CIMA Courses: How to find the right course for you

CIMA Courses

So, you’re thinking of taking the CIMA qualification – good choice. This qualification can lead to a lucrative and prestigious career with many different organisations across the globe. However, with multiple providers offering various packages and approaches to studying CIMA, there are lots of decisions to get right. Do you mainly want to be taught, self-study, or would you prefer a mixture of both? Which materials suit you best; videos, study texts, course notes? Does the style of these make a difference? These are just some examples of the choices you need to make.

We intend to bring our years of experience to your aid across the following pages, providing insights and advice to guide you through the maze of options and help you take your first steps towards success.

Our first port of call is to consider how to choose your CIMA course provider.

1. Spotting high quality providers

2. Live, live online or on-demand

3. The study materials will you need

4. One provider or several?

5. How much will CIMA cost?

1. How to spot high-quality CIMA providers

You don’t want just any provider, you want to choose the one offering high-quality materials that suit you and the level of support and guidance that will enable you to succeed.

The first place we’d advise you to look is on CIMA’s own list of approved CIMA tuition providers. There are others out there, but being listed here will provide you with the assurance that CIMA has a relationship with these organisations and would recommend them.

However, this may still look like a bewildering list, so as part of your research we would suggest considering the following: 

Samples: Given how easy it is to provide snippets of the various materials on offer, you’d do well to be wary of any that don’t offer these. Reviewing such samples provides the best way to experience the teaching quality and style and whether it’s right for you. As well as their website, Youtube could be a good place to look, as they may well have posted some webinars or clips from tuition videos which would provide a good insight.

Pass rates: In short, a high pass rate implies high-quality tuition. However, as the usual adage with respect to statistics implies, should the figure quoted be adorned with an asterisk and an accompanying note as to how the figure was calculated, it is always worth checking this out. This way, you can ensure that you’re satisfied that the claim is as robust as it sounds! 

Customer service: If a provider is quick to respond to your queries, gives great advice and ‘goes the extra mile’ to help you before you join their course, it’s usually a good indicator that the support once on their courses will be equally as good.

Testimonials: Who’s better placed to tell you how good a tuition provider is than the students who have actually studied with them? Customer reviews may be available on providers’ websites, and Trustpilot could also be a good option. However,  the various forums on social media platforms may be the best bet for gauging how students are actually feeling.  

High Quality CIMA Courses

2. Live, live-online, on-demand CIMA courses – How do I choose?

You may have seen these terms before but you won’t be able to choose between them unless you know what they actually mean:

    • Live CIMA courses (also known as classroom-based courses) – These are CIMA courses you attend at a physical location.
    • Live-online CIMA courses – These courses involve attending lectures/seminars via video conferencing software, most often alongside other students.
    • On-demand CIMA courses – These courses give you access to CIMA study materials that you can use whenever you like. Sometimes these courses will provide a recommended schedule for studying but it is ultimately at your own pace.

When deciding which of these types of CIMA courses you should research, consider the following:

    • Location – Can you access classroom learning? Obviously, if the answer is no, this will automatically narrow your options.
    • Can you be available at specific times to attend either classroom or online live events? If these are set during the working week, can you get time off? Time zone differences may also make these impractical.
    • On-demand CIMA courses – These courses give you access to CIMA study materials that you can use whenever you like. Sometimes these courses will provide a recommended schedule for studying but it is ultimately at your own pace.

Pros and cons of live CIMA courses include:

Advantages of classroom-based CIMA courses

    • Being in a learning environment can help you focus
    • Meeting other CIMA students can be motivating and can lead to networking
    • You can get immediate advice and feedback from the tutor

Disadvantages of classroom-based CIMA courses

    • Tend to be more expensive than online equivalents
    • Little flexibility in terms of class times and dates
    • You may need to be prepared to travel

In contrast, here are the advantages and disadvantages of on-demand CIMA courses:

Advantages of on-demand CIMA courses

    • Typically you can get started immediately rather than wait for a specific course start date
    • Flexible around your life – no fixed times and locations involved. You can learn in your own time and easily revisit topics if you need to
    • There are more on-demand CIMA course providers to choose from, hence choosing one with a style or materials to suit may be easier

Disadvantages of on-demand CIMA courses

    • Learning at home can be distracting and connectivity problems can be frustrating
    • A lack of structure can be an issue for keeping progress on track
    • You may need help to understand some topics. Not all on-demand courses will provide tutor support and tutor response times may not be immediate

 

And, finally, somewhere between the two, the pros and cons of live-online CIMA courses include:

Advantages of live-online CIMA courses

    • Provides the benefits of classroom-based learning without needing you to actually attend a physical location
    • Typically cheaper than classroom-based CIMA courses
    • Lessons may be recorded, so you can refer back to them afterwards while you’re revising

Disadvantages of live-online CIMA courses

    • Will occur at fixed times which may not be convenient
    • Learning at home can be distracting and connectivity problems can be frustrating
    • Can be trickier to have a discussion without interrupting or speaking over each other, especially in a larger group

Now, these lists are by no means exhaustive, however, this has hopefully got you thinking about some of the key differences and which aspects are most important to you.

