ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide
ACCA SBL Examiners’ Guide

The first thing to remember about ACCA SBL is that it is a Professional exam. What is ultimately being examined is your fitness for a professional role. You are being asked to put yourself in the position you will one day occupy, so answer not as a student, but as an accountant reporting to stakeholders.

To be successful in the ACCA SBL exam it’s important to understand what the examiners expect to see included in your answers. This is vital to score high marks as there may be a big difference between what you consider to be a good answer and what the examiner is looking for.

This guide summarises the key issues that examiners have highlighted in recent reports. In particular it identifies the areas where students have performed poorly and where future students need to give more focus. We strongly recommend that you don’t ignore this information as it comes from the people who will decide whether you pass or fail!

Find the full list of Examiners’ Reports on the ACCA website here: ACCA SBL Examiners’ Reports


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1.   Apply your knowledge

Being able to do well in the exam does not only mean learning core syllabus topics but being able to apply this knowledge to the scenario within the question.

Students are expected to use specific details on the case within the question and comment using the relevant theory/knowledge to back up their points.

This is what examiners had to say about recent candidates’ performance in this area:

“In most questions, only a few marks can be given for theoretical answers. The bulk of the allocated marks are for the interpretation of the information provided in the scenario in the context of some theoretical framework.”  ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – December 2015

ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide

Remember, it is absolutely vital that you demonstrate to the examiner that you have linked the scenario into your answer. Don’t simply write down everything you know about the subject. It is far more important to refer only to the relevant theory and state specifically how it relates to the scenario.

The best way to get into the habit of doing this correctly is through practise. You should aim to complete at least 3 full past exam papers under examination conditions before your final exam in order to ensure you make these links effectively.

Don’t forget, the examiners also expect candidates to have a wider knowledge and understanding of the business and accounting world. Accounting is a profession that requires more than just book learning – business acumen is needed too.

2. Read the question very carefully

A large number of comments in the examiner’s reports refer to the tendency of some candidates to misinterpret, misread or misunderstand what a question asks. Of course, some of these candidates simply do not know the answer to the question and so, in hope of salvaging some marks, they regurgitate information on a syllabus area they do know.

Other students, however, will not have properly understood the question before they dive into an answer. If you attempt to answer a question which is just slightly different from the one on which the marking guide is based, you can end up scoring no marks at all. Doing that just once in your exam could easily be the difference between passing and failing!

A question that at first glance appears to cover a broad subject will generally have a much more narrow scope when read properly. Don’t spend time showing the breadth of your knowledge, instead make sure you keep your answer focused on the specific part of the subject that is being examined. For example, this question on the broad subject of project management, actually only covered one aspect – project planning

ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide

“Many described the whole project life cycle, providing many points that could not be awarded the marks on offer for project planning. Candidates are advised to read the question carefully and to answer within the scope of the question. Marks cannot be awarded for answers that are legitimate, but irrelevant in the context of the question. ” – ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – December 2015

Get into the habit of highlighting the key words within a question. Doing this will make apparent what the questions is asking you to do. It’s recommended that you closely look at the verb (E.g. “Explain”, “Discuss” or “Comment”) as this will give you a great indication of what the marker really wants from you.

In addition, make sure you that read the question slowly and read it through at least twice before answering the question so you don’t miss a key requirement.

3. Use your numbers

There is a lot of theory in ACCA SBL and this certainly underpins your work, but remember that accountants ultimately deal in data and must be able to produce relevant figures. Quantitative analysis is a requirement of some questions – examiners identified that many students were unable to support their answers with the use of data.

Here are some of the examiners’ remarks on this issue:

“Worryingly, too many candidates resorted to general textual answers that stated the obvious ‘the inventory figure of this type of production is higher than the inventory figure of that type of production’, ‘the raw material cost of production of this alternative is almost twice that of the other alternative’. Very little credit could be given for such disappointing answers. Employers will expect qualified accountants to be able to accurately analyse relevant data, coming up with meaningful values and recommendations.” – ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide

It’s important that students are able to analyse relevant data and produce quantitative solutions and recommendations within their answers. Remember, just as specific numerical analysis will be required in the real word, generalised answers do not get high marks in the exam!

4. Use knowledge from previous exams and the ACCA website

Students should be able to use knowledge and techniques from syllabi that feed into the ACCA P3 exam. Examiners expect students to be able to use this prior learning appropriately within their answers.

In addition, students should also have an awareness of articles and resources from the ACCA website. Examiners consider this to be vital reading and are concerned that it not being used to a large extent in the exams.

Here’s what they had to say:

“Be prepared to bring forward knowledge and techniques from syllabuses that feed into SBL. Question three was from a syllabus area of SBL traditionally associated with management accounting. Familiarise yourself with the technical articles on the ACCA web site that are relevant to this paper.” – ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide

Make sure you refresh your memory of key theory from previous exams that could be required within the ACCA SBL exam

Also spend some time reading the articles on the ACCA website. They are there for a reason – so please don’t ignore them! Print out the articles, make notes, and think about how they could be relevant to your exam. Make time to do this in your revision plan.

Don’t forget, as part of this you should include reading the full examiners’ reports.

5. Manage your time

Time management appeared to be a major issue with ACCA SBL candidates in recent exams. Examiners commented that students spent too much time on early exam questions and neglected other questions towards the end of the paper. The 3 hour 15 minutes to available to complete the exam will go quickly so making a conscious effort to allocate a time limit for each question will play a key role in passing your exam.

Here are some comments from the examiners

“This undoubtedly contributed to the time management problems that candidates experienced and reported in this paper.” – ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA SBL Free Examiners' Guide

“Time management remains an issue for some candidates. This could be resolved by avoiding quoting lengthy detail from the case study scenario, instead focusing on responding to the question requirements.” – ACCA SBL Examiner’s Report – September 2015

As with all exams, good time management is directly correlated with good performance. Leave yourself too little time and you will either fail to give a question the time it needs, or worse, not answer it at all!

Do not spend too much of your time on early exam questions. This can often result in rushed and incomplete answers towards the end of your exam. Divide up your time based on the number of marks awarded for each question and then ensure you allow enough time to fully answer every requirement. If it’s a subject you particularly like, don’t be tempted to spend too much of your time demonstrating your knowledge in this area and then neglecting other questions – move on!

A great way to practice your time management skills is through attempting past exam scripts under exam conditions. It’s recommended that you complete at least three full past exams prior to the real thing.

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