Plan Your Answers
It’s tempting to think that more time writing means you’re more likely to pick up more marks. That isn’t the case. Passing the ACCA professional papers is about efficiency: getting the most marks in the least time.
To do this, you must plan your answers. 15 minutes of planning at the outset will save you much more than 15 minutes of writing time by allowing you to write well-structured and efficient answers.
“15 minutes planning at the outset will save you much more than 15 minutes writing time…”
Once you’ve chosen the questions, you’re going to answer, read the rubric very carefully and work out precisely what the examiner wants to see. Many ACCA students write what they thought the examiner wanted to see – which is a surefire way to fail.
Plot the structure of each answer and note down the points you’re going to make and in which order. To earn a pass on the ACCA professional papers, you must demonstrate strategic and logical style – the ability to write a long-form, professional response that flows.
One Point, One Mark
Think about how marks are awarded when you’re planning. The best practice is to assume one point will earn you one mark – so plan to include at least as many points as marks for each question.
You should aim for each point to be about the same length. It’s easy to write more for topics you are confident about, but one mark is one mark. If you write 10 lines to earn a mark, you could have earned in three; you’re wasting time.
“Best practice is to assume one point will earn you one mark.”
Likewise, ACCA students often end up writing a short, throwaway line to make a point that they don’t know as well. This will not earn you the mark you need and multiplied across the paper; you’ll likely drop too many marks for a pass.
Each point should be around 2 to 4 sentences. You should state the point and then expand on that by explaining the relevant implications and solutions.
Allocate Time Proportionately
The single biggest mistake students make in the ACCA professional paper is to poorly allocate their time. Many ACCA students spend too long on questions worth fewer marks and not enough time on questions worth more marks.
You should allocate time proportionately, depending on how many marks that question is worth. This will maximise your chances of picking up marks throughout the paper.
Allocate your time proportionately to ensure you don’t spend too long on questions worth fewer marks.
To work this out, take the time limit for that paper and subtract 30 minutes for reading and review time – in addition to the time allocated. Next, divide by the number of marks that paper is worth. This gives you a time guideline for each mark.
For example, the ACCA P1 paper allows 3 hours of writing time – 180 minutes. 180 minus 30 is 150. P1 is worth 100 marks, so divide 150 by 100 to get 1.5: 1 minute 30. That’s how many minutes you should allocate to each mark.
When you’re in the exam, you should multiply the number of marks by 1.5 to determine how long you should spend on that question. Do this as soon as you open the paper and write it beside the question.
One of the most common reasons students fail the ACCA professional papers is that they don’t complete all the questions. Setting a time limit is one thing – sticking to it is entirely another.
We’ve all had that sinking feeling where you know you’re spending too long on the question, but you keep writing anyway – just one more sentence, and another, and another. It’s human nature to want to write down everything you know to prove your understanding.
“It’s better to pick up 75% of marks across all the questions than 100% of marks across 50% of questions.”
This might seem like a good idea at the time, but if you don’t demonstrate the breadth of knowledge by answering all the questions, you’ll definitely fail.
Once your allocated time for each question is up, finish your sentence and move on – even if you’re not finished. If you’ve followed the tips above, you’ll have picked up the majority of marks for that question, and you’ll be able to do the same again for the next. It’s better to pick up 75% of marks across all the questions than 100% of marks across 50% of questions.
The ACCA professional papers are designed to test your ability to apply your knowledge in a well-thought-out, professional way. For that reason, technical knowledge alone is not enough to pass. There’s a big difference between knowing the course content and knowing how to earn marks through applying the course content, so follow these ACCA exam technique tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a pass.