This article explains what professional marks are, how they are awarded at the Professional level and to remind potential candidates how best to achieve these additional, and often crucial, marks.
Professional marks were introduced to the ACCA Qualification to allow students to demonstrate – and examiners to assess – particular professional communication skills and high-level capabilities that employers expect ACCA members to possess.
All Professional level exams include four professional marks at each session until further notice.
Table 1 shows how these are awarded across the seven Professional level exams:
|P1, Governance, Risk and Ethics||A||All four in Q1|
|P2, Corporate Reporting||B||Two marks in each question|
|P3, Business Analysis||A||All four in Q1|
|P4, Advanced Financial Management||A||All four in Q1|
|P5, Advanced Performance Management||A||All four in Q1
|P6, Advanced Taxation||A||All four in Q1|
|P7, Advanced Audit and Assurance||A||All four in Q1|
Note that in P2 (as professional marks are only available in Section B and candidates must select two from three questions to answer) two marks are available in each question to ensure that the candidate can potentially earn four in total. These are awarded for capabilities and skills which are in addition to – and separate from – the technical intellectual levels, which include synthesis and evaluation as the basis of Level 3 intellectual level capabilities – and as specified in the ACCA Professional level study guides.
Professional marks are awarded for the overall quality of answers, and for using or adopting effective professional communication skills as required by the examiner. These are determined by a number of factors, as decided by the relevant examiner. They can include the strength and persuasiveness of arguments made, the effective use of evidence, presenting logical conclusions and recommendations where appropriate, showing sensitivity to the intended target audience, and for effectively utilising the format, structure and presentation of the answer or communication required. Professional marks can also be awarded for: introducing an answer clearly by ‘setting the scene’ – laying out key objectives in the context of the specific requirements and for the use of judgment in addressing the key objective of the communication, using the appropriate tone.
A common requirement relating to professional marks would be as follows from the June 2011 P1, Governance, Risk and Ethics exam:
Professional marks will additionally be awarded in Part (d) for drafting a statement that is clear, has a logical flow, is persuasive and is appropriately structured. (4 marks)
Such requirements have been regularly examined since December 2007, in a range of Professional level exams and have included the need to do the following or similar:
Candidates can earn a majority of the marks available for the technical content within such requirements, particularly if their answer contains enough relevant points, but the major discriminator in requirements such as these is the professional mark component. It is the latter that many technically well-prepared and knowledgeable candidates fail to adequately address, and which in many cases can lead to failure for the exam overall. As there are 1.8 minutes per mark for the Professional level exams, in theory professional marks should attract at least seven minutes of work or thought in an exam and, therefore, should be given sufficient attention when answering such a question.
It is vitally important to remember that, statistically, a significant proportion of candidates score between 45 and 55% in any exam, as a consequence of the ‘bell shaped’ curve of the normal distribution of marks derived from a representative cohort of candidates. This means that marks lost or missed for any available professional marks can make a considerable difference to the marginal candidates’ chances of success, particularly when up to 4% of the marks in any one exam may be at stake for demonstrating these professional skills. And following the aforementioned 1.8 minutes per mark rule, you should aim to use the required exam time to gain these marks. Hence, the need for careful consideration.
Professional marks are, therefore, about showing the ability to communicate effectively by forming or supporting opinion and demonstrating alternative viewpoints through the use of case evidence and through the use of effective argument and counter-argument. It may be that the examiner wants the candidate to generate ideas or link or adapt theories or models. Professional marks may require a candidate to arrive at a solution or gain a new insight by exercising professional judgment and using an ethical approach to providing advice – in line with relevant legislation, regulation, and accounting or auditing standards in the stakeholders’ interests.
Such professional skills require the candidate to analyse and present information in the context of the views and perceptions of the person that they are supposed to represent, such as a CEO. This may include anticipating reactions from the intended audience, or from the alternative points of view of different stakeholders. To earn professional marks it may often be necessary to draw together the main themes of an answer and select or prioritise the main points of an argument to arrive at a valid and properly supported overall conclusion. Sometimes you may be required to put forward some recommendations, which faithfully represent the content included within the main body of the answer given, or drawn from available case or scenario information.
In summary, professional marks are for doing the following:
Not all the above will be assessed in each exam, but they do indicate the kind of capabilities that candidates might be required to demonstrate. It will be clearly indicated within the question requirements where professional marks are allocated in each exam, and the requirement should always make it clear how these marks will be awarded.
As already stated, in total, four marks are awarded within each exam at the Professional level for the above professional capabilities. In most exams the professional marks are awarded in Section A and all awarded within one question. If assessed in Section B, where questions are optional, there will always be the same number of professional marks awarded for each question in that section, as is the case for P2, Corporate Reporting. This ensures that candidates can potentially earn the same number of professional marks in total, regardless of their choice of questions.