Updated: Jun 14
This article offers advice on how to pass the ACA Case Study exam. Written by a multiple prize-winning ACA tutor who scored 92% in the Case Study exam and won the ICAEW prize for the highest score in the world, this is essential reading for any student preparing for their Case Study exam.
How to Ace the ACA Case Study Exam
The Case Study is unlike most other ACA exams as there is very little technical content to learn. Therefore, students who are used to memorising technical concepts and then ‘smashing out the question bank’ will be perplexed when they are presented with 40+ pages of advance information and a Case Study exam paper seemingly testing nothing they have learnt in their other 14 exams.
However, the Case Study is actually very similar to the other ACA exams in that the three exam requirements are always the same, as are the mark schemes. By appreciating the consistency in the exam requirements and the mark schemes, you can develop your exam technique to ensure that you tick all the 'boxes' on the mark scheme and complete your ACA qualification in style.
In light of this, we believe that there are 5 steps to Case Study success:
1. Understand how Case Study is marked
2. Understand what each of the three requirements involve
3. Understand what information is provided in the Advance Information (AI) and what is provided in the exam
4. Learn the Case Study exam technique which ensures that you hit all the boxes on the mark scheme
5. Practice mock exams to master your exam technique
Step 1: Understand how Case Study is marked
The Case Study marking process is objective: there is a set marking key for each requirement and if a student’s report includes a point which is on the mark scheme, they will get the mark. This is not like an academic essay where the examiner forms an overall opinion of the piece of work and then decides whether it is good enough to pass; the Case Study marking grid is rigid. Whilst it can be frustrating that making a valid point which is not on the mark scheme does not score a mark, it does mean that the marking process is very transparent and easy to navigate.
Each requirement has 11 boxes and you need to pass 6 boxes on each requirement. The Executive Summary has 7 boxes and you need to pass 4 boxes. You need to pass each requirement and the Executive Summary. Therefore, you can no longer use the ‘I’ll smash Q1 and Q2 and that should get me through’ approach.
To pass a box, you need to get 3 of the points included in that box. Below is an example from a recent Case Study mark scheme to illustrate what I mean by points and boxes.
ICAEW learning materials © ICAEW 2018 All rights reserved. Reproduced by ACA Masters with the permission of ICAEW
Step 2: Understand what each of the three requirements involve
As explained above, the three requirements are broadly the same in each Case Study exam.
R1: Analyse the financial performance of the company
R2: Evaluate a financial proposal
R3: Evaluate an opportunity or issue
The mark scheme for each requirement is also the same. This makes the exam fairly predictable.
By having a look at recent past papers, you will soon start see the consistency in the requirements and build an understanding of what each requirement involves.
Step 3: Understand what information is provided in the AI and what is provided in the exam
In addition to the exam requirements and mark schemes being in the same format every time, the AI is also in the same format every time (albeit a different business with different issues).
By working through past Case Study exams, you will soon start to see that the AI always has the same exhibits with very similar types of information e.g. industry background, prior year accounts, key customers / suppliers, strategic goals and risks. Similarly, all the exams include the same exhibits with very similar types of information.
Having completed the exam, it is important to mark it and reflect on what information came from the AI and what came from the exam exhibits. You will soon start to see that the majority of mark scoring points come from the exam exhibits rather than the AI. You will also learn which types of information in the AI tend to be rewarded in the mark scheme and where in the mark scheme they are rewarded, i.e. which box.
Step 4: Learn the Case Study exam technique which ensures that you hit all the boxes on the mark scheme
Having understood what the exam requirements are and how they are marked, you need to develop an exam technique which ensures that your report includes the points which are included on the mark scheme. Fortunately for you, we have developed an exam technique which does this and it has resulted in two students winning the prize for the highest mark in the world (90% and 92%), another winning a prize for the highest mark in their region (88%) and another achieving the highest mark in their firm (81%)!
Given the practical nature of exam technique, it is not possible to explain this in text so below you will find a tutorial showing you exactly how to ace Requirement 1 and get a prize-winning mark.
Step 5: Practice mock exams to master your exam technique
By this stage in your ACA journey, you will already know that question practice is key to success. Having learnt the prize-winning technique, you then need to practice mock exams on your case study business under exam conditions so that you master the technique and sign off your ACA in style!
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About the Author
Kieran Doe is a Senior ACA Tutor at ACA Masters. Kieran won ICAEW prizes for his performance in Financial Accounting and Reporting, Tax, Financial Management, Audit, Business Strategy and Case Study. This is in addition to winning several prizes at university for various Accounting, Management, Business and Economics subjects.
Kieran’s tuition is based around the learning techniques and exam strategies which enabled him to win prizes for all the subjects he teaches. Under his guidance, several of his ACA students have also won ICAEW prizes.