This article was first published in the May 2016 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Following the introduction of a more flexible exam calendar from September last year, ACCA is now rolling out further computer-based exams. These will incorporate the use of spreadsheet and word-processing tools to reflect how finance professionals work today.   

As we highlighted in the June 2015 edition of Accounting and Business, the new timetable of four exam sessions a year was introduced in September last year – initially to students in selected markets and then rolled out around the world. The new March and September exam sessions have been extremely popular with students, with over 86,000 taking exams in March this year. Employers have also benefited from the initiative, having more options to schedule in trainee development outside of peak periods of activity.

From September this year we will start the phased introduction of the new session computer-based exams (‘session CBEs’) for the F5, F6 (UK), F7, F8 and F9 exams. This will further align the exams with the work of the modern financial professional. 

The new CBEs should not be confused with our existing on-demand CBEs offered for the F1-F4 (English and Global) exams of the ACCA Qualification and their Foundation-level equivalents. One significant difference is that the new session CBEs contain constructed response questions that require human/expert marking, in addition to a range of objective test questions, which are auto-marked. By using a mix of question types, we are able to assess technical knowledge across the full syllabus and the relevant application of that knowledge, ensuring our students are prepared for the workplace.   

Students will use spreadsheet and word-processing tools to answer questions within the constructed response section, aligning the exams with how these tasks are carried out in today’s working environment. These changes, which have been made in consultation with employers, will ensure that students are equipped with the types of skill that employers need. 

Phased approach

We are taking a country-by-country approach to rolling out the exam changes so that they are implemented only when each country is ready for them and has the necessary capabilities to administer CBEs. The new CBEs will run alongside our paper-based exams during the timetabled exam weeks and implemented via a network of independent test centres, ensuring we provide students with the same professional exam environment currently offered at paper-based centres.

The inclusion of expert marking at the higher levels of our exams distinguishes us from a number of other accountancy bodies. In recent years, some global competitors have moved to a more significantly on-demand CBE model, not requiring expert marking and therefore, we believe, compromising how rigorously students are examined. As a result, we remain the largest, leading global accountancy body to be represented on multiple education frameworks benchmarked at Master’s level.  

Any changes we make to the exams will have the rigour and quality of the Qualification as its main focus. Session CBEs have gone through extensive development and review cycles so members and employers can continue to have the confidence that our members hold a first-class professional qualification that provides them with the skills they need. 

Alan Hatfield is ACCA executive director of strategy and development