The first thing to remember about ACCA APM is that it is a Professional exam. What is ultimately being examined is your fitness for a professional role. You are being asked to put yourself in the position you will one day occupy, so answer not as a student, but as an accountant reporting to stakeholders.
To be successful in the ACCA APM exam it’s important to understand what the examiners expect to see included in your answers. This is vital to score high marks as there may be a big difference between what you consider to be a good answer and what the examiner is looking for.
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 don’t ignore 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 APM Examiners’ Reports
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Poor presentation skills have been an issue frequently addressed by examiners in recent years. They identified the need for students to clearly structure their answers. This can range from the logical flow of the answer through to the simple use of headings and subheadings to signal the progression of the answer and how it relates to the question. A well structured answer allows examiners to identify key points and easily assess whether the student has answered all the requirements of the question.
Here are some of the examiners’ remarks on this issue:
“Those candidates who had practised writing professional answers prior to the examination performed admirably in the presentation area (4 marks). The markers were looking for suitable report headings, an introduction, a logical structure, signposted by the good use of subheadings in the answer, and a clear, concise style. A conclusion was not required for the 4 marks but if a suitable and substantive one was offered then it was given additional credit.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
“Marking team would like to strongly recommend that candidates should attempt to structure their answers in line with the specific requirements in the questions.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – December 2015
The key to ensuring you don’t miss out on marks due to poor presentation is to take a little time after reading each question to think through how you are going to structure your answer – before you start to write! 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.
So don’t dive straight into answering before you’ve thought about what you’re going to write – impress your marker by including an introduction, conclusion and headings throughout!
Being told to revise the entire syllabus may seem an obvious piece of advice from the examiner, but it is astonishing just how many students don’t do this!
Examiners were surprised at the number of candidates that also lacked basic accounting knowledge. This suggests that many students didn’t take the time to ensure they understood the basics before learning more complex areas of the syllabus.
This is what the examiners had to say about it:
“At this diet, a lack of such knowledge was demonstrated by many candidates and was particularly clear in: 1) question 1(iv), activity-based costing and budgeting and 2) question 3(b), decision-making under risk and uncertainty.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
“A lack of basic knowledge was demonstrated by many candidates at this diet. This was evidenced when candidates failed to attempt standard ratio calculations and could not demonstrate an understanding of the difference between a revenue centre and a profit centre.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – September 2015
“Many candidates did not attempt a breakeven calculation and when attempted, it was only rarely done correctly. Breakeven is a basic tool of management accounting analysis and both it and the topic of cost structures in a business will remain highly examinable going forward.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – June 2015
The key point to be taken from this feedback is that a ‘strategy’ of learning a limited number of core topics and expecting to pass is not going to work! The ACCA APM exam builds upon some of the content from the ACCA PM paper, so refresh your memory on those topics that have been brought forward before building your knowledge in the other key areas. Knowing the basics will benefit you in the long run. Don’t try to cut corners here or you will just end up with problems!
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. Of course, some of these candidates simply do not know the answer to the question and so, in hope of salvaging some marks, they regurgitate information on a syllabus area they do know.
Other students however will not have properly understood the question before they dive into an answer. 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:
“Candidates answered a different requirement from the one asked or simply ignored a part of the requirement (and thus the marks on offer).” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
“Future candidates should make sure that they read all the question requirements before beginning their answer so that they appreciate the links between the parts of the question and whether it is a sensible choice for them.” – ACCA APM 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. It’s recommended that you 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.
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:
“Most candidates did not justify a recommended choice of method for each stakeholder and many candidates ignored the data in the scenario.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
“Answers to this question would have been improved with the use of specific illustrations of the general points being made using the information in the scenario. APM is about specific application not just generic points that could apply to any business and those candidates that do this often shift their marks materially into the range of a good pass.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
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.
Don’t forget, the examiners also expect candidates to have a wider knowledge and understanding of the business and accounting world. Accounting is a profession that requires more than just book learning – business acumen is needed too.
Examiners have highlighted the need for students to realise that the ACCA APM exam is a step up from previous exams. In particular, they stressed that the exam is much more about analysis rather than simply memory. Students failing to recognise this limit the marks they can achieve.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Most examinations require a balance of memory work and evaluation/analysis. However, as one goes through the levels (say from MA to PM to APM) this balance changes, from pure memory to more analysis.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – March 2016
“Candidates who come to this examination expecting to repeat memorised material will probably score only between 20% and 30%.” – ACCA APM Examiner’s Report – December 2015