How to prepare for on-demand computer-based exams

This article identifies some key steps in preparing for on-demand computer-based exams (CBEs). It introduces the wide range of resources available on the ACCA website and explains how answering questions successfully requires you to develop a range of skills and exam techniques. Taking a few simple steps will help you to maximise your marks in these exams.

On-demand CBEs

This article is relevant to the following exams which are available on-demand:

Foundation level exams

  • Accountant in Business (FAB)
  • Management Accounting (FMA)
  • Financial Accounting (FFA)

ACCA Qualification exams

  • Accountant in Business (AB)
  • Management Accounting (MA)
  • Financial Accounting (FA)
  • Corporate and Business Law (LW)*

* English and Global variants only

These exams have a time limit of two hours and are all assessed using ‘objective questions’ in Section A and ‘multi-task questions’ in Section B. This is to ensure that examiners are able to assess widely across their syllabi in the time allowed.

Study support guide

Use the Study Support Guide to help you follow a set of logical steps:

(1) Start with the Syllabus and Study Guide

Always start with the Syllabus and Study Guide. This is the source document that the examiners work from when preparing the exams and on which the bank of CBE questions is based. Use the Study Guide to familiarise yourself with the main sections of the syllabus and the subject areas within these sections. As exam questions are drawn from across all syllabus areas, you must make sure that you fully understand as many areas as possible. Pay attention to the structure of the exam in the section ‘Approach to examining the syllabus’; this specifies the split between objective questions and multi-task question.

(2) Read an Approved Content Provider’s Textbook

ACCA's Approved Content Providers are BPP Learning Media and Kaplan Publishing. These texts are assessed by ACCA’s examining team on an annual basis to ensure that they are of the very highest quality and that coverage is appropriate for the exams set. Work through the control sheet relevant to your chosen text in the Study Support Guide to ensure you gain the knowledge you need and learn how to apply that knowledge to pass the exam.

(3) Don’t just practise objective questions

As specified in the ‘Approach to examining the syllabus’ in the Study Guide, multi-task questions in Section B may examine only selected syllabus areas (eg multi-task questions in Management Accounting will examine Budgeting, Standard costing and Performance measurement sections of the syllabus). However, practising longer questions across the entire syllabus will help you gain a deeper level of understanding of the subject matter, which will make it much easier for you to recall relevant concepts when tackling objective test questions.

(4) Use the website resources

Ensure that you make use of all the resources available on the ACCA website:

  • Syllabus and Study Guide
  • CBE specimen exams – these full exams provide an insight into the question types and syllabus coverage in the actual exams and how CBEs work. Extra MTQs are also provided for AB/FAB, MA/FMA and FA/FFA.
  • 5 minutes with the examining team video this sets out the general approach to the syllabus and the exam and provides tips on how to improve your exam performance.
  • Examiner’s reportsin these reports, which are published every six months, the examiner uses a sample of the questions which candidates appeared to find most difficult, explains misunderstandings and clarifies specific areas of the syllabus where knowledge or understanding may have been weak. You should download the resource ‘A guide to using the examiner’s reports’, which can be found in the exam technique section of technical articles (see next), to help you make the best use of them
  • Technical articles – this section of the website includes articles published in student accountant which are relevant to the syllabus, links to study support videos and articles on exam technique.

All of the above resources are available on the ACCA website via the student exam support resources. You will also find a checklist of these resources, with links, in the appendix to the Study Support Guide.

Question types

On-demand CBEs contain two sections: Section A includes ‘objective questions’ and Section B includes ‘multi-task questions’. The mark allocations vary depending on the approach to examining the syllabus:

Exam

Section A

Section B

 

Objective questions

Total

Multi-task questions

Total

Accountant in Business (AB/FAB)

46 questions, each worth 1 or 2 marks

76

6 questions, each worth 4 marks

24

Management Accounting (MA/FMA)

35 questions, each worth 2 marks

70

3 questions, each worth 10 marks

30

Financial Accounting (FA/FFA)

35 questions, each worth 2 marks

70

2 questions, each worth 15 marks

30

Corporate and Business Law (LW-ENG/LW-GLO)

45 questions, each worth 1 or 2 marks

70

5 questions, each worth 6 marks

30

All questions within each section are compulsory.

With two hours (120 minutes) available, you should allow yourself 1.2 minutes per mark on average. This means, for example, that each question in Section B of MA/FMA should take approximately 12 minutes.

Objective question types for on-demand CBEs

Currently, these ACCA CBEs comprise of four main question types:

  1. Multiple choice
  2. Multiple response
  3. Multiple response matching, and
  4. Number entry.

All questions are worth either one or two marks. Some questions will include background information, which is needed to help you answer the question.

(1) Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)

MCQs are the most commonly used question type and feature in all of ACCA’s CBEs. You are required to choose one answer from a list of options by clicking on the appropriate ‘radio button’. Note that for two-mark questions, there will be four alternatives; one-mark questions will have fewer alternatives (eg a ‘true or false’ question has only two options).

Figure 1 shows an example of an MCQ from the LW-GLO specimen exam.

Figure 1:

prepare-fig1

(2) Multiple-response questions

In a multiple-response question, you are required to select more than one response from the options provided by clicking the appropriate tick boxes. Questions typically have four answer options, two of which are correct, However, sometimes the number of options presented and the number of options you should select as your answer will differ. You will be awarded marks only if you have selected all of the correct options, so it is therefore important that you read the question carefully to see how many options you should select.

Figure 2 shows a multiple-response question from the AB/FAB specimen exam.

Figure 2:

prepare-fig2

(3) Multiple-response matching questions

These are usually presented in the form of a matrix, where there are two or more items listed in the left column and two choices (eg ‘Yes/No’ or ‘High/Low’) in the top row. The candidate has to select ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, or ‘High’ or ‘Low’ for each item. This type of question is always worth two marks.

Figure 3, from the FA/FFA specimen exam, shows the standard layout for multiple-response matching questions.

Figure 3:

prepare-fig3

(4) Number entry questions

This type of question is particularly relevant to Management Accounting and Financial Accounting exams and require you to key in a numerical response. The example in Figure 4 is from the MA/FMA specimen exam.

prepare-fig4

This is the only question type in an on-demand CBE where you need to enter the correct answer yourself, rather than choose from a list of options; it will always be worth two marks. Numerical answers must be submitted without commas and, where relevant, using the full stop as a decimal point and/or the minus sign as a negative symbol (eg –10530.25). The required answer may be a monetary amount ($) as shown in this Figure or other amount (eg kgs, number of units or %).

Multi-task questions in on-demand CBEs

Multi-task questions (MTQs) may contain a single part requiring ‘gap fill’ only (see below) or a series of tasks for students to complete. Tasks can be made up of different question types and relate to one or more scenarios.

Tasks may feature any of the four objective question types used in Section A. Additional question types, which may feature only in MTQs, are:

  • 5. Gap fill, and
  • 6. Hotspot.

(5) Gap fill

A gap fill question will require you to enter answers into blank answer areas. These can be:

  • Number entry – enter a numerical answer in the space provided
  • Drop down listselect one answer from a list of choices in a drop down list.

MTQs can be wholly or partly gap fill. Figure 6 shows an example of a gap fill task from the FA/FFA extra MTQs

Figure 6:

prepare-fig6

For each gap there will be zero marks for an incorrect answer (or if the gap is unattempted) and full marks for the correct answer. The difference between number fill in Section A and gap fill of a number in Section B is that in Section A number fill is always worth 2 marks; this is not necessarily the case in an MTQ where a correct answer may be worth only 1 or even ½ a mark.

Figure 6 also shows a particular feature of MTQs; the scenario, which is presented as background information, and the tasks may each be collapsed and expanded for ease of use. It also shows that each task may carry different marks and may include more than one question type; in this task there is a drop-down list and four blank areas for number fill.

The drop-down list requires you to select narrative from two or more options. This may be simply a choice of labels (such as ‘adverse/favourable’) or words to complete a sentence. The example in Figure 7 is from the MA/FMA specimen exam.

