Changes to APM question requirements

From September 2019 onwards the format of the question requirements in Section A of the Advanced Performance Management (APM) exam changed to an ‘embedded’ approach. From September 2022 all requirements in both Sections A and B will be embedded.

Throughout this brief article, examples from the 2022 APM specimen exam will be used to demonstrate what this will look like in the real exam and give advice on how to use the embedded requirements in the scenario to produce answers.

This article won’t be covering the professional skills in any way, so although they will appear in the requirements they will not be discussed further here. (Read more about APM and professional skills)

Figure 1 – Example from Section A

It is now the 1 September 20X5.

Write a report to the CEO of the Department for Internal Affairs to respond to his instructions for work on the following areas:

(i) the critical success factors and the key performance indicators for Deeland Police; 

(16 marks)

(ii) an evaluation of the value for money service provided;

(14 marks)

(iii) the use of league tables.

(10 marks)

Professional marks will be awarded for the demonstration of skill in communication, analysis and evaluation, scepticism, and commercial acumen in your answer.

(10 marks)

(50 marks)

As can be seen in Figure 1, candidates will be required to produce a report for the board or chief executive officer (CEO) of the company in the question, but it will direct candidates to respond to instructions for work on a number of specific areas. In this illustration the areas of work are the three question parts (denoted by roman numerals), which have a corresponding number of marks allocated to them.

In order to determine what the instructions are for each of these areas, candidates will need to engage with the question scenario. Each question part will relate to one or more exhibits in the question scenario. Often the name/heading of the exhibit will make it clear which part it is to be used for. Where further exhibits may need to be referenced this will be made clear.

For example, Exhibit 2 in the question is titled CSFs and KPIs which clearly relates to question part (i).

Question part (i) asks for a response to the CEO’s instruction for work on ‘the critical success factors and key performance indicators for Deeland Police’. So, what are the embedded instructions?

In order to address the requirements in full and effectively, candidates will need to read and understand the question scenario. There will not be enough in the requirement alone to enable a full answer to be developed and the nature of the APM exam is that answers must be in the context given. This means engaging with the relevant exhibits.

Figure 2

Exhibit 2 – CSFs and KPIs
In a recent meeting with the CEO, the Minister indicated that she felt that the four key areas were too vague and in order to better focus actions, the Minister’s adviser has suggested the following critical success factors (CSFs):

1. Greater protection and more support for those at risk of harm
2. Be better at catching criminals
3. Reducing the causes of crime by increased involvement with local communities
4. Create a task force to develop skills in detection and prosecution of virtual crime

Initially, the CEO did not see why the four key areas originally given could not be used as CSFs. He wants you to provide justifications in the light of the Minister’s concerns for the changes which the adviser has made to each of these. Then, using the above CSFs, he wants you to provide justified recommendations of up to two key performance indicators (KPIs) per CSF in order to measure performance.

In order to help you with the KPIs, the CEO has provided you with a table of data (Appendix 1) which has been used in the past when considering DP’s performance. However, you are allowed to suggest new data which would help in measuring performance. The CEO has made it clear that at this stage, no calculations are required.

The vital information has been bolded in Figure 2 and when identifying these embedded requirements, it is important to not how many activities there are being asked for. In this example, there are two aspects to the work:

  • Justify why the CSFs have been changed
  • For each CSF, recommend up to two justified KPIs (Appendix 1 in Exhibit 5 can also be used to help with this part).

Figure 3 – Example from Section B

It is now 1 September 20X5.

Respond to the director’s request for work on the following areas:

(a) the implementation of Step 2 of VBM

(15 marks)

(b) measurement of value.

(5 marks)

Professional marks will be awarded for the demonstration of skill in analysis and evaluation and commercial acumen in your answer.

(5 marks)

(25 marks)

As can be seen in Figure 3, in Section B there will still be a need for candidates to produce work that will be required at a high-level – ie for the board, chief executive officer (CEO) or a director of the company/organisation in the question. Like in Section A, it will direct candidates to respond to instructions for work on a number of specific areas. In this example there are two parts to the work required and each will have a corresponding exhibit(s) which contains the relevant information.

Figure 4

Exhibit 3 – Measuring value
The directors are unsure of a suitable financial performance indicator for them to use to measure whether Totaig is creating value. As an illustration, they have asked you to evaluate, by calculating economic value added (EVA™), whether Totaig has generated value for the year to 30 June 20X5. You should use the financial information given in Appendix 2.

Once more the embedded requirement has been bolded in Figure 4. It is asking for a calculation of EVATM to be performed and clearly directs the candidate to Appendix 2 for the financial data to be used.

What to do now

Practise using the question requirements and question scenario in this way to become familiar with the use of embedded requirements. Ensure that all activities being asked for, by either the board or CEO, are broken down and highlighted. This will ensure that all aspects of the instructions are being addressed by candidates in their report and will maximise the opportunity to score marks.

There are many examples of this style in past Section A questions from September 2019 onwards. Refer to the APM Specimen exam and two additional sample exams on ACCA’s Practice Platform for examples of this style in Section B questions.

Read the article 'Reading the question requirements for APM' for further valuable advice on this essential area.