Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  • Is the key difference between P1/P3 and Strategic Business Leader the fact that SBL does not ask for a particular model or framework and should they be used at all in the answers?

    Models will not ordinarily be named in Strategic Business Leader, but that is not the only difference. SBL is more practical rather than a demonstration of knowledge of the syllabus.  

    Although the models/frameworks are not specifically given in the requirements, they should be used to help structure the answer and also help to observe what is missing in the answer. Students will not get extra technical and professional marks for naming the model nor lose technical marks for discussing the model. They may lose professional marks if they unnecessarily discuss the model/framework rather than using it appropriately to complete the task required. A key difference between P1/P3 and SBL is the inclusion of 20% Professional Skills marks in addition to the 80% technical marks.

  • Should Strategic Business Leader be taken after or before other Strategic Professional option exams?

    Preferably before the options, although ACCA is flexible on this and it depends on individual preference.

    The technical content of Strategic Business Leader develops all the technical content of applied knowledge and skills while options exams develop specific knowledge and skills. Therefore it makes technical sense to do SBL immediately after doing the Applied Skills examinations before choosing to develop your own specific skills further in the options.

  • Will P1/P3 past exam questions be available on the ACCA website and is there any value in using them for Strategic Business Leader?

    We advise against using P1/P3 past exam questions.

    Although most of them will provide a good technical content for Strategic Business Leader, the examining team and approved content providers have produced a lot of materials tailored specifically for SBL, some of which have been taken from past P1 and P3 questions. We advise that these should be used instead.

  • Why are specimens one and two different?

    There are some differences, but also some similarities. The differences are in the scope of the information provided and the scope of the tasks.

    This is to demonstrate the scope of extremes students may see in real exams. Each exam will be different, which will include:

    • the roles
    • number and type of exhibits
    • number and size of tasks
    • format of responses, etc.

    For example, specimen exam one had a team of consultants carrying out several tasks and specimen two a number of roles. The similarities are in the overall experience in terms of style and the demands of the exam.

    Each exam will have the same layout.  It will start with the introduction (background), then the list of exhibits, requirements and finally detailed information of each exhibit.

    Each exam will also test each of the five professional skills, although total marks for each will not be equally weighted. For example in one exam total evaluation skills would be say 6 marks, while in another the total for evaluation would only be 4 marks.

  • The two specimens present responses to tasks using different formats. Which formats should students use to present their answers?

    Each task requires to be presented in a specified format which students have to use in their responses. Common formats include letters, emails, memos, reports, presentations slides and visual aids such as grids (BCG, Mendelow’s matrix) and heat maps (for risk assessment).

    The examining team have written an article, ‘Strategic Business Leader presentation format’ that gives guidance on presentation of the common formats.

  • Should the exam tasks be managed in numerical order?

    It all depends on individual circumstances, but it is strongly advisable to answer in order. As the case study is usually an evolving story with events happening in a logical order this would be advantageous, particularly where the role changes or there is a time change or where tasks build on what has happened previously.

    If a part of a task cannot be answered, general exam rules will apply - move on and come back at the end so time is not wasted in trying something that is proving hard to do.

  • The exam requirements have specific directed requirements which do not reflect the real world, why?

    ACCA recognises that students are often not actually at the level of the role they are asked to take and hence the requirements have been tailored to reflect this and provide a little more direction. Also this is a reflection of the fact that there is no pre-seen information and often in the real world managers do (or should) give some guidance or context to employees when instructing them to carry out tasks.

  • Why is Strategic Business Leader a four hour exam when the P1 and P3 exams were only three hours long?

    Extra time is allowed in the Strategic Business Leader exam for deeper reading and planning, to develop professional skills in the answer.

    Although the volume of information in the exhibits may appear more and longer to read, the overall time to read and understand the information provided in SBL is not expected to be any more than P1 and P3. This is because SBL is only one business case introducing new pieces of information for each task, while in P1 and P3 there were four completely different business cases or scenarios to consider. Candidates had to read and understand all four to prepare for the three questions they eventually would choose to answer.

  • Will only one professional skill be prescribed per requirement and will each requirement always have a professional skill assigned to it?

    Only one professional skill will be required to be demonstrated per requirement, but not every requirement will have a professional skill assigned to it. There may be cases where a requirement or part requirement does not require the demonstration of a specific professional skill.

  • Will technical verbs in the requirement match with the professional skill assigned to that requirement?

    Professional skills will not always match the verbs used for technical skills being tested.  For example a technical requirement may be to ‘evaluate’ but may additionally require demonstration of scepticism or analysis as a professional skill to carry out the evaluation professionally.

    So the professional skill tested will be a specific skill that can be displayed alongside the technical skills being tested. Most importantly the professional skill assigned to the requirement should guide the technical answer. For example, presenting an answer that is more sceptical if scepticism is professional skill required while doing the evaluation.

    In other words, if the technical requirement is to evaluate a project proposal and scepticism is the professional skill being examined, this should guide the student to questioning deeply some of the assumptions within the proposals or highlighting any key omissions from the proposal.    

  • Is there a maximum limit of marks assigned for each professional skill tested in a requirement?

    The marks assigned to each professional skill ranges are either 2, 3 or 4 so a minimum 2 and maximum 4 per requirement or part requirement.

  • Will full professional skills marks be awarded if the answer has met in full the criteria for the professional skill being tested in the requirement but has not been presented in the specific format asked for?

    The general rules of professionalism must always be applied to answers in addition to the professional skill being specifically asked for in the requirement.  Candidates will not get full professional skills marks in a requirement if they have not presented their answers according to the format asked for.

    For example, if a task is to be completed using a report and the evaluation skill is tested; even if the answer has met the specifically stated evaluation criteria, candidates will not be able to earn all the professional skills marks available if they have not used the required format.

  • Can a candidate get good analysis skills marks if all numbers are wrong?

    Marks involving the use and analysis of quantitative information will be awarded for technical skills using the Own Figure Rule as appropriate. Professional marks will also be awarded appropriately too, where analysis is the professional skill examined, but if the answer has been prepared on the basis of unjustified assumptions, or has misinterpreted information given in the task set, it is unlikely to get full marks.

    Good analysis needs to use the correct data and process it appropriately which is why the awarding of full marks is highly unlikely.

  • How will students who have not worked before demonstrate commercial acumen?

    Wide reading on global business news will help with such students. Approved publishers also publish material with some real life examples where students can learn real life business cases.

    Students who have not worked before are encouraged to do the Ethics and Professional Skills module first before attempting Strategic Business Leader.

  • Can students start to write in their answer booklets from the start of the four hours?

    As in all of the other Strategic Professional exams, there is no formal distinction between 'reading' time and 'writing' time, so as soon as the four hours starts, they may read, annotate the question paper and make notes or start to make answer plans in their answer booklets.

  • Should students be advised to write answer plans in their answer booklets?

    Planning answers is important in all exams, and especially in Strategic Business Leader, so you should encourage your students to do so. You should advise them to write these plans in the answer booklet, so that they are visible to the markers. Just as in other exams, there is the chance that additional marks could be gained if a plan clearly covered a point that a student had not had time to incorporate into their final answer.