting to question spot.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – September 2015

Remember, it is absolutely vital that you demonstrate to the examiner that you have linked the scenario into your answer. Don’t simply write down everything you know about the subject. It is far more important to refer only to the relevant theory and state specifically how it relates to the scenario.

The best way to get into the habit of doing this correctly is through practise. You should aim to complete at least 3 full past exam papers under examination conditions before your final exam in order to ensure you make these links effectively.

2. Answer the requirements

A large number of comments in the examiners’ reports refer to the tendency of some candidates to misinterpret, misread or misunderstand what a question asks. This is the case in both written questions and multiple choice.

Many students dive into an answer before they have read the question carefully. If you attempt to answer a question which is just slightly different from the one on which the marking guide is based, you can end up scoring no marks at all. Doing that just once in your exam could easily be the difference between passing and failing!

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“The biggest oversight was that the requirement asked for ROI, based on average capital employed. Many candidates missed this and calculated the ROI based on the closing capital employed. Whilst they would still pick up marks for their workings, this does highlight the need to read each requirement carefully, and keep checking back to ensure that you are answering the question that has been asked.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide

“A significant minority of candidates misinterpreted the requirement, and discussed the performance of the company, and how it might improve.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

Get into the habit of highlighting the key words within a question. By doing this it will make it apparent what the questions is asking you to do. A good tip for answering questions in written exams is to closely look at the verb (E.g. “Explain”, “Discuss” or “Comment”) as this will give you a great indication of what the marker really wants from you.

In addition, make sure that you read the question slowly and read it through at least twice before answering the question so you don’t miss a key requirement.

3. Plan your answers

Planning your answers may seem like an obvious piece of advice from the examiner, but it is surprising just how many student launch straight into answering a question without taking time to think about how they are going to approach it. This has resulted in repetitive and poorly structured answer scripts.

Here are some of the examiners’ remarks on this issue:

“Candidates should try to break up their written answers with headings wherever possible; both to give the answer structure and to ensure that the whole requirement is met.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“The best approach in this type of question is to state what each condition is and then, for each one, say whether the company meets the condition. Finally, at the end, make a recommendation that follows on from the discussion. This is a fool-proof approach. A weaker approach is to simply list all of the conditions of market skimming, fail to apply them and fail to conclude.” – ACCA F5 Examiner’s Report – June 2015

ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide

It is recommend that you allocate yourself some planning time at the start of each question to think about the issues and identify the points you intend to address. By taking just a few minutes to think about how you are going to tackle the answer, you will be able to structure it better and ensure you cover all the points the examiner is looking for. Don’t forget to use headings to indicate the structure!

Sometimes students are reluctant to do this due to the time pressure in an exam situation, but the feedback from the examiners emphasises that typically the best answers are well structured and show signs of a plan.

4. Do not question spot

Examiners were disappointed to see that students were attempting to ‘question spot’ (only learning key areas of the syllabus most likely to come up in the exam) based on past exam papers. Remember, this is a very risky strategy and unlikely to work as anything in the exam can be assessed.

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“It is worth reminding candidates that the PM syllabus is very broad, and ‘question spotting’ by concentrating revision on a few key areas is likely to result in disappointment.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“It suggested that there was a degree of question spotting going on, an approach which will never work in PM.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – June 2015

ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide

“The PM syllabus is very broad, and there is a lot to learn – however, question spotting is a tactic which can prove damaging – it is much better to spend the time going through the syllabus and trying to cover everything, rather than being an expert on only some topics such as ABC or linear programming.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – June 2015

Predicting what is going to appear in your exam is a major mistake that can lead to disastrous results! Remember, past exam papers are not necessarily a good guide for what may appear in your exam. They are an excellent revision tool to help you get experience of the structure and style of questions, to test your knowledge and to practise under exam conditions – don’t use them to predict future questions. Sadly there is no substitute for knowing the full syllabus in detail!

5. Know your numbers

The final point here is to make sure you know your formulas, master your calculations, and understand what the final number means!  Examiners have highlighted issues in this areas in a number of reports. This is concerning in an accountancy exam!

Here are some of their comments:

“Errors in the mix variance calculations were often caused by candidates using standard price per unit rather than per kg in both of their variance calculations, which is incorrect when valuing a variance in kgs.” ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – December 2015

“Part (a) required the calculation of the weighted average contribution to sales ratio, and was well answered by most, and full marks were regularly scored. However, there were still many candidates who simply took the mean of the individual contribution to sales ratios.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA PM Free Examiners' Guide

“The calculations were not overly difficult and there were lots of good answers as far as the numbers were concerned. The problem that arose was that it became clear that some candidates were not able to explain their reasons for using the figures they had selected and some didn’t even attempt to give explanations.” – ACCA PM Examiner’s Report – December 2014

It’s important that students show their capability in the use of numbers in the exam. Examiners expect this as a fundamental requirement and it costs marks if mistakes are made!

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