Hashan is the lead tutor at StudyCIMA with over 5 years of experience training students for CIMA examinations. He has dealt with thousands of student globally, in physical classrooms and online. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog is dedicated to all students who are dealing with case study exams. Whether you are doing the exam for the first time or repeating it after a failed attempt, the content of this blog will help you to learn from your mistakes and alter your preparation style to get better results.
All the reasons mentioned here have been identified after careful analysis of student performances. Each reason can be overcome if the right intervention is made at the right time.
Reason 1 – No, I can’t.
This is the primary reason for most of our failures in life. The lack of faith in our capabilities has a strong influence on our final outcomes.
Contrary to this, as the popular saying says, “believe you can and you’re halfway there”. Confidence is indeed the key to success.
When CIMA written exams were changed into online case study exams in 2015, students were filled with a sense of doubt and uncertainty. Altering their answering mode from writing to typing left them with an added fear when facing the exam. They somehow managed to convince themselves that they were not capable of passing this new form of examination.
And guess what?
The moment you convince yourself of this, you probably will prove yourself right and fail anyway.
Therefore, changing your thought pattern to “I can and I will pass” instead of “ I might or might not be able to pass”, is essential.
Reason 2 – Pen (instead of keyboard)
The main reason students lack confidence in this exam style is because of the strong familiarity and attachment they have with writing. This is evident even by the way they operate in class. When presented with the opportunity to bring a laptop to take notes, they still opt to use a pen and paper.
There is a clear difference between the two. The signals that are passed to the brain when holding your pen is highly contrasting to those that are passed when typing on a keyboard. They act as two different types of stimuli. Your speed and thought processing time will differ highly with the two different modes of answering. Therefore, if you don’t train your brain to respond to typing, it is bound to fail you at the exam.
Therefore starting to type your answers instead of writing them is a crucial step of exam preparation. (best done at least two months ahead of the exam!)
Reason 3 – Application
You are not expected to duplicate your knowledge when dealing with case study exams. This is a mistake most students make.
Instead, you have to embody the role of an employee of the company you are dealing with. Your approach to the questions should be practical and applicable to the brand that you are dealing with.
This could be better understood with an example.
Imagine a situation where you are employed at a company. Your boss gives you the task of preparing a report about “Activity Based Costing” for the business. If you merely duplicate the theories you learned about this concept it would be similar to your boss using Google to search about the topic himself. There will be no value addition from you to the business and thus wouldn’t make you an asset to the brand.
Therefore, customizing your answers appropriately through application, instead of providing general solutions is critical.
Reason 4 – Initial misunderstanding
This is a problem that stems from the time-sensitive nature of the exam. Students have to finish answering the question during the allocated time period as the system automatically directs the candidate to the next question once the time is up. Therefore, students resort to spending very little time understanding the question and end up speed-reading the content without actually grasping it.
The 80/20 rule conceptualized by the economist Vilfredo Pareto states that 20% of what you do add 80% of the value. This applies to this scenario significantly. The time you invest on understanding the requirement will shape your answer later on.
Tip: As you spot a requirement in the question, type a subheading for this requirement in your answer section. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on any parts of the question. You can use approximately 9 minutes for this task.
Reason 5 – Subsequent misunderstanding (drifting)
Even though you start strong when answering the question, there is always the possibility that you lose focus with time. This can be simply defined as ‘losing the plot’.
For an example, if the question asks you to discuss the suitability of ABC for your company, “suitability” should be your key focus. The moment you drift off to explaining about its advantages instead of its suitability, you start losing the attention of the examiner and subsequently some valuable marks.
You can overcome this by reviewing your answer after every paragraph. This maybe time consuming, however, is better for your overall performance.
Reason 6 – Pre-seen
The problem isn’t the fact that students don’t pay enough attention to the pre-seen, but actually the fact that they rely too much on it.
Some students tend to memorize facts and figures from the pre-seen and get discouraged when they realize that the requirement is quite different from what they expected.
There IS something called “over-researching and over-memorizing” with case study exams.
The purpose of the pre-seen is to familiarize oneself with the company and industry. It is useful for understanding the trends and direction of the brand. However, it shouldn’t be used as the source for all your exam answers.
Reason 7 – Practice
The theories such as “The 10,000-hour rule” and popular sayings such as “practice makes perfect” have a great deal of validity to them.
The more your practice, the better you will get.
However, it is important that you practice with questions that are relevant to the industry that is mentioned in the pre-seen.
Practicing aimlessly isn’t going to add any value to your preparation time. You can even formulate questions yourself after studying the syllabus thoroughly and attempt them as practice for the exam.
Reason 8 – Past variants
Since the change of syllabus in 2015, there is a substantial amount of variants for you to refer to. This isn’t always an advantage. Having too many variants have increased students’ dependency on them.
The objective of these variants is to understand the style of answering and not to borrow content. Each exam season, the focus industry changes and the dependability on past variants change accordingly.
Therefore, you have to be smart when referring to past variants and not to overestimate their contribution as an exam preparation tool.
Reason 9 – This is not enough
When considering case study exams, “skills” is an additional criterion introduced for passing the exams. Technical, Business, People and Leadership are the four components of this criterion.
In case study exams, the main focus is given to Technical, Business, People and Leadership. Most students get moderate marks for each of these areas (at least 1/3). However, they still fail to get the required pass mark of 80. This is mainly due to lack of valid content (assuming there was no drifting).
As a rule of thumb, it is smart to give at least 3 or 4 points for each requirement. This isn’t a rule set in stone, however, is a recommendation based on experience. At the same time, the points should contain at least 3 to 4 sentences. (not 1 line) Past variants could come in useful when understanding the amount of content required.
Reason 10 – What about the remaining requirements of the task?
With other exams (including CIMA OTQs), the only requirement is to get the pass mark. However, this is different for case study exams.
If you fail to complete all the requirements in a case study exam, the marks for your individual skills would be affected. This happens regardless of how good the rest of your answers are. Failing to give content to all the requirements may result in you failing to achieve “moderate” (1/3 of the marks) marks for one or more skills.
In order to avoid this issue, time management is crucial. You need to allocate adequate time for every question. Each time allocation will differ according to your level of knowledge and confidence with each requirement.
Understanding which of these 10 issues applies to you and rectifying them immediately will ensure a brighter future with CIMA for you.
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