ACCA AAA Free Examiners' Guide

ACCA AAA Examiners’ Guide

The first thing to remember about ACCA AAA 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 AAA 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 AAA Examiners’ Reports


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1.   Think before you start

Planning your answers may seem like an obvious piece of advice from the examiner, but it is surprising just how many students launch straight into answering a question without taking time to think about how they are going to approach it. This has resulted in poorly structured answers which make it difficult for the examiner to identify the key points provided in the answer and therefore whether the requirements of the question have been met.

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

“Candidates should pause and think before they start writing. Dealing fully with the implications of one of the loans first, and then the other, tended to provide a much clearer answer than those who adopted something of a random approach, apparently writing points as they occurred to them.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AAA Free Examiners' Guide

“This was not a difficult requirement, but most candidates did not perform as well as they could have done because they started to write before they had identified the two exemptions.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – December 2015

“They did not spend sufficient time carefully reading the question and thinking before they started writing.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“It appeared that many candidates would have benefited from pausing and thinking more before they started to write.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“It is always worth thinking about how to do a calculation in an efficient manner rather than to just immediately start it.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – June 2014

It is therefore recommended that you allocate yourself some planning time at the start of each question to think about the issues and identify the points you intend to address. This is even more important for questions that involve carrying out complex calculations. By taking just a few minutes to think about how you are going to tackle the answer, you will avoid muddled workings which the examiner cannot follow.

Sometimes students are reluctant to do this due to the time pressure in an exam situation, but the feedback from the examiners emphasises that typically the best answers are well structured and show signs of a plan.

2. Know the entire syllabus

Being told to revise the entire syllabus may seem an obvious piece of advice from the examiner, but it is astonishing just how

many students don’t do this!

Examiners were surprised at the number of candidates that also lacked basic accounting knowledge. This suggests that many studentsdidn’t take the time to ensure they understood the basics before learning more complex areas of the syllabus.

This is what the examiners had to say about it:

“There was a clear lack of both auditing and financial reporting knowledge.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AAA Free Examiners' Guide

“An obvious lack of accounting knowledge; an error cannot simultaneously overstate assets and understate profits for example.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

3. Answer the question being asked

A large number of comments in the examiners’ 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!

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“Candidates must ensure that they answer the specific requirement which has been set.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AAA Free Examiners' Guide

“Many candidates focused on explaining the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing which was not required and did not answer the  question.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

Get into the habit of highlighting the key words within a question. By doing this it will make it 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.

4. Reference the scenario

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:

“Candidates are reminded that at this level answers but be specific and tailored to the scenario provided.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“These answers more often than not lack the depth and application that is required at this level.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – December 2015

ACCA AAA 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.

4. Don’t write too little

As the saying goes “It’s about the quality not the quantity”. This is true to an extent, but you also need to write enough to demonstrate to the examiner that you know what you’re talking about!

“Writing out or simply restating points from the question with little development.” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“In general answers to this section were very short and did not cover enough points to score well…” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – December 2015

“Writing too little for the marks available…” – ACCA AAA Examiner’s Report – June 2015

Unfortunately nobody can give a definitive guide to how many words is enough for a question that is worth either 20 marks or 35 marks.

ACCA AAA Free Examiners' Guide

There simply isn’t a precise answer to this. Instead of focusing on the number of words that you have down on paper, you should look at the number of points included in your answers and how much detail you’ve gone into on each of these.

Some short answers can be an unfortunate outcome of poor time management, spending too long on one question meaning there is limited time to answer the others. Practising past exam questions against the clock is a great way to ensure you’ve written an appropriate amount within the time limit for every question asked.

Of course, another factor in writing too little could be simply not knowing the answer to the question! Make sure that you have sufficient knowledge of the full syllabus to avoid not having enough to say.

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