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7 Things to Avoid if You Want to Pass Your CIMA Case Study Exams

Where a student underperforms in CIMA exams is case studies. Find out 7 things you should avoid if you want to pass case study exams!

Man jumping a wire mesh obstacleWhere a student underperforms in CIMA exams is the case studies. The key reason for this is that they don’t understand what the case study is about and what the examiner is testing.What’s commonly happening is that students – particularly resitters – start off on the wrong foot where the case studies are concerned, for two reasons.Firstly, they don’t seem to understand the case study exam itself and secondly, they’re not using resources that mirror the real exam experience.In this blog, we look at 7 key things you should pay attention to and avoid when studying for your case study exams.

1. Over analysing the pre-seen

When it comes to the pre-seen, many students seem to think that there are hidden tips or hints within the material.In reality, the pre-seen is just there to provide context around the exam so there’s no point spending hours and days trying to find something in there that’s going to appear on the exam.Others spend hours learning about the industry and building up knowledge, not realising or appreciating that there are zero marks awarded for industry knowledge in the case study exams.Tip: Focus time on perfecting exam technique, not on industry research.

2. Misplacing your focus

Man holding a lensRather than focusing all your energy on the pre-seen itself, take time to prepare for your case study exam in advance of the pre-seen release by understanding the case study exam itself and what CIMA are looking for. For example, knowing hot topics, reviewing the Gateway guide (if applicable), using the script generator etc.Taking the time to understand what’s required will help you to focus and take the necessary steps to work through the material in a strategic and effective way.Another mistake students need to avoid is over-analysing past OT exams. The case study exams are not a repeat of what was asked in the OTs; they are a completely different style of exam and are about technique rather than knowledge.Tip: Review your OT knowledge, particularly ‘weak’ areas and bear in mind the style and format of the case study exam.

3. Not answering the question asked!

What’s become apparent from Examiner Reports is that students don’t answer the question that’s actually asked. They’re asked a question, and answer a different question!A good way to think of the case study exams is to compare them to a job interview. Think about sitting down to a panel, hearing a question and responding with an answer that shows knowledge but doesn’t actually answer what was asked!It is so important to avoid frustrating or irritating the exam markers. Not answering the question or skirting around the issue is one of the biggest annoyances markers face when correcting exams.Tip: Reference the question in your solution regularly. Each time you make a recommendation refer to how it solves the issue in the question. It may sound repetitive, but you should leave the marker in no doubt that you have addressed the question.

4. Spending too little time on strategic analysis

Pie Charts & Graphs ChartsStrategic analysis involves using a series of models or tools and applying these to a given company. These tools include Porter’s five forces, SWOT analysis, PEST etc.By providing in-depth scrutiny, the strategic analysis enables you to fully comprehend the company and industry within the pre-seen.Ultimately, the strategic analysis will underpin your understanding of the information presented and help you successfully pass your exam first time.Tip: Focus on the details of the strategic analysis to get an in-depth view of the case study and the various elements involved. All learnsignal members get a strategic analysis and industry review so you don’t have to do it.

5. Not sitting a CIMA mock exam

Unfortunately, there is some pain required to pass case study exams! There’s no way to get better at doing case study exams without doing mocks. Doing a mock exam is the main way to get better.The objective tests are there to build up knowledge and test it. In comparison, the case study exam is an integration of that knowledge.That’s why practice is so crucial to hone your exam technique which is done by completing a mock and learning from expert feedback to fix mistakes and boost areas you excel in.If studying on a week-to-week basis, mocks should be attempted as early in the week as possible. This is to ensure timely correction and feedback as the most fundamental part of the mock exam process is reviewing your feedback and re-attempting that same mock.Tip: Although cumbersome, answering a mock paper with a new sense of perspective and awareness is the surest way to improve your exam technique and set you up for the exam itself.

6. Ignoring the new CIMA blueprints

Vibrant Light Texture WallCIMA has released blueprints this year which are a valuable resource for students to see exactly what the examiner wants.So, for the first time (under the updated 2019 syllabus), CIMA is publishing examination blueprints annually which set out what’s examinable in each of the 9 Objective Tests and 3 Case Study examinations.Information in the blueprints includes format, structure and weightings of the assessments.Tip: Take time early on the review the blueprints to gain insight into the examiner’s head so you can take that into account during your study and when it comes to the exam.

7. Being unfamiliar with syllabus changes

In 2019 CIMA has changed the syllabus to reflect the needs of a digital marketplace. This means that there is new content across the board for the OT papers.For students in a transition between the OTs and case studies, or moving from one pillar to another, these changes to the course content need to be taken into consideration.Three key things are important here:
  • Don’t be afraid of the new content in the professional syllabus! It’s simply technical knowledge that you need to pick up and no different from the 2015 syllabus in terms of the amount or difficulty of what you need to learn.
  • The case studies are seeing no dramatic change while the process is the same: you get a set of questions related to the case study and are tested in Pearson Vue.
  • The marking scheme for the case studies has changed so do review those changes to be aware of them. However, we believe that it’s made the marking easier to understand as it is a simple system where students will get a mark out of 150 with a pass mark of 80 rather than the previous two-fold system.
Tip: Read our recent blog on the changes to the new CIMA syllabus to get a good overview of what’s changed and what it will mean to your revision.


Many students fall into the trap of looking for sources of information from everywhere. This results in a lack of strategy approaching the case studies as there’s no consistency in the tactics used.Additionally, many students make the mistake of waiting for the pre-seen release to commence their study.There’s no reason to wait to begin your study for a case study exam; the sooner you start, the better chance you have of passing – it’s that simple! There is so much more to the case study exam than the pre-seen itself.One of the most important things students must do to ensure a pass first time is to really understand the concept of a case study exam: what it is, how to approach it, and how to build a passing script.Understanding exactly what CIMA want is your key first step.Read more: 7 Ways to Pass Your CIMA Case Study Exams
Ayesha Jamal
5 min read

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