The F4 exam underwent significant changes, with a new format for the written exams, both for English and Global, that became applicable from December 2014 and the introduction of computer-based exams (CBEs) for both English and Global from 19 November 2014.
It cannot be denied that the amended structure of F4 represents a major change in how the content is examined, but, hopefully, what follows will reassure learning providers and, more importantly perhaps, candidates that what is examined has changed little and how the content examined is suitable to this new format. This article explains the validity of the content and approach in relation to the exam structure. In dealing with the new format, it focuses on the written paper as reference can be made directly to the specimen paper that is available on the website currently. CBE specimens were made available in advance of the introduction of English and Global by the on-demand CBE model.
Moving F4 (ENG) and (GLO) to the on-demand CBE model has allowed us to introduce added flexibility into our exam schedule, while, as detailed below, ensuring our assessments are relevant for finance professionals.
The general aim of F4 remains the development of knowledge and understanding about the general legal framework within which an accountant operates. To that end it is thought necessary to develop an awareness of specific legal areas of central importance to business in general, and to accountants in particular.
It has to be emphasised that F4 does not aim to make candidates into lawyers. For the most part, in a ‘real life’ context, legal questions will be dealt with by legal professionals. Accountants must be aware, however, of the legal framework within which their legal professionals operate, and indeed which controls their operation, and must be sufficiently sensitive to the fact that certain issues require expert legal advice.
The stated capabilities of the F4 syllabus remain as follows:
- Identifying the essential elements of the legal system, including the main sources of law. (It is felt that candidates must have a minimum understanding of the legal framework in order to understand the operation of the substantive law. Now that the Human Rights Act 1998 has bedded into English law it has been decided not to examine it as a substantive topic, although its effect remain pervasive and may arise in a consideration of specific aspects of law.)
- Recognising and applying the appropriate legal rules relating to the law of obligations (both contractual and tortious). (These are the essential legal relationships that people generally enter into, but accountants in particular must be aware of the issues raised. Negligence is felt essential as it is the basis for understanding professional negligence. It should be noted that in terms of tort law attention will be focussed on the essential business-centred torts of passing off and negligence and others, such as the personal torts of nuisance and trespass, have been removed from the syllabus.)
- Explaining and applying the law relating to employment relationships. (This is an important and popular element of the syllabus.)
- Distinguishing between alternative forms and constitutions of business organisations.
- Recognising and comparing types of capital and the financing of companies.
- Describing and explaining how companies are managed, administered, and regulated.
- Recognising the legal implications relating to insolvency law.
- Demonstrating an understanding of various criminal offences that may arise in the operation of businesses. This latter aspect of the syllabus was enhanced by the necessary introduction of the law relating to bribery but, in recognition of the fact that the syllabus cannot just be allowed to grow, it was decided to remove ‘corporate governance’ from the F4 syllabus. This was in no way to imply that corporate governance was not an essential aspect of the operation of businesses, but it was recognised that the issue was dealt with more fully in F8 and P1.
The foregoing has referred specifically to the F4 (ENG) syllabus. The F4 (GLO) syllabus, designed to reflect international aspects of business law, remains essentially unchanged, although with the removal of corporate governance.
This is the area where real change will take place. From December 2014 the exam moved from a three-hour exam to a two-hour exam, and is divided into two sections.
Section A is worth 70 marks. It contains a mixture of 20 one-mark and 25 two-mark questions. The use of the word ‘mixture’ is deliberate, as it is important to emphasise that within the exam paper questions are randomised, so candidates have to recognise the area of law they are dealing with before offering an answer. It should also be emphasised that the whole syllabus is open to be examined and the availability of 45 questions makes it highly likely that all aspects of the syllabus will be examined in each exam.
Candidates are required to select the correct one from a list of potential answers. As objective test (OT) questions there can only be one correct answer to each question. The allocation of marks will depend on the complexity of the question with one-mark questions having fewer possible answers than two-mark questions. It is apparent that the format of Section A lends itself to computer-based marking and facilitates conversion to computer-based exam.
Section B contains five six-mark multi-task questions (MTQs) and, in effect, replicates the three analysis/application questions to be found at the end of the previous exam paper. The format of the questions are similar to the previous problem scenarios and they contain a series of tasks that relate to a scenario.
A significant part of any educational process is about imparting knowledge, and clearly objective testing is capable of assessing whether that knowledge has been assimilated or not. The previous F4 exam structure, to a very large degree, was designed to assess whether candidates possessed a sufficient level of legal knowledge to be deemed fit to function as accountants. It might be thought that the use of OTs would exacerbate the mere unthinking collection of knowledge, but in fact the reverse may prove to be the case.
Knowledge has to be marshalled appropriately; there is only one correct answer and candidates must know it. Also, the new format stops the question-spotting provider of prepared answers. The sheer number, together with the randomisation, of questions requires candidates to cover the whole syllabus and requires them to think about what aspect of that syllabus they are being questioned on.
However, education is much more than the mere passing on of knowledge; it is about the inculcation of the higher level skills of analysis, reflection and synthesis. Well written questions in Section B of the new format are capable of testing those higher skills. Candidates may only be required to provide short responses to question prompts, but in order to get the correct answer, they must engage in the appropriate processes of analysis, and reflection. Candidates may not be required to write out those processes but the provision of the correct answer is the proof that they have nonetheless engaged in those processes.
ACCA has an established approach to exam development that ensures that levels of rigour across the qualification are maintained when changes are introduced. In developing the new format for F4 we undertook extensive consultation, including review sessions with subject matter experts and global exam trialling with exam ready candidates. These are key steps of our exam development process that ensure that the new exam format is fit-for-purpose.
F4 continues to recognise that candidates are potential accountants, rather than potential lawyers. The structure of the exam has changed significantly from December 2014 but the syllabus has not significantly changed, subject to the changes mentioned above.