Figure 7:

prepare-fig7

(6) Hotspot

A hotspot question will present a graph or other diagram with hotspot choices and specify that you select one or more to answer the question. The selected hotpot(s) will be highlighted. You can choose a different answer by clicking on an alternative hot spot area (if only one is required) or deselecting and reselecting (if more than one is required). If more than one is required and the required number selected, marks will be awarded for each correct selection.

Some tips for sitting on-demand CBEs

In a CBE you are presented with one question at a time to help you focus on each question. Candidates record their answers on the same screen as the question is shown. Remember to take time to read the question carefully to ensure you don’t miss any important information. You can revisit questions and change answers at any time until the exam duration has been reached.

Do not spend a lot of time on questions you are unsure of; ‘flag’ them instead, move on and come back to them later in the exam. Selecting ‘Exam Progress Details’ will show you whether each item is complete, incomplete or flagged. This feature is also a navigation tool.

To make CBEs as user-friendly as possible we have incorporated features that will help you in the exam. The ‘Help’ feature includes all the instructions in case you should forget. For Management Accounting, the formulae sheet, annuity table and present value table are provided under ‘Reference Material’. The exams also include a timer to show the time remaining so that you can monitor your progress. Figure 8 shows these features.

Figure 8:

prepare-fig8

Prepare to pass

The golden rule for success in any assessment is to prepare thoroughly. It is not unusual for examiners’ reports to note that some candidates were not adequately prepared for the exam. As each exam will include broad coverage of the syllabus, to maximise your chances of success you must have studied the whole syllabus. It is also important to attempt past exams and practice exam-standard questions.

Of course, it is essential that you use all questions carefully and follow up on your responses. Whether a question was answered correctly or incorrectly during exam preparation, it will provide an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the topic. By reflecting on why a specific option is correct, you can improve your understanding, while reflecting on why the other options are wrong can help to overcome misunderstanding and eliminate confusion. When attempting questions as part of your preparation, it is useful to remember that the key purpose of the exercise is to enhance your understanding – not just to get the right answer. When reviewing each option, it is important to ensure that you understand exactly what the underlying point is – and to make sure that you reflect on this to enhance your learning.

Read the question

The amount of time, effort, and discussion that is put into each question before it appears in an exam is likely to surprise most candidates. Every question is subjected to a number of rigorous reviews as it progresses from an idea in the writer’s mind to the exam. These reviews mean that you need to read the question extremely carefully, remembering that the wording has been chosen deliberately. This is intended to ensure that the question is unambiguous and does not mislead candidates.

An example of the need to read the question carefully might be the way in which a question communicates cost information. It is not unusual for a question to relate to a production period of, say, three months, but for fixed costs to be stated as an annual figure. To get the correct answer, candidates must have recognised this fact. This is not an attempt to catch out candidates, but rather to ensure that candidates can apply the technique in a real-life situation, where information must be clearly understood and is frequently communicated in this way. 

A further aspect is to recognise that the answer will be based on the data or other information included in the question. There are two aspects to this. First, in order to ensure that questions are not too long, the data may have been simplified. To some candidates, this may seem to be unrealistic when compared to a real-life situation. A particular example of this is the way in which the labour cost is described in many questions. More often than not, direct labour is described as a variable cost, even though candidates may appreciate that this assumption will be totally unrealistic. Therefore, an objective question should be answered on the basis of the data provided. Second, only the data included in a question is required to obtain the answer. This means that you should not waste time wondering about additional data or inferring additional data into the question.

An example of this could be a question that tests the ability to calculate the closing balance on a ledger account. The question may give details of transactions during a period and a closing prepayment, but there may be no reference to an opening prepayment. In such cases, you can assume that this was $0. As already noted, the writer will have sought to keep the question as short as possible by omitting unnecessary words such as ‘the opening prepayment was $0’ or ‘there was no opening prepayment’.

It is imperative that the ‘prompt’ (the actual question that is to be answered) is read carefully. For example, a question may give information on receivables, irrecoverable debts and required allowances for receivables. Here, the prompt could require any of the following to be calculated:

  • the movement on the allowance
  • the closing receivables allowance
  • the expense to profit or loss, or
  • the carrying amount of receivables to be reported in the statement of financial position.

