Changes to the structure of Paper F2/FMA

A new exam format will be introduced for Paper F2/FMA from 26 February 2014 in computer-based exams (CBEs) and from June 2014 for the paper-based exam. Both versions of the exam will comprise two sections: Section A containing 35 objective questions for two marks each, and Section B containing three multi-task questions (MTQs) for 10 marks each.

As with any exam, however, it is important that you understand how this style of question works and any particular techniques which you need to use in answering them. The purpose of this article is to brief candidates on points to bear in mind when attempting the new style of questions in Section B of the exam.

What will the MTQs be on?

As stated above, there will be three MTQs in Section B of the paper, one each on the following syllabus areas:

  • Syllabus area C – Budgeting
  • Syllabus area D – Standard costing
  • Syllabus area E – Performance measurement

Appropriate adjustments have been made to the weightings of these syllabus areas in Section A to ensure that the overall balance of the paper is unchanged.

How are they marked?

CBEs will be entirely computer marked and candidates will get their results instantly. On the paper-based exams Section A objective testing questions will be computer marked, but Section B multi-task questions will be marked manually.

How are MTQs structured?

MTQs are made up of a set of background data and a number of tasks. Most tasks will require reference to the background data, but some will not. The same structure applies to paper-based MTQs.

This is demonstrated in this question, where tasks 1 to 4 require reference to the background data, but task 5 is independent of the background data.

Is it possible to manage the on screen presentation of the data?

Tasks (or in fact the background data) may be ’collapsed‘ by clicking on the minus sign in the top left hand corner of the question. They can be reinstated by clicking on the plus sign.

A partially collapsed version of the above question is shown here. In this case, task 1 has been collapsed.

It is good practice for candidates to collapse tasks as they complete them because this will make it easier to refer to the background data.

Will own figure marks be awarded for MTQ answers?

Own figure marks are awarded when a candidate makes an error in an early part of a question, but subsequently uses a correct method in later parts, based upon the incorrect earlier answer. If we asked candidates to add 2 and 2 and then double the result, some might say 2 +2 = 5 and then double it to 10. This is not correct, but it is not 100% incorrect. This candidate can double, but can’t add, and deserves some credit. ACCA’s marking policy has always been that candidates should be penalised only once for each error, and to mark candidates on the basis of their method in these situations, awarding 'own figure marks' for correct method.  

This policy remains unchanged for MTQs. In the paper-based exam MTQs will be marked manually and appropriate allowances for own figure marks will be made in the usual way.

The CBE software cannot award own figure marks. Instead the questions are designed so that answers to later parts of questions do not depend on answers to earlier parts. So, for example, in part (a) of a question we may ask candidates to calculate some standard costing variances for period 2. In part (b) of the same question we may give candidates the variances for period 1 for the same company and ask for comments on the company’s performance. If we had simply asked candidates to comment on period 2 variances own figure marks would be needed for sensible comments on candidate's own incorrect variances. By supplying period 1 variances, we avoid the problem.

This CBE question best illustrates the point. In task 1 candidates are required to identify relevant cashflows, and in task 2 they are required to calculate the values of some of the cashflows and to apply the concept of present value. Each task is independent and answers to one part will not affect answers to later parts.

For example, if a candidate in task 1 incorrectly decided that depreciation was a relevant cashflow, one mark would be lost. However, this error would not affect the candidates opportunity to gain marks in task 2 or task 3 and, therefore, because of the way the question is structured no own figure issues arise.

In a paper-based version of this question it would be possible to test the same skills by simply asking candidates to calculate the NPV of the tracking system. Own figure issues could arise in candidates’ answers but these would be allowed for in the manual marking process.

How do MTQs deal with narrative answers?

The CBE software is not able to assess free form narrative answers. Instead, candidates may be required to answer questions in a variety of objective testing formats. Examples of these are:

  • Multiple choice
  • Drop down lists
    Alternatively, they could be asked to correctly complete an argument by selecting appropriate phrases from a drop down list, as shown.
  • Multiple-response matching and multiple-response questions
    On the paper-based exam, candidates could be asked similar questions that require free form answers. For example , instead of the multiple-choice question (task 3 of Cab Co), they could be asked to '’Explain and justify briefly whether the tracking project should be accepted'.

Are there any negative marks?

No, the worst a candidate can be awarded is zero. Therefore, they should not leave any answers incomplete. If candidates cannot think of the correct answer, guessing becomes a sensible alternative.

Will candidates be penalised for rounding errors?

Sensible rounding is acceptable on both the paper-based and computer-based exam. On the paper-based exam, markers will manually make allowances for rounding. On computer-based questions, when appropriate, the computer will allow a range of answers.

For example, if a question asked for the present value of $1,000,000 receivable at the end of each of the next five years at an interest rate of 10%, various answers would be acceptable.

(i) Using annuity tables

    $1,000,000 x annuity factor for five years at 10%

    $1,000,000 x 3.791

    = $3,791,000

(ii) Using the present value table

     $1,000,000 x (0.909 + 0.826 +0.751 + 0.683 + 0.621)

     = 3,790,000

(iii) Using the annuity formula

        $1,000,000 x 1-(1.10)-5

    = $3,790787

The computer would be instructed to accept answers in the range of 3,790,000 – 3,791,000 as correct.

Do candidates need to include units of measurement in their answers?

Generally, the question will specify the measurements to be used, usually at the side of the answer box. These will include $, kg, %, units, etc. Candidates simply need to put in the figure. The system will not allow you to input these measurements inside the answer box.

There may be other important measurement that might be outside the answer box that might affect the answer as shown in the following examples. It is important that candidates present their answers exactly as requested, otherwise the answer will be marked incorrect.

These screenshots show examples of how this will be presented on screen.

In task 3 of Kinn, assume the correct answer is $57,150,000. Because the question asks for the answer in $000 it must be entered as 57150. If you put 57150000 it would be marked as incorrect.

In task 2 of Nicholson, assume the correct answers are 6.00% and 1.666%. 

In the first box, the answer should be entered as '6.00'‘. Entering 0.06 into the box would result in the answer being marked as incorrect.

Similar principles apply to the second box, but additionally here we would expect candidates to round in the conventional way (see following paragraph on rounding). In this case, 1.666% rounds to 1.67.


The most common approach on rounding is to 'round half up' – that is, halfway values and above are always rounded up. For example, by this rule the value 23.5 gets rounded to 24, but −23.5 gets rounded to −23. This approach is adopted in ACCA questions

Do CBE candidates need to include commas or minus signs in their answers?

(i) Commas. Commas as separators should not be used in number entry answers in the CBE and, in fact, the system will not allow you to do so. Paper-based candidates should remember that it is good practice to use commas as separators in numbers because it makes figures easier to read.

(ii) Minus signs. The system accepts minus figures. CBE candidates need to read the question carefully here. Sometimes (commonly in the area of standard cost variances) the question will not require you to enter a minus sign, even if the figure is actually negative. In this task the sales price variance is $5,120 adverse, which in many real-world situations would be recorded as a negative number, -5120.

Here, however, we require candidates to indicate in a separate box whether the variance is adverse or favourable. The adverse variance should therefore be entered as a positive number, and candidates should then select the correct sign (adverse or favourable) from the drop down list. (Entering -5120 would result in an incorrect answer: after all, a negative adverse variance would be favourable.)

Similarly in the calculation of NPVs or in cash budgeting, candidates should check whether to input minus signs if the answers were negative or this has to be completed through a choice of positive/negative for NPV and inflow/outflow for cash flow.

Will formula sheets and maths tables continue to be provided with the exam?

The formula sheet and maths tables will continue to be provided with each exam. In paper-based exams these will continue to be given as part of the exam booklet.

In the CBE, these will be available on line as part of the exam and no hard copies will be separately handed out. Candidates simply have to click on the symbol as shown here.

What do you next?

The ACCA website contains specimen papers and extra MTQ practice questions for the CBE for Paper F2/FMA, as well as showcases explaining all of the functionality of the CBE exams. There is also a specimen of the new format paper-based exam. It is strongly recommended that you should work through these questions as part of your preparation the real exams. Go to 'Related links' to access the specimen exams.