ACCA - The global body for professional accountants

The Exam Review Board meets after every exam session to look at the most recent exam papers. The Exam Review board comprises ACCA staff and Approved Learning Partners for Student Tuition and Content

December 2012 exam papers

Paper F4 was considered to be a fair paper similar in style and content to previous sessions. It was felt that candidates may struggle to score well on Questions 5 and 6, and that the lack of breakdown of marks on Question 9 may have caused some issues.

Question 9 and 10 were considered to be too similar.

These actually tested two very different topics in the syllabus. Question 9 was about directors’ duties and Question 10 was about insider dealing.

It was accepted that some of the questions were difficult but that this was balanced by some straightforward ones such as Question 1 and Question 7, which candidates were performing very well on so far.

A majority of candidates found this to be a fair paper, set at the correct level (80%). 94% of candidates agreed that the questions were clear and 92% found the syllabus was covered adequately. Candidates found Question 9 the most difficult


The paper was considered to be fair paper and well balanced with a reasonable mix of topics across the syllabus although on the whole it was felt to be more weighted towards high-level discussion which may have contributed to time pressure. It was felt that candidates may struggle with Question 1 as the topic has not been examined before and with Question 3, due to the lack of breakdown of requirements. Question 5 was considered challenging due to mixing transfer pricing with ABC ACCA responded that the Question 1 topic has only recently been added to the syllabus, and an article was published in Student Accountant to help. The style used in Question 3 has featured before and students are performing well on both question 3 and 5

  • 80% of candidates found the syllabus was covered well and that the questions clear. 
  • 51% felt they had little time to complete the paper
  • 64% found the paper was set at the right level.

The paper was considered to be a fair and reasonable paper, although challenging and a lot to do within the three hours. It was felt to be a good bridge between Paper F6 and Paper P6, covering a range of topics and all expected areas of the syllabus.  It was also felt to have a good mix of easy and slightly trickier questions.  Although it was a lengthy paper which some candidates may have found time pressured, it was felt that a well-prepared candidate would complete the paper on time. 

Some felt that iXBRL was unexpected albeit only for three marks. ACCA advised that it is clearly in the Study Guide, and was included in an article, so should not have posed any problems for a prepared candidate.

Question 5 was felt to have good coverage of different topics, although Part (a) was felt to be tricky. ACCA advised that the Study Guide now clearly states that there will be between 5-15 marks on inheritance tax in every paper.

ACCA revealed that candidates were doing fairly well overall, although a lot of candidates were spending too long on Question 1 and were leaving Question 4 until the end and were therefore struggling to complete it if they had not left enough time.  Those who did allocate enough time to all questions performed well.

83% of candidates felt the syllabus was covered adequately
74% agreed the exam questions were clear. 
Comments from candidates indicate that they struggled with the requirements for Question 4.

Paper F7 was found to be a reasonable and extremely fair paper. The questions tested a range of topics with no ambiguities.  Overall there was adequate time to compete the paper. Question 1 was considered to be in line with recent sittings. The inclusion of contingent consideration was mentioned as a new feature of the question, but it was not difficult.

Question 2 was considered fair and in line with previous sittings and although it was a lengthy question, it was not difficult.

Questions 3 and 4 were considered to be excellent questions on which candidates should have been able to score high marks. The requirement in Question 4 on qualitative characteristics from the Framework was welcomed and candidates appear to be doing well on this part.

In Question 5 it was felt that well prepared candidates would have done well although standards IAS 20 and IAS 37 are not often examined in detail. Part (b) may have proved challenging.

A question was raised about the use of IAS 1 terminology (ie 'income statement') which does not reflect the 2011 amendments to this standard.

ACCA explained that  the 2012 Study Guide and exams  still used these terms, rather than the terms introduced by the revision to IAS 1, as was explained at the June 2012 ERB meeting. The terms are interchangeable and both are permitted even after the revised standard comes into effect so this should not have caused a problem for candidates. However, the new terminology will be used in the 2013 Study Guides and exams. This will be the case for all other papers at the Skills and Professional levels too. 

76% of candidates commented that the paper was set at the right level.
90% found the questions clear
92% agreed the syllabus was covered adequately.

The paper was considered to be reasonable and well balanced and tested a good range of core areas across the syllabus. It was felt that all question requirements were clear and unambiguously phrased, a fair test of candidates' abilities and a very good and representative exam with fair allocation of marks, and suggested solutions.

It was however felt that candidates may find it to be slightly tougher than previous sessions. It was commented that 12 marks allocated to Question 1c on computer assisted audit techniques (CAAT) was unfair and candidates may struggle to recall knowledge in internal audit on Question 3c .It was also commented that ethics was not tested in application rather in knowledge on Question 4a and the accounting knowledge in respect of the provision for reorganisation tested on Question 4 was felt to assume knowledge of Paper F7 rather than Paper F3. Question 5 was considered to be generally challenging.

ACCA responded that the 12 marks on Question 1c were equally split between three parts and that candidates seem to have performed very well on two of the parts. The question on internal audit was reasonable for well-prepared candidates and the application of ethics may not necessarily be tested at every session and it was tested in a knowledge requirement in order to balance the overall difficulty of the paper. IAS 37 is on the examinable documents list for Paper F3. The general principles of accounting for provisions are included in Paper F3 and credit will be given for the application of these principles to the scenario in Question 4a. It was accepted that Question 5b and 5c may be challenging to candidates but this was balanced by some straightforward questions, for example Question 2.

92% of candidates found the syllabus was adequately covered
74% felt the paper was set at the right level
62% agreed they had enough time to complete the paper.

Paper F9 was considered to be a fair and balanced paper covering topics well although easier than in previous diets. It was commented that the paper had less discursive elements than usual but an excellent marking guide. It was also felt that the paper did not have enough risk management and sources of finance content.

It was pointed out that Question 1 and Question 2 would have alternative acceptable approaches. ACCA confirmed that alternative approaches were acceptable and these have been provided to markers.

80% of candidates found the exam questions clear
86% felt the paper thoroughly covered the syllabus
57% felt they had enough time to complete the paper.

Overall this was considered to be a fair paper with core topics examined, although the wording of some requirements was difficult to understand in places. 

It was pointed out that in Question 1 it might have been difficult to assess what professional marks were awarded for when referring to 'tone' and the wording of parts of some questions might have been difficult for non-English speakers. 

It was noted that candidates may have considered Question 3c to be a fringe area but it was noted that qualitative characteristics of useful information have been assessed before in Paper P1 and candidates were performing well in this area.

One or two topics were not considered to be mainstream and a departure from the norm in the optional questions, but it was confirmed that these areas were either key learning outcomes and or had been examined before.

In response to a comment about heavy focus on risk in the examination, ACCA stated that risk covers two of the five main sections of the Paper P1 syllabus and is considered a prominent area, especially after adding more risk outcomes into the syllabus a few sessions ago.

Comments were made about an optional question being focused on governance, which is usually in the compulsory question. ACCA responded by stating that it has never been stipulated which topics will be examined in the compulsory or in the optional sections and candidates need to study all areas of the syllabus to prepare adequately, but also cannot assume that some topics will always come up.

78% found the questions clear
85% agreed the syllabus was covered adequately
52% of candidates felt they enough time

Overall this paper was found to be fair, covering a wide range of topics.  A comment was raised that several of the standards that are only examined at Paper P2, or only examined in detail at Paper P2, such as those on accounting  for financial instruments, income taxes and employee benefits were not covered in this exam.  The paper was however thought be achievable within the time allowed and free from ambiguity.

ACCA commented that financial instruments were covered in Question 1 and the new fair value standard in Question 4 was likely to be a regular feature and only examined in detail in Paper P2, so there was a reasonable weighting of key Paper P2 standards.

Question 1 required a consolidated statement of financial position and some comments were that this was a surprise as the last three consolidations have also featured the statement of financial position. ACCA commented that the underlying scenarios have all been very different, and that the other accounting treatments tested within the scenarios have also ranged widely over the syllabus.  Part (c) on ethics was considered to be quite tricky.
Overall candidates seem to be performing very well in this question.

Question 2a was considered to be quite tough and challenging and covered relatively obscure topics that may have put candidates off. ACCA explained that credit was being given for any relevant application of principles. Even where the ‘grant’ treatment was been missed, but relevant issues relating to recognition of assets had been applied, marks could be gained.

Part b) was also considered to be difficult, but again there were some marks available for very basic points about foreign currency in the context of statements of cash flows.

Question 3 was considered to be fair although it was suggested that in Part (b) the term ‘lease’ may have caught some out. In Part (a) candidates were not picking up the clue in the first line and did not spot that the main issue here was to discuss investment properties. Good answers were being produced for Part (b).

Question 4 dealt with the recently issued standard on fair values, which should have been expected to appear and the examiner had written an article on this topic. It was suggested that Part (b) tested the new standard in a greater level of detail than would have been anticipated. ACCA pointed out that Part (b) of the current issues question will always be a practical application of the new or proposed rules.

64% of candidates felt there was enough time to complete the paper
61% felt the paper was set at the right level
73% found the questions clear
75% felt the core areas of the syllabus were covered well. 
There were some comments about the imbalance between written requirements and calculations.

Paper P3 was found to be a reasonable paper and covered core areas.

In Question 1 it was questioned whether the BCG matrix could have been used and it was confirmed that it was appropriate to use that model mainly, but other performance measures and analytics could have been used to support the use of this model and to make other relevant comments about each company's contribution to the portfolio as a whole.

Comments were made about the length of Question 1 and having a lot of information to absorb, however it was similar in length to previous sittings

In response to comments about candidates not knowing which model to use in Question 1b, it was pointed out that at this level the candidates should be able to select the appropriate model and not necessarily be given it and this has been stated previously. It was also noted that the benchmarking question (1c) was poorly answered and that it was necessary for candidates to prepare themselves better for such questions, particularly those which draw upon earlier knowledge in papers such as Paper F5.

Question 2 was considered to be quite difficult but it was of a similar style to other past paper questions and candidates who have prepared adequately should be familiar with this sort of question.

Question 3 was felt not to be popular with candidates as an optional question although Question 3b on franchising was answered well, but answers were weak on joint ventures and other form of collaboration.

Question 4 was definitely an unpopular question.  Candidates are not good at describing shortcomings and identifying risks although this is heavily covered in Paper P1. It was also thought to be a topic not examined frequently, but ACCA responded by pointing out that decision trees were introduced into the syllabus in June 2011 and therefore was not examined before then.

ACCA commented that candidates were reported to be trying to write too much in Section A, indicating that better time management and allocation is needed here to allow sufficient time and focus for Section B.

ACCA also pointed out that exam performance could be improved by ensuring that all P3 technical articles are read by all candidates who have not yet passed the paper. 

80% of candidates found syllabus coverage appropriate
62% found the difficulty level about right
67% felt there were few time management issues.  Candidates found Question 1 to be too long and ambiguous.

Paper P4 was found to be technically challenging but reasonably well balanced covering core syllabus topics very well especially in Section A. Question 1 was felt to have tough calculations in Part (i) and some ambiguity in the bond par value. ACCA confirmed that candidates using 1,000 blocks of bonds are given full credit as the final answer would not be affected.

Question 5 was considered tricky. ACCA responded that an article on this area was published in Student Accountant to help with this question

64% of candidates found the questions clear
58% found the difficulty level too hard
70% agreed the paper covered the syllabus well.
65% felt they had too little time to complete the paper
Many responded that Question 2 was too difficult especially the section on the option premium which was confusing to some candidates.

Paper P5 was considered a decent paper covering course content adequately and with consistent scenarios although demanding of time.

It was felt that Question 1 part ii) should be open to more answers and Question 2b and Question 4 should have acceptable alternatives. ACCA responded that alternative acceptable answers and approaches were given full credit as usual with papers at this level.

Question 1 was felt to have quite an amount of detail in the appendices, making it time consuming. ACCA responded by stating that details were put in to cut down the number of calculations candidates had to do.

72% of candidates found the syllabus was covered well
63% felt time pressured
72% of candidates found the questions clear

It was felt that this was a well-balanced paper with good syllabus coverage, and at the right level.  It was also felt to be a challenging exam, where some candidates may have struggled with topics that they were not familiar with.

Question 3 was felt to look harder than it actually was, which may put some candidates off, however, if they tackled this they may actually have performed quite well.

Questions were felt to be different from previous sittings, although overall the exam remained in line with other sittings.

ACCA found that candidates struggled with the sale of trade and assets in Question 1, although not with the sale of shares.

Some felt that there were some fringe areas of the syllabus examined in Section B.  ACCA responded that this exam did include some fringe areas of the syllabus, which must be tested, but also examined a lot of mainstream topics.  The fringe areas were balanced by the remainder of each question being more straightforward, so that overall the exam was balanced.

55% of candidates felt the requirements were clear
52% felt there was adequate syllabus coverage,
51% felt it was too time pressured.   
Some candidates felt this paper focused on obscure areas of the syllabus.  Question 1 was found to be the most difficult by some candidates.

Paper P7 was considered to be well balanced and fair with good scenarios covering topics across the whole syllabus that a well-prepared candidate has a reasonable chance of passing. Some commented that it was too long and time pressured.

Comments were made that Question 1b was perhaps too easy although it was regarded as an excellent question and Question 2 was felt to be lengthy and time pressured.

ACCA responded that it had been observed that candidates were struggling with Question 2; however, Question 1 was considered to be fair and well answered which balanced the performance on Question 2. It was also observed that candidates were not reading question requirements well which resulted in more general answers as opposed to application to question scenarios and unsatisfactory time management also affected performance.

81% of candidates found this paper to be fair and balanced
76% thought the paper was set at the right difficulty level

Last updated: 17 Jan 2014