(Photo: adrians_art, Flickr)
Jonathan Fields is a pretty interesting guy.
Firstly, he gave up a six-figure income as a lawyer to make $12 an hour as a personal trainer.
Secondly he signed a lease to launch a yoga centre in the heart of New York City . . . the day before 9/11.
Thankfully he survived.
In his book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance Jonathan talks about how to overcome fear and uncertainty, so that you are not left in paralysis but instead are ready to take action.
And having talked to many students recently about the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study, uncertainty has definitely been the recurring theme as there is a lot of doubt, hesitation, and ambiguity surrounding the exam.
So in this blog post I want to lift some of the fog so that you are left sailing into clear waters as to what is required to prepare for and pass this final CIMA exam.
1. Exam Format
The exam is taken on PC at your chosen Pearson VUE centre and lasts for 3 hours, split into different timed sections. You’ll be presented with new (unseen) information on the case in which you’ll have to analyse and identify the tasks you need to perform
2. Exam Functionality
The Pearson Vue exam system is pretty basic where you’ll have a notepad (with very limited toolbar) where you’ll type your answers. There will also be a separate document known as a “scratch pad” where you can plan your answers but no kind of spreadsheet such as Excel.
It is important that you familiarise yourself with this system prior to the exam and in fact I recommend you take a look around the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study Practice Exam if you haven’t already done so
3. Exam Window
The exam can be taken in March, May, September and November just like the old T4 exam but the big difference here is that during each sitting, there is exam window scheduled over 5 days – For instance the March 2015 exam can be taken between Tuesday 10 March to Saturday 14 March 2015 and at either a morning or afternoon session each day.
Everyone sitting the exam on the same day will sit the same exam, but will sit a different exam from the ones sat by people taking it on other days.
4. How to Book your Exam
You can register to take your CIMA exam by logging in to your MYCIMA account and selecting ‘schedule your exam’. You’ll then be taken to the Pearson VUE website where you’ll choose the exam you want to sit, at which centre, and go through the payment process (unless you have chosen to pay later)
You can find more details on the booking process here
Exam entry closes for the case study exams less than 3 weeks before the actual exam date so you can wait until you feel ready to take the exam although this could be very tempting to keep putting off.
You can find the exam entry and closing dates for 2015 here
5. The Pre Seen Material
As with the T4 and the Strategic level exams under the 2010 syllabus, CIMA will release a pre seen which you will need to be familiar with ahead of your exam. The pre seen material should be released 7 weeks before each exam window on CIMA Connect.
You must know and understand this pre seen information, have undertaken a full strategic analysis of it and know how the 3 strategic subjects relate to it. Ultimately the aim here is to be aware of the key issues facing the organisation and be ready to address them should they come up in your exam.
In the exam you play the role of a member of staff, most likely a senior manager, so you’ll be expected to know about the company in the case as you would at your own workplace.
6. Technical Knowledge Required
One of the key things you’ll need to do in preparation for the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam is to revise the key models, frameworks and techniques from the three subject papers at Strategic level – CIMA P3, CIMA E3 and CIMA F3.
Given you may of taken these exams a while back you’ll definitely need to go back through the syllabus content of each paper and in particular fill in any knowledge gaps so that you are up-to-date with the learning outcomes for 2015 CIMA Strategic Exams.
What you’ll really be tested on is your application of this technical knowledge given the different situations that are presented in the case. In fact, technical skills make up 25% of the marking criteria in this exam.
You can access study materials to fill in the gaps here
7. Skills Required
There are 4 learning outcomes for the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study (SCS):
Each of these criteria represents roughly 25% of the marks in the exam and so you need to make sure you understand how the marks are awarded for each area. More importantly you’ll need learn and practice how to write your answers in a balanced way to pick up pass marks in all 4 areas.
More details on the skills required here
There are NO calculations in the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam so all your answers will be typed narrative. On the face of it this sounds good news but the general requirements are going to be less specific and you’ll need to learn how to identify all of them with each section of your exam.
Getting feedback on your Mock Exam scripts ahead of the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam will be critical because you’ll need to know that you are on the right track with this crucial part of exam technique.
9. The Unseen Material
On the day of the exam you will be presented with a range of new information in the form of meeting minutes, emails, newspaper articles, memos, reports and other forms of both internal and external information.
Each new section of the exam will present you with new information that reveals something new, and which is very likely to be related to the previous section of the exam, so effectively each section of the exam moves the case forward.
10. Time Management
As I said earlier, the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam is 3 hours long, split into 3 sections, and you’ll have to do all your reading of the unseen, answer planning and writing within the time allocated for each section (it’s likely some will be longer/shorter than others).
The computer screen will have a count-down clock so you can keep an eye out for how you are doing for time throughout.
Once you’ve ended a section you can’t go back as the computer will automatically close that section and you will have to move on. If you choose to end a session early, again, you can’t come back to it once you’ve moved on to the next.