A candidate who assumes that they know what the prompt is (usually on the basis of a question they have seen previously), rather than actually reading it, is likely to select the wrong option.

Think

It is a common fallacy that some objective question types are easy. In particular, that where one of the options is the correct answer (eg in MCQs and drop-down lists), all you have to do is make the correct selection. While it is fair to say that some questions may appear to be easier to tackle than others (eg selecting one option is easier than multiple-response or number fill), that is often not the case as the answer will not be obvious. A question from the AB/FAB specimen exam illustrates this:

Sample question 1
A company has advertised for staff who must be at least 1.88 metres tall and have been in continuous full-time employment for at least five years.

Which of the following is the legal term for this practice?

 

Indirect discrimination

 

Direct discrimination

 

Victimisation

 

Implied discrimination

Even a casual reading of the question will highlight that it is about an employment practice and that the prompt includes the word ‘term’ and each of the choices may be described as a term. Careful reading of the prompt shows that what is asked for is a ‘legal term’ and three of the options include the word ‘discrimination’.

This means that unless care is taken to read the question and think carefully, it would be easy to become confused.

Although victimisation might be immediately eliminated as an incorrect answer, as ‘the odd one out’, it is a legal term and might be selected by a candidate who does not know that discrimination is a legal term or does not recognise discrimination in the ‘stem’ (the initial statement that describes the practice). It is, however, likely that candidates will recognise the practice as one of discrimination. The question then is what type of discrimination.

As the advertisement does not specify that applicants must be of a particular gender, colour, religion or age, for example, it does not directly discriminate. However, as women are generally shorter than men, to restrict admission on the basis of height, does discriminate against women. The legal term for this is indirect discrimination; implied discrimination is not a legal term.

From, this we can see that a candidate who is clear about the difference between types of discrimination and knows their legal terms will be able to answer this question without undue difficulty, but clear thinking and application of knowledge, is needed.

It is essential that, having read the question carefully, you think about your response, and that your answer is the result of a considered choice. This is because incorrect options, referred to as ‘distractors’ are constructed to identify common mistakes and misconceptions. This can be illustrated by a question taken from the specimen exam for MA/FMA.

Sample question 2

Information relating to two processes (F and G) was as follows:

Process

Normal loss as % of input

Input (litres)

Output (litres)

       F

8

65,000

58,900

       G

5

37,500

35,700

For each process, was there an abnormal loss or an abnormal gain?

 

Abnormal loss
Abnormal gain
Process F
 
 
Process G
 
 

Solution

Each process must be considered separately.

Process F 

Normal loss is 8%, thus expected output is 92% of input.

Input was 65,000 litres.

Thus, expected output was 59,800 litres.

Actual output was 58,900 litres.

As actual output was less than expected, there was an abnormal loss.

Process G

Normal loss is 5%, thus expected output is 95% of input.

Input was 37,500 litres.

Thus, expected output was 35,625 litres.

Actual output was 35,700 litres.

As actual output was more than expected, there was an abnormal gain.

A common mistake by candidates in such questions is to make only one calculation and assume the other – either that it is different or the same. This is a dangerous strategy as neither assumption can be regarded as a rule. Another common mistake in such questions is to mix up the values for expected output and actual output. A logical approach can help to overcome this problem.

Work out your answer

As the incorrect answers are based on common mistakes, it follows that attempting to guess the correct answer is not likely to be productive. Rather, it is essential that you use your understanding of the topic to work out your answer. This will prevent you from being distracted by incorrect options.

Sample question 3 (taken from the FA/FFA specimen exam)

The total of the list of balances in Valley's payables ledger was $438,900 at 30 June 20X6. This balance did not agree with Valley's payables ledger control account balance. The following errors were discovered:

(1)

A contra entry of $980 was recorded in the payables ledger control account, but not in the payables ledger

(2)

The total of the purchase returns daybook was undercast by $1,000

(3)

An invoice for $4,344 was posted to the supplier's account as $4,434

What amount should Valley report in its statement of financial position as accounts payable at 30 June 20X6?

$439,790

$438,010

$437,830

$436,830

Solution

The amount to be recorded for accounts payable in the statement of financial position will be the total of the list of balances when it agrees with the balance on the payables ledger control account.

The correct approach is to start with the balance given, $438,900 is the total of the list of balances, and then consider each error in turn to decide whether it should affect this total and, if so, whether the amount of the error should be added to or deducted from the balance.

(1) A contra entry, which is a deduction, has been recorded in the payables ledger control account but not the payables ledger (i.e. it has not been made in an individual supplier’s account) – so this amount must be deducted from the total of the list of balances.

(2) A casting error in any day book gives rise to an error in a total amount which is posted to the control a/c – it cannot affect the list of balances because only individual amounts are posted to the payables ledger. This error is therefore irrelevant and must be disregarded.

(3) The transposition error of $90 (4,344 – 4,434) has overstated the amount due to the supplier which is included in the list of balances – it must therefore be deducted.

The final answer is therefore:

 $ 
Balance per ledger 438,900 
(1) Contra (980) 
(3) Transposition error(90) 
Corrected balance437,830 

A very common mistake in this type of question is to assume that all the errors identified affect what it is that we are trying to find and so, without giving them sufficient thought, add or subtract them all. This will invariably give rise to a distractor. For example, in this case $438,900 – $980 – $1,000 – $90 = $436,830.

This illustrates that, for questions that require calculations, covering up the options while you work out your answer can be a productive strategy.

Eliminate incorrect answers

This approach is likely to be most effective in narrative questions that require the correct combination of statements to be selected. Consider a question that offers three statements, and requires the correct combination of correct statements to be selected. The ideal way to answer this is to consider each statement in turn, and decide if it is correct or not. Often, candidates will find that they can quickly identify one incorrect statement. On that basis, it is possible to eliminate the options that include that statement.

A question from the MA/FMA specimen exam illustrates this point.

Sample question 4

Which of the following are suitable measures of performance at strategic level? 

(1)

Return on investments

(2)

Market share

(3)

Number of customer complaints

 

2 and 3

 

1 and 2

 

2 only

 

1 and 3

Solution

Thorough preparation will mean that you know that the three levels are strategic, tactical and operational. So if any of the measures can be quickly identified as other than strategic we will be able to eliminate incorrect answers. The number of customer complaints should be easily recognised as a measure of performance at the operational level. As 3 is included in two of the choices, these can both be eliminated. The choice is now only between ‘1 and 2’ or ‘2 only’, so we know that market share must be a suitable measure and it is only necessary to consider further return on investment (ROI). As you should know that this measure relates specifically to investment centres you should appreciate that it is a measure of success, as is market share, and therefore strategic. Hence the correct answer is ‘1 and 2’.

Other points

There are some other points on which you need to make decisions in order to maximise your marks. For each of these, the exam room is the wrong place to make the decision. It is essential that you have prepared thoroughly and have decided on your own approach to each of the following:

  • Above all else, remember that you should not allow yourself to become so stuck on a question that you run out of time. Generally speaking, exams are drafted so that the time spent on each part of a question is in proportion to the marks allocated. With objective questions, however, it may be that some candidates will find some questions are more straightforward than others, and can therefore be answered more quickly. For that reason, it may be better to consider the time allocation for a group of, say, five objective questions, rather than for each question individually.
  • As there is no penalty for an incorrect answer in ACCA exams, there is nothing to be gained by leaving an objective question or task unanswered. If you are stuck on a question other than a number fill or gap fill, as a last resort, it is worth selecting the option you consider most likely to be correct, and moving on. Flag these questions, so if you have time after you have answered the remainder of the questions, you can quickly navigate to revisit it.

Conclusion

From this discussion, you can see that maximising your marks when attempting on-demand CBEs requires:

  • sound preparation
  • studying across the syllabus
  • practising as many different types of question as possible
  • developing your own strategy for different types of question
  • thinking clearly in the exam
  • working out your answers
  • structuring your approach to the exam
  • answering all the questions.

Taking this approach does not make answering on-demand CBEs easy, but it should mean that you obtain the marks you deserve.