This article provides an insight into the recommended approach for Section A questions in Paper P7, Advanced Audit and Assurance. Paper P7 is one of the final options papers, and, as such, will be a demanding and challenging exam, aiming to test whether candidates have the necessary knowledge, application, skills, and judgement to complete their professional qualification. Using good exam technique and having a sensible approach to questions will do much to help secure a clear pass mark. This is the first of a two-part series on approaching Section A questions. The next article – which will be published in the September 2007 issue of student accountant – will include elements of a typical question and illustrate how these should be approached.
The exam will include two questions in Section A, with a combined mark allocation of between 50 and 70 marks. It is likely that the combined total of the two questions will be towards the higher end of this range.
Both Section A questions will be case studies. Detailed information will be provided about a business for which the candidate’s firm is providing an audit or assurance service. The aim of the case study question is to place the candidate in a real-world situation, facing the real-world requirements that an audit or assurance provider would have to deal with. The questions will therefore be practical in nature.
Each case study question will include several separate requirements taken from separate syllabus areas. This mirrors what happens in the real world when, for example, an audit manager planning an assignment needs to consider not only how to plan the work, but also assess the implications of any ethical, practice management, quality control, or current professional issues raised from information provided by the client. At least one of the requirements could be to provide a response to a specific enquiry raised by the client or potential client in the scenario.
The first stage, when attempting a case study question, is to carefully read the requirements and understand exactly what is being asked for. By the time a candidate reaches this final stage in their professional studies it is hoped that they are familiar with the general style of question requirements. However, the wording used is such an important issue that it is worth repeating for the sake of clarity. At the Professional level, requirements are at the highest intellectual level and it is imperative that candidates understand exactly what is being asked.
Generally, requirements ask the candidate to perform an action, as follows:
|Identify||Pick out a relevant issue/point from the scenario|
|Comment on||Offer an opinion, debate a topic, express a reaction|
|Explain||Clarify and provide extra details on a subject matter|
|Evaluate/assess||Weigh up advantages and disadvantages and make a judgement|
|Critically discuss||Consider a subject in depth and come to an opinion|
|Justify||Come to a conclusion and provide a strong argument for a decision|
Candidates should familiarise themselves with exam terminology and tailor their answers accordingly. Taking time to consider the exact wording of the requirement will result in a focused answer which satisfies the question set.
Note that very few marks will be available in Paper P7 for rote-learning and the listing of facts, rules, or pieces of information. Instead, the application of knowledge to the specific scenario provided will score well. For example, a requirement may ask for the identification and explanation of matters (such as business or financial statement risks). As a general rule, a maximum of one-third of the available marks would be available for identification; the remaining two-thirds would be for the explanation of the matter. It is therefore not possible to pass the question requirement without application to the question scenario.
The ACCA Qualification features a core theme of ‘ethics and professionalism’, and all Professional level exams will contain some marks on this topic. In Paper P7, the professional marks will be allocated between the two Section A questions, with a maximum of five marks being available across the two questions. The requirements will clearly state how many marks are available and which question requirement they relate to.
It is likely that Section A requirements containing professional marks will ask for the answer in a particular format, such as a report or briefing notes. The professional marks will be awarded for the following:
Having read the requirements and understood exactly what has been asked for, the next step is to carefully read through the information provided, all the time bearing in mind the specific instructions given in the requirements.
The information provided in the scenario is likely to be both numeric and narrative, and could come from many different sources, such as:
The information in the question will need to be carefully read and it is important that sufficient time is spent digesting and understanding the information provided. Candidates who skim read the information and do not take time to stop and think about the issues raised in the scenario are likely to produce a poorly focused answer which fails to identify the main points.
When reading the case study scenario it is important, therefore, to identify the following:
Understanding these basic facts will ensure that candidates approach the question requirements from the correct viewpoint.
When reading through the scenario it is useful to highlight or underline important pieces of information. A lot of time can be wasted by continually re-reading the scenario, so thoroughly reading and annotating the question paper should improve time management. Remember, with reading and planning time now being given at the start of the exam, there should be plenty of time to read the entire scenario carefully.
The case study questions will contain at least three discrete requirements. Time must be allocated between the requirements to ensure that each is addressed in sufficient depth. Failing to deal with a requirement obviously reduces the overall mark available for a question, but it also detracts from the quality of the answer as a whole. Remember, within each requirement there will be some relatively easy marks to gain, so by not attempting a requirement these marks are lost.
Is it worthwhile planning the answer? The simple answer is yes, as long as the plan is not too detailed and is then followed. A brief plan of the main points to be covered will keep the focus on the key elements of the requirements, and should avoid digressions into irrelevant matters. A good plan should prioritise the most significant issues. This is important, because if time runs short, key issues will still have been covered. A good plan will also draw out links between different pieces of information provided in the scenario. However, a plan is only worth doing if it enhances the answer. Spending too long on a very detailed plan, resulting in a lack of time to deal with the question requirements in detail, is not a good use of time in the exam. Plans should be very brief, no more than bullet points, and clearly labelled so they can not be confused with the actual answer.
A general comment on time allocation: a common error is to spend too long on the first two questions, leaving very little time for the remaining questions. It is imperative that each question is properly attempted, and that sufficient time is left towards the end of the exam to attempt the final question. Candidates are advised that the quality of the overall script will be reviewed, and students are reminded to attempt the correct number of questions.
This may sound obvious, but it is important to take time to think about the requirements, the scenario, and how to answer the question. Rushing to put pen to paper without sitting back to think an answer through is a frequent mistake in exams. The following are common examples of errors caused by not thinking about the facts in the scenario or the question requirement.
Failing to properly read and understand the question requirements could result in:
Failing to read the scenario carefully, or failing to think it through, could result in:
It should go without saying that answers should be clearly presented, as this makes marking much easier. In particular, the following points should be noted:
Remember that some requirements contain professional marks, as discussed earlier, and in these requirements the presentation and layout of the answer is particularly important.
This article has focused on the case study questions which will appear in Section A of the Paper P7 exam, but many of the points made could equally apply to the Section B questions. It is hoped that candidates will have already developed good exam technique in order to reach this final stage in their professional exams. However, in every sitting, many relatively easy marks are not gained because of a poor approach to answering questions. It is recommended that candidates practise as many questions as possible in preparation for the exam; bearing in mind the points made in this article while practising questions should improve performance significantly.
Written by a member of the Paper P7 examining team