You can read more information on the unseen and time management here
11. Typing speed
CIMA state that an average speed of 20 words per minute should be sufficient in producing an answer long enough to get a good pass the CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam.
As a general rule, the longer scripts which cover more points and in more depth tend to score much higher. Therefore, I highly recommend you do a ton of practice in typing the sorts of answers required in the exam as quickly as you can. Again this highlights how essential mock exam practice will be.
12. The Marking Scheme
The pass mark under the new CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam is 60% and whilst this sounds tough compared to the 50% required under the previous syllabus it’s also worth noting CIMA has also changed the way the exams are marked. So it’s more a case of the marking criteria being different, rather than harder.
The strategic case study is marked according to the 4 key ‘generic finance competencies’ defined by CIMA. These are applied to the SCS exam as follows:
Technical skills (25%)
Here you’ll be tested your ability to use theoretical techniques from the CIMA E3, P3 and F3 exams to analyse the situation, explain the benefits of applying certain techniques to the scenario or to interpret the findings of a previously prepared analysis or report.
Business skills (25%)
Here you’ll be expected to produce strong analysis with good logical recommendations and show your ability to apply good commercial judgement to the case study.
Business skills marks are awarded for showing good business awareness, which can ultimately be tested by asking whether if presented to a real life board of directors or CEO whether your report, memo or email would make good practical business sense and whether they would act on your findings.
People skills (25%)
People skills include good communication, persuasion skills and understanding the needs of others. You will earn good marks for people skills when you show this in your report alongside meeting the specific needs of your role – analysing strategic options, making logical recommendations, analysing risks, and looking at financing options.
Leadership skills (25%)
Leadership skills marks are given for solid, logical business advice as you might expect from a leader of an organisation or team. Here you’ll be expected to consider the wider strategic implications of a decision, including the management of change, shareholder impact, consideration of competitive position, impact of markets and links to customers, links to quality, production and suppliers.
There’s clearly a lot of difference between this new CIMA Strategic Level Case Study exam and the previous T4 exam under the old syllabus.
However, as with any big change, whilst it will seem overwhelming and uncomfortable at first, it will become normal once you get stuck into your preparation.
What is the best way to prepare? Well I explain this best in the following article:
10 Reasons Why Every CIMA Finalist Should Use This Course
I’ll be updating my blog with new resources; tips and advice as you go along so don’t feel that you are alone in tackling this final CIMA exam.
Check out my blog here for the latest information
Still have some uncertainty? You can drop me your questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them ASAP.
If you want a pdf copy of this guide simply sign up to my free email newsletter and drop me a line and I’ll be happy to send it over
Today, as a continuation from the last week's article on gateway exams, I'm going to describe the case studies. I will concentrate mostly on Strategic Case Studies (SCC), but the whole concept of case studies applies to all levels. The only thing that changes is your positioning in the organisation and number of questions to answer.
What is a Strategic Case Study
The aim of the CIMA Strategic Case Study exam is to teach you how to APPLY your knowledge from the three objective test papers in the workplace.
CIMA tries t make all the exam as relevant to the working conditions as possible. All the OT exams tests your knowledge and understanding of the key concepts. You cannot really test how the students can apply the knowledge via OT questions. In OT exams you are tested on your quick thinking, quick analysis, linking facts, but only in the case studies you can truly show how you can apply all that you have learned on the specific level of your CIMA studies. It is a new method and from my working experience, very relevant to the business world.
I have recently watched a CIMA webinar on how to pass a SCS, so most of the information here is taken from there. Here is the link, but you need to be logged into the CIMA connect: https://connect.cimaglobal.com/resources/strategic-case-study-exam/student-webinar%3A-exam-success---strategic-case-study
Structure of the case study:
- 7 weeks before the exam you get the pre-seen material. It is mostly a description of a fictitious situation and gives you a perspective on what has to be done.
- Just like OT, case studies are also computer based. They take 3hours with a 15 minutes tutorial.
- Those exams are conducted 4 times a year (end of February, May, August and November) over a period of 5 days.
- There are 5 different variants of this exam (so in case there is another person taking the same exam, the chances of you both having the same questions is low).
- Exams are marked manually by CIMA, so it takes 4-5 weeks to know if you passed or not.
- You will get a mark out of 150, according to a scaled score. 80 is the passing mark (around 53%). But you need to demonstrate a minimum threshold score for each competency and integration (approximately 1/3 f the total marks available for each competency. For example you can get 20 marks for the technical skills and you need to get a minimum of 1/3 of that (so around 6-7).
- Number of questions - that really depends on the case study's level you are taking. You can have from 5 (OCS) to 3 (SCS). he time is allocated accordingly and the biggest difference between OT adn case studeisn is that each quetion has a dedicated time yu an spend on it. e.g. for the SCS, you have 60 minutes for each question, but tat doesn't mean that if you finish the first one in 50 minutes, you will get extra 10 minutes later on, no no. use the time till the maximum.
Just as a reminder, this is the competency framework: