Your Definitive Guide To The ACCA SBL Exam


The ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam (SBL for short) is one of ACCA’s most challenging exams.

Whether you’re currently studying for your ACCA qualification, or you’re considering it, trust us, you need to know more about it and one of its most difficult exams! Especially as the ACCA SBL exam has changed.

With the introduction of a pre-seen element in September 2023, among other changes, the Strategic Business Leader exam became more rigorous and true-to-life for qualifying accountants.

Doing a bit of reading and making sure you are as prepared for the ACCA SBL exam as you can be is a valuable use of your time. Read on to find out more about this exam and what you need to do to pass!

1. What is ACCA SBL?

2. New testing method – What’s a pre-seen?

3. Pre-seen exam challenges

4. How to approach the new ACCA SBL exam

5. Summary

1. What is ACCA SBL?

ACCA SBL is what ACCA describes as an “essential” part of the pathway to full qualification. So, as you might guess, it is a compulsory part of your ACCA studies.

ACCA SBL is part of the Strategic Professional tier, the final step to becoming an ACCA accountant.

The ACCA SBL exam will test your ability to act and make strategic-level decisions and analyses in a real workplace environment. To pass, you will need to demonstrate technical, ethical and professional skills, so it’s not just about knowing the theory!

During your ACCA SBL exam, you (playing the part of a specified role in the fictitious company) will need to use the information you have been given about the scenario company and apply that to the questions you’re given.

In past sittings, you would be given all the information about the scenario company in the exam itself, but from September 2023, a pre-seen element is now released before the exam for you to read. You can find out more about this below.

Your response to the questions will need to be in one of a number of formats:

  • Write a letter, email or memo
  • Create presentation slides
  • Prepare a press release
  • Produce a briefing note
  • Draft a report
  • Generate a Project Initiation Document (PID)


Along with applying knowledge of the theory, you will also need to exhibit the five professional skills and behaviours specified in the ACCA SBL:

  • Communication
  • Commercial acumen
  • Analysis
  • Scepticism
  • Evaluation


As we mentioned, ACCA SBL is one of the more difficult exams in the ACCA course. It currently has an average pass rate of 50%. So, if you want to be in the half of students smiling on results day, make sure to devote enough time and energy to properly prepare!


Sign up now to get the following:

+ Full analysis of the pre-seen
+ Top 10 most likely issues to come up in the exam
+ Industry analysis document

2. New testing method – What’s a pre-seen?

The world of accounting does not stay still, and nor do accounting qualifications. Professional bodies are always looking for ways to make their accreditation even more thorough and valuable for their members.

As we mentioned above, there has been an exciting new development in the ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam.

So, what’s different about the new ACCA SBL exam? 

The most significant change is the introduction of the SBL pre-seen case study. 

However, in real life, you wouldn’t be expected to give expert advice about a company you are working for after just 30 minutes of reading. The new ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam reflects reality a bit more closely! 

Now, as the name suggests, you will be able to see the SBL pre-seen two weeks prior to the exam date. This will be made available via your myACCA account

With that, you can take a little time to get to grips with the SBL pre-seen scenario, rather than during the exam while you’re trying to focus on identifying and structuring an appropriate response to the questions.

ACCA states that you will not need to do additional research based on the pre-seen company. So, you don’t need to worry about becoming an expert on the pre-seen company’s industry in two weeks. But you will need to be an expert on the information in the SBL pre-seen itself, so be sure to read it carefully!

With this time to prepare, however, there is a trade-off – the ACCA SBL exam has been shortened from 4 hours to 3 hours 15 minutes

There are some other changes to the exam that you should be aware of. 

To benefit from the changes, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the SBL pre-seen company before you go into the exam. 

You will have access to the SBL pre-seen in the exam (if you need to check some specific information), but you definitely do not want to waste your precious time reading through it from scratch on the day. 

    The syllabus has largely remained the same. Some clarifications have been added and some specific models have been removed (so you can be examined more broadly in those areas).

    The ACCA strategic business leader exam still tests you on the same professional skills.

    One of the key take-aways from this update is that, now, the exam will not focus as much on your ability to read lots of new information during the exam. You can instead focus on applying the theory you’ve learnt to the company.


    CIMA Finance Leadership Program

    3. Pre-seen exam challenges

    While there are certainly some silver-linings to this update (including the qualification being more relevant to your future potential employers and letting you do some additional preparation) this isn’t to say there aren’t some new challenges too!

    Here are some challenges that the ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam may now present with its new SBL pre-seen component:


    Instead of devoting the weeks before the exam to studying theory, you will need to spend at least some of the last two weeks studying the SBL pre-seen (probably alongside working a job and whatever other commitments you have in your life), which could be demanding.


      The examiners now expect you to have entered the exam with a full understanding of the SBL pre-seen.

