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How to Pass Your CIMA F2, P1, P2 & P3 Exams

Passing your OT exams is key to your success. There are 4 main subject areas that students struggle with every year.

Completing and passing your objective test exams is key to your success in CIMA. According to recent pass rates and CIMA, there are 4 main subject areas that students struggle with every year.

The four main areas of concern are:

  1. P1 – Cost Accounting Systems, Cost Accounting for Decision and Control, Short-Term Decision Making and Short Terms Commercial Decision Making
  2. P2 – Cost Planning and Analysis for Competitive Advantage, Managing the Costs of Operating Value, Long-Term Decision Making, Capital Investment Decision Making
  3. F2 – Financial Reporting, Financial Reporting Standards and Group Accounts
  4. P3 – Responses to Strategic Risk, Strategic Risk, Internal Controls to Manage Risk, Internal Controls

Unfortunately, while these are problem subjects for many CIMA students, the reason for the high failure rate is not as straightforward as you’d like!

Why are these subjects causing difficulties?

One of the key reasons we believe students struggle with these subjects is that they aren’t grasping key concepts early.

So, while they may pass the first pillar topics, a lack of knowledge becomes obvious in later OT papers and results in a fail mark.

One of the core elements of an OT exam is that they are multiple-choice. This means that the exam can cover a huge amount of the course resulting in varied questions.

You could get a numbers based question followed by a theory-based one, meaning the knowledge you need to pass must be vast. That’s the thing about multiple-choice questions; there’s no nowhere to really hide! If you don’t know the answer, then you’ll lose marks.

However, beware of just thinking these papers are the hardest and the rest are easy! If you struggle with an objective test, then you’re likely going to struggle more with a case study because that relies on application and discussion.

So, if you don’t know the basics, then you’re not going to be able to apply anything to the pre-seen case study.

What can you do to pass these exams?

Is it numbers, is it the narratives? We actually think it’s more basic than that.

Maybe it’s not the syllabus, and in a year’s time, the syllabus areas students struggle with will be different. But it’s probably more to do with the way people learn these subjects.

If I was given a manual to study any of the above areas, it would be very tough without any background. So if you’re trying to work out accounting standards, for example, and IFRS and trying to figure out how to apply it using a manual is two dimensional and makes it hard.

Plus, these areas are big subjects. Something like a standard has so much detail it’s near impossible to get it in a manual. Everything has a degree of relevance that you end up nearly rewriting the standard which you don’t need. So coming to these exams with no basic understanding makes it hard to narrow down the key points.

As you’re often encouraged to learn from manuals for these subjects, you feel like you have to remember everything that’s on the page. The way to pass is to understand the content and then be able to apply the knowledge.

  • Do not neglect the value of practice. Make sure you do mock exams with feedback and also do practice questions.
  • Don’t focus on memorising. Make sure you review the content and understand it. That’s the only way you’ll be able to use to effectively pass the exam.
  • Create or use notes with key points for each subject area to refer back to and absorb easily and quickly.
  • Reflect on your study. Are you taking in the key points? Would you know how to apply the knowledge in this section if a question came up
  • Go back to basics. If you’re struggling with the fundamentals, don’t be afraid to revisit an OT you have passed to refresh your knowledge.

What’s the difference between learning with a manual vs. online?

To compare learning using manuals and an online platform like Learnsignal, we carried out an experiment!

Scenario A focused on using a manual for the P1 exam for cost accounting in decision and control. For that one module area, there were 236 pages to read and memorise.

That’s a huge amount of information to absorb for just one content area. Plus, you don’t know what’s exam relevant, and that information will not be rewritten in the exam as it’s multiple choice, so there’s a difficulty with making a link between the content and question.

Scenario B is taking the relevant and key information from the 236 pages and condensing it. Then the information is delivered over 7 videos with an average time of 10 minutes each.

These are accompanied by short notes which summarise the key areas to focus on and reinforce the learning you got while watching the video. This tactic also helps retrieve key points easily as it involves scrolling through short notes rather than reams of pages.

We’re not saying which is better or worse. These scenarios are more to help you focus on your learning and look at your approach to passing your OT and case study exams.


If you’re struggling with a subject or area on the CIMA syllabus, don’t double down on it and spend even more time studying in the same way.

Think about what you’re finding hard and why. Perhaps you need to find a new way to focus or learn. Perhaps the notes you are taking simply aren’t working. Maybe you need a visual representation rather than endless pages in a manual.

What’s key to exam success is finding a way to study, retain information and apply knowledge in a way that suits you.

Katie Ni Choileain
4 min read

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