Improving exam performance

Fine-tuning your exam preparation can help you maximise your marks. We provide a 'best practice' checklist for your studies and exam technique



It is very important to only use the most up-to-date study materials. Older materials, perhaps borrowed from a friend or bought second hand, often refer to old rules, or to rates which are no longer examinable. This is particularly relevant to exams dealing with taxation, financial reporting, law and auditing.

Revise the entire syllabus, using the Study Guide to help you monitor progress. Don’t focus your revision on favourite subjects, or ‘core’ topics, as this strategy rarely gives you the chance to earn enough marks to pass. By covering the entire syllabus, not only are you fully prepared for the exam, but you are also taking a mature approach, worthy of a professional accountant.

Practise using as many past exam papers as possible. For exams where legislation and standards are regularly updated, it is important to purchase revision or exam kits produced by the Approved Content Providers who will have updated the original ACCA questions and answers for all such changes. Also review suggested answers, absorb examiner’s comments in the examiners’ reports on previous candidates’ performances, available for each of the past exams, and read related articles in the Student Accountant hub. In particular, look at the specimen exam, which is the best guide to question style and shows the split between numerical and non‑numerical questions.


Don’t question spot by analysing past exams. In a previous session, for example, many candidates clearly assumed a specific theory wouldn’t come up because it had been examined the session before. This assumption was wrong, and so those candidates lost the opportunity to gain marks.

When reviewing past exams, don’t memorise model answers in the hope of using them in the exam. As every exam is different, repeating old answers can never be appropriate – and markers will quickly spot when they are being used.

Don’t question guess. Some candidates consider the technical articles in Student Accountant, and the examiner’s reports, as a guide to the questions that will appear in the next exam session. They are not. Technical articles do cover future exam topics, but also deal with subjects less well covered in approved study texts, or provide an update to study material in the light of recent events.

Practise multiple-choice as well as longer questions. The examiner has put just as much careful thought into multiple‑choice questions as into longer questions, and especially into the distractors – which provide plausible, but incorrect, alternatives likely to be selected by less well‑prepared candidates.

Success requires extensive study and practice. Question spotting and short, intensive revision sessions are unlikely to be successful.

Don’t rely on numerical ability alone, especially in the more advanced exams. At this level, candidates must always demonstrate analytical and evaluative skills, shown by linking their theoretical learning to a specific case study.


In the exam centre, good technique can make a difference between a marginal pass and fail. Use past exams to practise your exam technique, as well as your technical skills, and pay particular attention to the appropriate exam style for each exam. For example, where a question is worth four marks, brief succinct answers are all that are required.

Good time management is crucial, so use the mark scheme to guide your timing. Apportion the time you have available to the mark allocation for each section, each question, and each question part. This will give you a minute by minute breakdown of your ideal exam progress.

Good time management is especially important when scenarios are rich in detail. Such scenarios always include more points which could be made than the marks on offer, so a careful review of material is required, tailored to the mark allocation, along with a disciplined approach to time management.

Don’t rely on guesswork when answering multiple-choice questions (MCQs). This is a risky strategy and usually leads to a wrong answer. You need a sound knowledge of all syllabus areas to answer an MCQ section successfully. However, don’t leave MCQs unanswered – if you can’t answer an MCQ based on the knowledge you have – or are running out of time – then make an educated guess. You then at least have a chance of gaining a mark, whereas an unanswered question will definitely gain no marks.

Don’t answer more questions than the exam asks you to – this is a waste of time and does not gain any more marks.

In discursive exams, be prepared to explain and discuss. Unless specifically asked for, simple statements in a list, for example, will rarely be enough to gain full marks.

Don’t use the points raised by one question to answer another. It’s very unlikely that separate exam questions are linked, but candidates often repeat points across questions as if there were a deliberate connection.


When writing in your answer booklet, put the relevant question number at the top of each page used to write the answer. Although candidates may answer exam questions in any order on the answer booklet, they are strongly recommended to complete each part of a question in order and to keep all answers to parts of questions together in the booklet. This makes marking more manageable and reduces the scope for error or omission. 

Don’t use the same page in the answer booklet to answer several different questions – start the answer to each new question on a fresh page. Different parts to the same question can be continued on the same page.

Although possibly a sign of poor planning, it is acceptable to start a question, move on to another, and then return to the first question later – just make sure that each answer is clearly labelled and starts on a new page.

Illegible handwriting can result in missed marks if a correct answer cannot be understood. As handwriting is rarely used now in business, you need to practise this skill so that your answers remain legible throughout the exam.

Don’t write out the question at the start of your answer; this wastes valuable time and gains no marks. Likewise, do not restate the scenario or facts from the question.

When writing an answer, avoid using elaborate headings (in different colours or text styles, for example), which take time to create. Clear headings are important, but simple underlining is enough.

Take care with the presentation of short as well as long answers, paying attention to use of language and general structure.


Read the question carefully and think before you write. Questions are often answered poorly or incorrectly because key words or instructions are ignored or misunderstood. For example, don’t provide general lists when specific examples, perhaps related to a case study, are required. Always apply your knowledge to the facts by reference to the requirement.

Answer the question on the exam, not the one you want to see – this can often happen with questions on subjects which appear regularly, and which candidates have practised many times before.

Read the whole question before you begin your answer. Many candidates answer one part before realising that some of the points made were more relevant to other question parts. This results in wasted time, as information is repeated.

Questions are worded very carefully, so note the command words or verbs used, the precise issues to be addressed, and guidance on the answer approach. By paying attention to all these aspects, you have a much better chance of giving the right information in your answer, in the correct format, and written in the appropriate style. Don’t focus on one word; pay attention to the wider requirements and make sure your answer reflects these.

When asked to provide a specific number of points, don’t make similar points just to reach the target number. Rephrasing an earlier answer (such as writing both ‘an inability to make profits’ and ‘making of losses’) will only gain one mark.

Don’t provide general explanations or long introductions – these are a waste of time.

Think carefully when asked to ‘criticise’ – you are being asked to show your knowledge of expectation or best practice (against which to measure the given example) and show that you have carefully analysed the case study or scenario used.

Pause before preparing calculations: consider any advice given in the question, review the requirement, and think about how to solve the problem before putting pen to paper.

When performing calculations, judge carefully when to detail workings. For minor calculations, pages of unhelpful workings are time consuming to produce and difficult to mark. More complex calculations do require referenced workings, however, and marks can be lost if an incorrect figure is provided but no method shown, as a correct method can earn partial credit.

"Good time management is crucial, so use the mark scheme to guide your timing. Apportion the time you have available to the mark allocation for each section, each question, and each question part. This will give you a minute by minute breakdown of your ideal exam progress"