Why do students fail their RAP?

A meeting of markers and moderators for the Oxford Brookes BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting recently looked at the reasons why almost half of all submissions still fail. While it is true that the pass rate for resubmissions is much higher (probably due to the feedback given by markers), why is it that many fail the first submission? asks John Playle, the qualification's chief moderator

At a recent meeting of moderators for the BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting, I asked them to send me their thoughts behind the failure rate so that I could set about writing an article to provide some guidance to students taking the qualification.

The thing that surprised all of us was that, in spite of there being very detailed guidelines and assessment criteria being available, it was quite apparent that many students had either not read or understood those guidelines, or they had chosen to ignore them. Many articles, like this one, have been written for Student Accountant yet it never ceases to amaze me that, when delivering a student workshop anywhere in the world, so few students have read the guidelines and even less knew about the articles. Considering how much time and money you invest in your Research and Analysis Project (RAP), you really should use these free resources.

Looking in more detail, we found more specific reasons that occurred in pretty well every submission period.

1. Understanding of business models

Students frequently make an inappropriate choice of models or omit key models, for example:

  • Topic 6 requires the use of more than one motivation model, preferably a ‘content’ model and a ‘process’ model 
  • Topic 8 requires appropriate financial ratios and business models such as SWOT, PESTEL, Porter’s Five Forces, etc.
  • Topics 2, 4,5, 9 require the use of general evaluation models such as cost/benefit analysis, managing change models, systems development lifecycle, etc.
  • Topic 18 requires the use of one or more models for evaluating the marketing environment as well as, for example, the marketing mix for evaluating the marketing strategy of an organisation, and an appropriate model for evaluating its effectiveness.

2. Application of business models

Remember that it is necessary to explain how models have been used to guide the collection of data, (secondary as well as primary data) and to recognise the strengths and limitations of particular models.

3. Evaluation of information, analysis and conclusions

This is a major area of failure. You must remember that it is necessary to analyse not describe the information that you have researched. It is not enough to say that it is better or worse as evaluation should enable you to explain why and this cannot be a guess, it must be factual based on your research. Your analysis should be of a critical nature and should not simply repeat or ‘cut and paste’ what you have read. Even though it must be in your own words you must, however, acknowledge (through correct referencing) the source of the information upon which you have based your analysis.

There are too many inadequate conclusions summarising the results of the analysis and their implications for the organisation.

4. Presentation of project findings

Failed RAPs will often display a lack of an appropriate report structure (often because the structure recommended in the Information Pack hasn’t been used). You also need to think about your report objectives and research question. They should not be about you but about what you hope to find out about the organisation you are reporting on. They should be specific and answerable, which means that you should not make them too general or too numerous: quality is better than quantity.

The word limit is not just a guideline, it is a limit! It is an extremely important academic skill to demonstrate that you can write a report within a prescribed limit.

5. Communication

Although we understand that for, many of you, English is not your first language, this is an English degree, so we do expect a level of English that enables us to understand all sections of your report.

6. Information gathering and referencing

Along with point 3, this is the most common criterion to fail on. It is not just referencing, although I will return to that. It begins with gathering the correct information to answer the research questions that you have posed in your report. For example, should you be looking for primary and/or secondary sources?

For many topics, particularly topic 8, primary research is, in most cases, unlikely to offer any helpful, unbiased information about the company. You are more likely to obtain helpful information from the media, particularly the financial media. On the other hand, for topics like topic 6, you are unlikely to be able complete this without primary research with employees.

The whole point of gathering information is that it should inform you when answering your research questions so, if you wanted to research why your favourite football team is not doing so well, you would be better able to find the answers in the sports press than from the team’s own website or an interview with the coach or the players. So, although a company’s annual reports are a good source of information, they are insufficient on their own and cannot always be relied upon to be entirely accurate.

Correct referencing is essential. We need to be able to validate the sources that you have used and we cannot do that if you have not referenced them properly with a recognised system or if you have not referenced all sources. The referencing within the text must be alongside the text, not at the end of a paragraph or even at the bottom of the page. That way, we will know just what you are referencing. The referencing in the text must also coincide with the list of references. We provide a link to Harvard style referencing which is universally used. To familiarise yourself with this method is much easier than creating a whole new system that we do not understand.

7. Information technology

You are required to demonstrate your ability to use IT beyond using a computer as a sophisticated typewriter and search engine

John Playle is chief moderator for Oxford Brookes University BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting