Cracking the case study: The definitive guide to the CIMA case study exams
You’ve nailed your technique for the objective test exams, but now it’s time to tackle the CIMA case study.
The case study is TOTALLY different to any CIMA exams you’ve sat before, so you need a new way of doing things.
This definitive guide will answer all of your burning questions about the CIMA case study exams, giving you the BEST chance at success.
1. The CIMA case study – basics
2. What is it and how do I use it?
3. Things you must do to prepare
4. Essential exam tips
1. The CIMA case study exams: the basics
“At what stage do I sit these exams?”
In your CIMA journey, there are three case studies you’ll have to conquer (unless you have a relevant CIMA exemption)
The first case study you’ll take is the Operational Case Study (OCS). We’ll go into more detail about what’s assessed in this case study shortly, but for now, you just need to know that you’ll take this once you’ve passed your P1, E1 and F1 exams.
Once this is out of the way, you can then return to the familiar ground of objective tests, as you’ll take P2, E2 and F2. When you’ve passed these, you’ll have to take another case study exam – this time, the Management Case Study (MCS). Note, if you are a Master’s Gateway student, the MCS is known as the CIMA Gateway Exam.
The final case study in your CIMA journey will be the Strategic Case Study (SCS), and you’ll sit this once you’ve passed P3, E3 and F3.
“But what exactly are case study exams?”
You’ll have probably gathered by now that case study exams are different to the other CIMA exams. But how so? Here are the key points:
- These exams are all about testing your analysis skills! They get you to apply the technical knowledge you learnt for the objective test exams to a business scenario.
- The business scenario will be outlined in a pre-seen text, which you’ll have access to several weeks before the exam (more on this in the next section). In the exam, you’ll also be given new information on the unseen scenario, which you’ll need to familiarise yourself with and reference.
- The exams are essay-based. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you have to practise your handwriting! You’ll take these exams on a computer, and you’ll type your answers into the word processor on the exam software.
- All the case study exams are 3 hours long. In the OCS and MCS, you’ll be required to answer 4 questions, whilst in the SCS, you’ll have to answer 3.
- You’ll take on a new persona! This may sound a bit odd at first, but in each of these exams you’ll be writing as if you were a member of a fictional organisation.
“So, what will I be tested on?”
This will depend on what level you’re sitting. There is a different set of criteria for each exam on which your answers will be judged. Across your answers, you need to make sure that you display these technical skills:
Operational Case Study (OCS)
Prepare costing information for different purposes to meet the needs of management
Prepare budget information and assess its use for planning and control purposes
Analyse performance using financial and non-financial information
Apply relevant financial reporting standards and corporate governance, ethical and tax principles
Prepare information to support short-term decision-making
Prepare information to manage working capital
Management Case Study (MCS)
Evaluate opportunities to add value
Implement senior management decisions
Manage performance and costs to aid value creation
Manage internal and external stakeholders
Strategic Case Study (SCS)
Develop business strategy
Evaluate the business ecosystem and business environment
Recommend financing strategies
Evaluate and mitigate risk
Recommend and maintain a sound control environment
“What % do I need to pass?”
There is no official pass mark for the operational case study. Instead, CIMA marks scripts out of 100, ranks them in order and then looks down the list to a point where it feels the scripts are not strong enough. Everyone below that level fails and everyone above that level passes.
The first passing script is given a score of 80 and the first failing script a score of 79. The marks given are then scaled according to a formula, with a perfect 100% script scoring 150. This does sound odd, but it’s the way CIMA does it!
So what percentage is typically a ‘passing’ script? After all, it is useful to have an approximate target to work towards. The suggested figure is roughly 60%. This is slightly lower than the 70% required for the objective test exams, but that doesn’t make it easy!
“Great! Can I now go ahead and pick a date for my exam?”
Hold on! Unlike the objective test exams, which could be taken all year round, case study exams can only be taken at certain times.
CIMA has 4 exam windows a year (February, May, August and November) where it is possible to sit a case study exam. In each of these months, exams are scheduled over a 3 day period. Each pre-seen will be available for 2 sittings, with new ones released for the May and November sittings.
2. What is the pre-seen material and how should I use it?
You’ll only be given access to the pre-seen material roughly six weeks before your case study exam. So, it’s super important you know how to use that short amount of time to get the most out of the pre-seen material!
“What is in the pre-seen material pack?…”
The pre-seen material pack contains around 20 pages of information about a fictional company, its position and the industry it operates in. The pack often includes:
- Examples of the company’s competitors
- Descriptions of the company’s markets
- Mission and vision statements
- Financial statements
- Press releases
- Newspaper or digital articles about the company
How SHOULD I use the pre-seen material?
- Read it thoroughly – this means more than once! We recommend reading it at least 3 times
- Undertake a full strategic analysis of the material.
- Consider what the pre-seen may not be telling you about the performance of the business – i.e. have they left any details out on purpose?
How SHOULDN’T I use the pre-seen material?
- Don’t try to guess what the exam questions or topics will be and learn set answers – focus on making sure you understand the pre-seen.
- Don’t spend lots of time trying to work out which real company the pre-seen company is based on – this won’t help you answer the questions in the exam.
“Do I need to memorise everything in the pre-seen pack?”
No – you will be given an electronic copy of the pre-seen material in your exam.
But, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t become familiar with the material. You will be under great time pressure in your exam, so quickly recalling key information rather than constantly re-reading it can save you vital time.
“Do I need to include quotes from the pre-seen material in my answers?
You should include details such as the company name, key individuals at the company, financial figures found in the financial statements, the country or countries mentioned or the competitor (if there is one), if they are relevant.
But, you are not required to quote full sentences or phrases from the material to support your analysis.
3. 5 things you must do to prepare for your case study
One of the main reasons for students failing the case study exam is poor preparation! So, we’re sharing our top 5 exam prep tips to maximise your chances of passing on the big day!
1 – Read, re-read and analyse the pre-seen material
Understanding the pre-seen material is the most important part of your preparation. We recommend you read it thoroughly at least 3 times to ensure you are comfortable with the material and you understand it.
2 – Research the industry the pre-seen company operates in
To successfully apply the theory you learnt in your operational exams, you will need a good industry understanding. This is so your advice is relevant to the issues in that industry. Therefore, it is useful to research the industry and learn some real-life examples to incorporate into your answer.
3 – You should spend the majority of your preparation time taking full mock exams; and these MUST be done under exam conditions.
As a minimum we recommend doing 5 full mock exams, but the more you can do the better! By doing this, you will get an idea of how well your answers score against the marking criteria.
Perhaps the most important thing to think about when completing mocks 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!
4 – Familiarise yourself with the assessment criteria for your CIMA case study exam and make sure you understand and, very importantly, can apply all the content!
5 – 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!
Examiner’s reports 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 an hour or two reviewing these reports as part of your exam preparation
4. 5 essential exam tips
So, you’re sitting in front of the screen, ready to start your exam. You may well feel like a sprinter about to start a race, and be tempted to write down everything you know about the topic as quickly as possible. But no, you’re a sensible student who understands the importance of a good exam technique! You pause, and remember these 5 key exam technique tips:
1 – Keep an eye on the time
We cannot stress enough the importance of time management in your exam. So many students fail because they run out of time.
For OCS and MCS you have a maximum of 45 minutes per question and 1 hour for SCS questions. Each question will contain various sub-tasks, so you should ensure that you give yourself enough time to answer each section adequately.
REMEMBER If you choose to end a question early, then there’s no going back. And, you CANNOT carry that time forward to the next question!
2 – Plan, plan, plan
It is absolutely crucial that you spend time at the beginning of each question to plan your solutions.
Spending time to plan your answers will help ensure your solution has a clear structure that focuses on answering the question. Failure to do so may result in waffly, long answers that miss out on crucial points and ultimately lose you marks.
You’ll have access to an on-screen scratchpad for any notes and plans. However, we recommend planning directly into your answer box. This will save you time when writing your solution, as it should just be a case of adapting your plan into an answer.
3 – Use the unseen and pre-seen materials
Make sure all of your answers relate back to the case study company. The new information in the unseen will give you important points to comment on and analyse, so it is important that you make use of this resource. Remember, whilst you’ll have access to the pre-seen in the exam, you should already be familiar with it, so you shouldn’t have to re-read it.
4- Points mean passes!
The more points you can make, the better! Spending your time making one long point simply won’t get you the marks you require. It is far better to incorporate more points into your answer, always ensuring they are relevant and link back to the original question.
5 – Apply your knowledge
If you’re sitting a case study exam, you’re sure to possess knowledge of a wide range of technical models and theories obtained from your objective level studies. Now is your chance to show off this knowledge and practically apply it to the scenario. Examiners love it when you utilise your technical knowledge to support the points you are making.
We must emphasise that the focus is on the practical application of knowledge – simply describing a model won’t help you! It is absolutely essential that your answers offer practical solutions that apply to the scenario. You should weave in your own knowledge into these answers, but make sure that the emphasis is always on applying it to the scenario.
Find Your Astranti Case Study Course
We have OnDemand courses available for every case study student, whether you need lots of guidance and assistance along the way or you just need to get up to speed with the latest pre-seen. On our courses you will find study guides, recorded videos, mock exams & practice questions, live online classes, tutor/mentor support and much more.
Prices start at just £245 or £45 a month for 6 months.
Explore each of our case study courses below…
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I hope you’ve found this guide on taking CIMA exams useful – but if you’ve got any further questions, leave a message and I’d be happy to help!