In case that’s not enough choice for you, many providers will also provide a mixture of these methods. You’ll encounter terms like ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ courses, which usually mean there will be some “live” elements (either classroom or online-based) as well as on-demand components.

A CIMA course that mixes these approaches may enable you to get the best of both worlds. The important thing is, therefore, to carefully consider your preferred option or combination and then check out the providers that offer it.

3. What study materials will you need?

When you finally sit down to study, you need to be confident that your study resources will help you learn the content easily, confirm your knowledge effectively and prepare you for the exam comprehensively.

Therefore, you need to know what to look out for with each resource, so you’re picking the best CIMA course to suit you.

Materials will often have either an objective test or case study focus. Here are some of the most common CIMA study materials, and how you should go about choosing them.

Objective test (OT) materials:

Study text

A good textbook can be the lifeblood of exam studies, which makes sense, given that they contain all the theory you need to know! The difficulty is finding the one that fulfils your definition of good! 

The style of the study text will prove to be key. Some providers design their texts to be concise and predominantly bullet-point-based, whereas others focus on making their texts flow and use lots of examples to aid understanding. 

You might engage better with one style over the other, which brings us back to the importance of reviewing samples. Alternatively, you might prefer to opt-out of study texts completely and focus solely on tuition videos instead (more on these next). There’s no right or wrong way to go, it’s all about how you can learn effectively. 

Revision notes or cards

Where provided, the aim of these notes or cards will be to remind you of the most important facts, techniques, models, etc., rather than teaching it to you in full – useful when time is short or for that quick last-minute refresher! However, they are not always beneficial if it’s the act of making these for yourself that is most effective as part of your learning routine. 

Mock exams

 These are possibly one of the most important materials and we’d recommend taking as many as you can get your hands on! Along with giving you a taste of the exams, the mocks’ solutions can also help you identify what you need to work on to be ready for the real exam.

These mock exams will either be document-based with printed questions or provided through interactive software. Whilst both provide experience of the typical types of questions, using interactive software versions is much better for replicating the real exam experience. 

Exam technique guides

The skill in passing exams obviously involves knowing the answers but also involves knowing the right approaches to take, e.g. how best to approach specific styles of questions and how to allocate your time efficiently. For some, this might come naturally, but for many others, some assistance would be useful – hence the benefit of having this sort of guide available to review and learn from. 

Tuition videos

 Tuition videos can be a great substitute for or complement to study texts;  less to read and potentially a different perspective or additional insights. And, if you can get them in audio form, you could listen during your daily run!

In terms of finding videos that are right for you, just like with study texts, videos have different styles and so do presenters. Picking a style and presenter that you’d be comfortable sticking with for hours and hours are the key considerations.

Even more important than that, you need to make sure the videos cover everything you need to know, especially if you’re relying solely on videos and not using a textbook. It might be that the video has been designed as a supplementary tool to be used alongside a study text, rather than an absolute substitute, so beware!

Live online lectures/webinars

Some providers host live lectures online, giving you many of the benefits of classroom tuition from the comfort of your own home! For example, you can ask the tutor questions live. 

Even when you’re unable to attend the scheduled lecture, they will often be recorded for later viewing or review – it may just be that someone asks the very question you have been thinking about! Like the tuition videos, these may provide an alternative perspective or some insights or alternative examples which unlock some of the material for you that wasn’t clear from the study text. 

Practice/review questions

These questions are often provided after each chapter or section of the study text or videos, and they are great for periodically checking your understanding of the material (rather than waiting to take a full-blown mock at the end).

They are often in the same format as the exam question, so you can also use them for extra exam practice if you run out of mocks. Be warned though, mocks are designed to replicate the exam questions but not all practice/review questions will stick to that style as closely.

Case study materials include:

Mock exams, feedback and grading

Possibly even more vital when preparing for case study exams due to the difficulty and very different nature of these exams to the OTs. Case studies require long-form written responses. This, therefore, requires the development of a lot of skills; accuracy, succinctness, clarity and getting it all done in the time allowed! You, therefore, need to practise, which means that you need to find a provider that can supply you with mocks that are an accurate reflection of the real thing and which also provide comprehensive explanatory solutions to review against your own answers.

Even better than template answers, providers may offer a bespoke marking/grading service for case study mock exams. Having an expert mark your answers is ideal because this is exactly what you’ll be facing in the real thing. This will provide you with tailored feedback on where you need to improve your answers ahead of your real exam, maximising your chances of passing first time.

Exam technique guides

As we pointed out earlier, passing an exam is as much about the technique you apply to taking it as it is to the knowledge you have. The examiner can’t give you marks for the answers you didn’t have time to write!    Hence, whilst exam technique can be helpful for the objective test exams, it is essential for the case study exams. These guides and all the assistance they give in terms of, e.g. how to structure your answers to maximise marks, are definitely something to look out for when choosing your provider.

Practice questions

Whilst these may not specifically relate to the pre-seen, providers may produce generic practice questions based on common case study-style problems. And, as we’ve said before, practise, practise and more practise is the key!

Case study pre-seen analysis materials

Analysing the pre-seen and related industry can be a long and exhausting process. That’s why many tuition providers will perform some amount of this analysis for you. However, do compare the range and quality of products being offered – back to those samples again! A comprehensive, in-depth offering will save you precious study time and prepare you more thoroughly for the exam.

Theory texts

Some providers may isolate relevant information, theories and models into textbooks specifically for the case study. This can be helpful in understanding which parts of the other syllabi are most likely to be needed – and making sure you have a firm grasp of them!

Webinars

Webinars are also quite common for the case study and can provide the opportunity to ask an expert any questions you have in your preparations. Again, another potential time saver and an opportunity to really make sure you fully understand the exam material and requirements.

4. Buying your CIMA course materials: in a package, piecemeal, from one provider or several?

So, having decided which sort of materials will suit you the best, the next stage is to work out who you’re going to buy them from. 

Different providers will have different products or styles on offer and will potentially be bundling them into different packages. What one provider considers a fully-comprehensive set of products to pass your  CIMA course may not contain everything offered by another provider. 

So, let’s consider some pros and cons.

Buying everything from one provider may provide the following benefits:

  • Consistent style between study materials since they were all made by the same company
  • Consistent quality for the same reason
  • The materials have been designed to complement each other – E.g. practice questions that correspond to chapters of a study text
  • Sometimes you’ll get a programme or schedule for studying based on the purchased materials
  • A package deal offered by one provider is likely to be cheaper than buying all of the same materials individually either from them or across several providers
  • The package may come with extras that aren’t otherwise available to be purchased separately, e.g. tutor support, student forums, newsletters, webinars, money-back guarantees, etc.

    On the other hand, buying materials individually can have its own benefits:

    • Not all of a provider’s products may suit your learning style so you can pick the ‘best’ from each provider
    • Whilst a package may provide better overall value than the sum of its parts, if you don’t want all of the contents, it may prove more cost-effective just to purchase the materials you need, leaving you with the option to supplement them with materials from elsewhere at a later date should you want to
    • Buying the materials one at a time rather than paying for everything all in one go, may prove more affordable in the short-term
    • One provider may offer a unique product that you want to use, but, having reviewed all of the samples, you’d rather use another provider for the rest of the materials
    • Extra mocks exams are always a good thing, and buying these in from different providers will allow you to experience different question types and styles (we recommend exactly this to our students)

      5. How much will my CIMA studies cost me?

      There’s no point in sugarcoating it; becoming CIMA qualified can be expensive.

      If you’re keen on joining a CIMA course, here’s what you can expect to pay when opting for one of the more popular course providers:

      CIMA objective test courses – £300 to £1,200

      CIMA case study courses – £500 to £1,750

      Now, as we’ve learned already, there are many variables to consider when it comes to purchasing CIMA courses and study materials, so it pays to do your research. 

      Top 7 purchasing tips…

      When deciding what to spend on tuition and where to spend it, here are some top tips to consider:

      • What do you actually need? – It would be a waste to use a cheaper provider that can’t help you pass your exams. But, it would be an even bigger waste if you spent thousands on a premium provider when all you needed was a study text and a mock exam!
      • Shop around – Providers may sell similar materials or packages at very different prices, so make sure you look around to see what is on offer and ensure that the one you choose provides value for money. 
      • Samples – We mentioned it above but trying out a provider’s materials before you buy can be one of the best indicators of whether they will be right for you. If providers you’re looking at don’t advertise samples on their website, you can always contact them to ask if they will send you a sample. 
      • Bundles – As mentioned earlier, many providers will provide a range of bundles of their materials and these may prove cheaper than purchasing the same products individually.
      • Payments options – Some CIMA course providers may let you pay for everything at once, pay in instalments, or pay a monthly subscription. If you think you’ll need more help to pass your exam but don’t have a lot of cash immediately, spreading out the payments can make it more manageable. 
      • Guarantees – Money-back guarantees can let you try the materials from a particular provider without committing to the purchase, so you could still pull out if it wasn’t what you were expecting. And a ‘pass guarantee’ may mean you can continue to access the products until you pass your exam without having to repurchase materials should they otherwise come with a fixed access expiry time. 
      • Discounts – Many providers will put their packages or individual products on sale throughout the year. You can save a lot by signing up for newsletters or following them on social media and keeping an eye out for such discounts. 

        Whilst all this may initially sound like a significant time and financial investment, remember, these are likely to be repaid many times over throughout your career as a qualified accountant. 

        CIMA Course Cost

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        Holly Dymmock

        Customer Service and Mentoring Supervisor

        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!

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