      The questions you’ll be asked will likely now be more demanding to take this into account, as you won’t be using your brainpower to get your head around the scenario during the ACCA SBL exam.

        A new format 

        The SBL pre-seen is the only pre-seen element in the ACCA exams, so you may never have encountered this form of exam preparation before. Knowing how to prioritise your time, both before and in the exam itself, may be difficult for you.

        (Note: You might want to check out our Free ACCA SBL Time Management Guide)

        And, if you’re using a tuition provider and they specialise only in ACCA exams, they may not have experience with this form of case study examination.

          4. How to approach the new ACCA SBL exam

          Everyone is different, but here are some of Astranti’s top tips for case study exams that could help you to organise your preparation ahead of your SBL exam.

          Step 1 - Review the syllabus

          You need to know the ACCA SBL syllabus back to front, inside out. If there is a theory you don’t fully understand or a model you half-remember, you need to devote the time to studying those areas. In your exam, you need to be prepared for whatever problem or scenario they throw at you.

          Step 2 - Practice questions

          Practice makes perfect! With the pre-seen only being released two weeks before the exam, a lot of the practice you do won’t be based on the actual SBL pre-seen scenario company, but you can still practise your ability to apply the SBL syllabus to questions as well as your ability to analyse (other) pre-seens and company case study scenarios.

          With the changes from September 2023, it may be tricky to find relevant practice questions immediately that have been updated based on the changes. But, in the future, you may be able to find more tuition providers with a bank of questions that you can use to hone your technique before your ACCA SBL pre-seen is released.

          Step 3 - Examiner’s reports

          As you will hopefully have encountered before (or after) your other ACCA exams, there are handy examiner’s reports you can read. They provide an analysis of the exam and guidance on what candidates did well, and more commonly, on what they did less well! You should, therefore, always spend at least an hour or two reviewing these reports as part of your exam preparation.

          You really couldn’t ask for better advice since these reports are literally written by the group that will be judging your own paper. Read past examiner’s reports so you don’t make the same mistakes as other students have and improve your chances of passing the exam!

          It’s worth noting that a small proportion of the advice may be less relevant based on the changes implemented in September 2023. However, the skills and analysis are still broadly the same and the vast majority are still relevant. 

          Step 4 - Pre-seen reading, re-reading, analysis

          Two weeks before the exam, you should have a big red circle on that date to be ready to start reading the pre-seen.

          Understanding the SBL pre-seen material is vital to preparing for the exam. We recommend you read it thoroughly at least 3 times to ensure you are comfortable with the material and you understand it.

          And don’t just read it and then put it down, you need to fully understand everything mentioned. You may even be able to find a tuition provider that performs some analysis to help you prepare. Either way, you should have a robust understanding of what is going on in the fictional company.

          (Note: We provide an in-depth and Free Pre-seen Analysis Pack for every SBL sitting.)

          Step 5 - Mock exams

          Do as many mock exams as you can get your hands on!

          There is a narrow, two-week gap between the pre-seen release and the exam. If you can find any mock exams that will not only test your ability to apply your knowledge but also to the actual SBL pre-seen company, snap them up! This kind of practice could be a great help ahead of your exam and could give you an edge.

          Perhaps the most important thing to think about when completing mocks (or any practice questions) is to do them under exam conditions. That means removing all distractions (and study notes) and sitting the mock exam with the same time constraints that you would have in the real thing. If you don’t get used to the time limits in your mock exams, you’ll really struggle in the exam itself!

           (Note: Our Free Pre-seen Analysis Pack also includes 2 mock exams!)

          Step 6 - Good luck!

          The ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam is supposed to be hard, but with the right preparation, you can boost your chances of being amongst the 50% that passes!

          5. Summary

          Here’s a quick summary of what’s changed in the ACCA strategic business leader exam. We’ve covered most of these already, but have a quick look through them as there’s a few other changes (as well as some things that have stayed the same)!


          Old case study New case study
          All scenario information presented in the exam There is now a pre-seen element released 2 weeks prior, as well as information in the exam
          4 hour exam The exam is now 3 hours and 15 minutes
          80 technical skills and 20 professional skills marks 80 technical skills and 20 professional skills marks
          Five professional skills tested Five professional skills still tested (but each will only be tested once and they will be worth 4 marks each)
          Lots of exhibits Fewer exhibits
          A single requirement answered in one document 3 separate tasks in corresponding documents, viewed one at a time
          Role play as a finance professional, demonstrating technical, professional and ethical skills No change!


          Get everything you need to pass your ACCA SBL exam, with Astranti’s premium online ACCA SBL course.

          Our premium course also comes with our double guarantee, including 7-day money-back guarantee and pass guarantee, regardless of whether you pay in one go or over 6 months.


          Illustration by Storyset.