ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide
ACCA AFM Examiners’ Guide

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


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1.   Manage your time

Time management appeared to be a major issue with ACCA AFM 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. 3 hours and 15 minutes 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:

“Poor time management. Too much time spent in carrying out relatively simple calculation tasks.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – December 2015

“Unsatisfactory time management. Too much time spent in carrying out relatively simple calculation tasks including an inability to use appropriate rounding for calculations.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide

“Good time management is vitally important. The overall opinion of the marking team was that some candidates spent too long on a part of a question, and therefore did not devote enough time to the other questions. On the other hand, candidates who devoted enough time to answering each question and each part of each question were significantly more likely to succeed.”  – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – June 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.

2. Make use of ACCA resources

There are many useful articles and resources on the ACCA website which are considered by examiners to be vital reading. Examiners were concerned that students were not taking the time to read and also fully understand these study resources. This was evident in the way in which some students answered the exam questions.

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“There was a recent article in Student Accountant which related directly to question 4(b). It was evident that many candidates had not studied this in sufficient depth and could not answer question 4(b) well. It is important that many resources available to supplement your study are not only read but understood in detail.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – June 2015

ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide

“Candidates performing less well were not studying the articles in Student Accountant in sufficient detail.”  – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – June 2015

“Don’t just read the Examiner’s report and file it away. Internalize it and emulate the approaches, techniques and good practice it suggests.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – December 2014

These articles are on the ACCA website 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 in your revision plan to look through these articles.

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

3. Poor presentation skills

Poor presentation skills have been an issue frequently addressed by examiners in recent years. They identified the need for students to clearly structure their answers. This can range from the logical flow of the answer through to the simple use of headings and subheadings to signal the progression of the answer and how it relates to the question.  A well structured answer allows examiners to identify key points and easily assess whether the student has answered all the requirements of the question.

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

“Business reports and proposals are expected to be succinct, professionally written and easy to read with clear headings and conclusions. A candidate who does not demonstrate this approach in writing the report or discussion paper, will not earn the full professional marks that are available.”  – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide

“It was disappointing that many candidates did not draft their answers in a discussion paper format, with a title heading, a brief introduction of its objectives, clearly headed workings and concluding comments.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

The key to ensuring you don’t miss out on marks due to poor presentation is to take a little time after reading each question to think through how you are going to structure your answer – before you start to write! 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.

So don’t dive straight into answering before you’ve thought about what you’re going to write – impress your marker by including an introduction, conclusion and headings throughout!

4. 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 students didn’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:

“In this paper, successful candidates demonstrated this clearly, while candidates, who did not achieve a pass, did not demonstrate sufficient understanding and knowledge of the syllabus areas examined.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide

“Candidates struggled to explain how this purchasing power parity relationship may affect a company’s cash flows, a topic area which was introduced in the FM paper.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – March 2016

The key point to be taken from this feedback is that a ‘strategy’ of learning a limited number of core topics and expecting to pass is not going to work! The ACCA AFM exam builds upon some of the content from the ACCA FM paper, so refresh your memory on those topics that have been brought forward before building your knowledge in the other key areas. Knowing the basics will benefit you in the long run. Don’t try to cut corners here or you will just end up with problems!

5. Application to 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:

“Excellent answers were obtained from candidates who applied their knowledge and understanding to the scenario given in each question… Less satisfactory answers tended to give more general responses rather than answers specific to the scenario.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – June 2015

ACCA AFM Free Examiners' Guide

“It is important that in questions, both the requirements and the narrative of the scenario are read carefully. Irrelevant answers, not related to the requirements (and the scenario), will score few, if any, marks.” – ACCA AFM Examiner’s Report – December 2014

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.

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