CIMA F3: Your Complete Guide
If your CIMA F3 exam is on your mind, you’re probably nearing the end of your CIMA Professional-level Studies – hurrah!
However, celebrations aside, the CIMA F3 exam is often considered one of the most difficult CIMA exams by students and tutors alike. So, there may be a lot of questions starting to float around in your head: ‘What’s in the F3 syllabus?’, ‘Are there any really, really difficult topics?’, ‘What can I do to make sure I pass?’
To make sure you’re as prepared as you can be, this page is firstly going to take a quick look at the content that makes CIMA F3 one of the hardest objective test exams. Then, we’re going to go through our top tips that you must do in order to pass your F3 exam.
1. What you’ll find in CIMA F3
2. CIMA F3’s hardest topics
3. How will CIMA F3 be assessed?
4. How to pass CIMA F3
5. Didn’t pass? Don’t give up!
6. Astranti’s top tips
1. What you’ll find in CIMA F3
F3 is a notoriously dense and tricky syllabus, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not familiar with all of the terms and areas discussed below.
It is very important that you consider how the four sections of CIMA F3 are weighted in the CIMA F3 syllabus (the emphasis on each area within the exam).
The CIMA F3 syllabus is weighted as follows:
- 15% – Financial policy decisions
- 25% – Sources of long-term funds
- 20% – Financial risks
- 40% – Business valuation
However, just because one of the sections of the CIMA F3 syllabus is weighted less than another, it doesn’t mean you can ignore it when studying! You will be asked questions from all of these sections, so you’ll need to learn them all.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the topics covered in the CIMA F3 syllabus, let’s take a quick look at what they entail:
Financial policy decisions
Looking at the different components of a clearly defined and focused financial strategy which ensure that the company has the right funds invested in the right projects to ensure the long-term success of the business
Sources of long-term funds
Understanding the different ways businesses can raise capital (e.g. ordinary shares, preference shares, corporate bonds, loans) to support continuing operations and new investments
As with any decision, you need to be aware of the financial risks involved, how to quantify them and how to apply that to business decision-making
An accurate business valuation is a key part of most investments because a valuation of a business entity will be needed whenever a price is required, e.g. when buying or selling an entity
When studying this content (and in your exam), you will have to perform some calculations alongside learning and applying the theoretical content – so make sure you re-familiarise yourself with your scientific calculator and remember to bring it with you to your exam! You can find a list of CIMA approved calculators on their website.
Now that you have a foundational understanding of the CIMA F3 syllabus, let’s take a closer look at the topics that are likely to cause you a bit more difficulty.
2. CIMA F3’s hardest topics
We asked our students and our expert tutors what the hardest CIMA F3 topics are (and where you should plan to spend extra time studying). The areas that came up over and over again were:
Capital structure theory and raising finance
This topic is all about how an entity is financed – either through issuing shares or through borrowing money. This topic is particularly difficult because you must learn and be able to use lots of formulae and calculations. Whilst you’ll be given some of the formulae in the exam, you will have to spend time practising how to use it since it can be a difficult concept to get your head around at first!
You need to ensure you have a strong understanding of how different types of finance are raised. In F3 you’ll need to be able to not only advise on types of finance, but do detailed calculations that can be tough.
Modigliani and Miller’s (M&M’s) Dividend Irrelevance Theory
This theory states that an organisation’s policy for paying out dividends is irrelevant to its capital structure. M&M’s theory is both conceptually difficult to grasp (because it’s so counterintuitive) and technically challenging (you’ll need to know how to apply the formulae both with and without tax included).
Managing financial risks
Knowing the appropriate method to minimise or offset the negative impact of financial risks can present challenges in your exam. Although you’ll be glad to hear that the maths involved in the different risk management techniques tends to be quite simple, the concepts involved are very difficult to follow at times.
Business valuation methods
Knowing the various methods for calculating the total value of a business is difficult, not because the calculations are challenging, but because there are quite a few methods to learn. This is made harder by the fact that you’ll need to learn two versions of all the methods, for both quoted and unquoted organisations.
One such method that’s worth singling out is the CAPM (Capital Asset Pricing Model), which has been noted as being particularly tricky for students to learn and grasp both mathematically and theoretically.
Efficient market hypothesis
This looks at how accurately share prices reflect the information available in the market (the more accurate, the more efficient the market). The concept is very theoretical and counterintuitive to what we see in the real world, and many students never really grasp the full meaning of this topic!
So, seeing these topics, it might not surprise you that technically speaking, F3 is the hardest of all CIMA subjects. There are some very complex ideas here. For some, you may just be able to get away with learning how to do the questions (even if you haven’t fully grasped the topic), while for others, you must make sure you get expert tuition so that the topics are simplified and explained in a really straightforward way.
3. How will my CIMA F3 exam be assessed?
Like all CIMA objective test exams (excluding the Certificate level), you will need to answer 60 questions in 90 minutes in your CIMA F3 exam.
We can’t tell you exactly how many questions you will need to answer correctly in your CIMA F3 exam to pass as the pass mark is scaled. This means different exam questions receive different weighting. So, for example, the easiest questions might only be worth 1 mark, whereas the hardest questions which require you to complete multi-step calculations will be worth more.
That said, obviously, the more questions you can answer correctly, the better your chances of passing!
If you have to resit your F3 exam (though, hopefully, you won’t!), you’ll be given a different set of questions. Each exam sitting randomly selects 60 questions out of CIMA’s question bank, which has hundreds of questions at the ready.
Immediately after you’ve finished your CIMA F3 exam, you’ll receive a provisional pass or fail, which is printed out by Pearson Vue centre or will be available on your My CIMA account if you take the exam remotely. Then, about 48 hours later, you’ll receive your scaled score out of 150 as well as what areas of the CIMA F3 syllabus you were ‘proficient’ in.
The pass mark in the scaled score is 100 (roughly 66-70%). If you fail the exam, but you’re very close to passing (scoring in the 90s), we strongly recommend you retake the exam as soon as possible. That way, the knowledge will still be fresh in your mind and you’ll just need to shore up the few weaker areas in order to get that passing grade.
So, we’ve taken a bird’s-eye view of the syllabus, drilled down into the most difficult topic areas and understood how your exam will be assessed, but what are the actual steps you need to take to make sure you pass?
4. The expert guide to passing CIMA F3
So, CIMA F3 is hard! Possibly the hardest of all the CIMA exams.
However, a well-prepared student will pass CIMA F3 first time. So, what is a well-prepared student, and how do you ensure that that student is you?
Astranti CEO, Nick Best, has used his 25 years of experience teaching CIMA exams to share what he has found makes the difference between passing and failing the CIMA F3 exam.
Step 1: Understand the content
The first thing you need to do is learn each area of the CIMA syllabus. To do this, you’ll need some great study resources, such as a good study text or set of tuition videos, or you should find an excellent lecturer at a local college.
We’ve written an entire page on how to find the right CIMA course for you, if you’ve not already found one.
At this stage, your goal is understanding. You should leave this stage understanding each theory and how it works, as well as the purpose of that theory to a management accountant.
As you study, make sure to plan to spend enough time on topics that are likely to cause you problems, so for instance, those we’ve identified as the hardest are likely to take longer.
And do ask questions where you don’t understand. That’s what your tutor or course provider are there for! In our experience, people typically don’t ask enough questions and think understanding will come later in their studies. It won’t. Make sure you get a full understanding in this first stage.
Step 2: Test your understanding
Next, you must test you’ve really understood the content by doing questions. Providers like Astranti will often supply practice questions at the end of each chapter of a study text or after each tuition video. These aren’t about passing or failing – these are for you to identify what you’ve understood and remembered and what you need to spend more time learning before you move on to the next topic.
And don’t just take questions from one provider. Buy multiple revision packs from different ones – they all have their own style and it gives you a wider range to ensure you’ve really understood the content.
Another vital step here is to mark the questions you got wrong so you can return to them in a few weeks’ time. If, a few weeks later, you get the question right, you’ve shown you’ve really learnt the content.
And one final tip here… Not all providers’ solutions to questions are the same. Make sure you find questions that have detailed and clearly explained solutions that don’t just give you brief one-line answers. It’s not about getting the solution ‘right’, it’s about making sure you fully understand the theory, and getting the right question bank is key to this.
Step 3: Memorise the content
Let’s be clear – simply understanding the theory is not enough!
You must memorise the content!
Many students skim this stage, but it’s a major mistake. You won’t have your study text or set of tuition videos with you in the exam!
Learning a whole study text is difficult, though, and learning a video is simply impossible! You need to create some notes as you are studying and then memorise them. Some people use cards. Others use sheets of paper or books, or create a powerpoint presentation for themselves.
Creating them for yourself the best approach, but it’s also time consuming, so a quicker alternative is to purchase prepared notes, like our set of F3 revision notes?
Memorising means being able to write out or recite everything in your notes without looking at them. And yes, I really mean that! That’s what the best students can do, and if you’re not doing that, you’ll be behind them and will be unlikely to pass first time!
By the time the exam rolls around, you should be able to rattle off the meaning of the Capital Asset Pricing Model or M&M’s theories without breaking a sweat, along with pretty much anything else in the syllabus!
CIMA F3 has many formulae and mathematical methods. Some formulae will be provided in the exam itself, and you can see which ones are on CIMA’s formulae sheet, but others will need to be memorised. In addition to revision notes, it can also help to create a sheet with all the calculations/formulae you’re trying to remember, as they can be tricky to recall quickly in the exam. Review that sheet on the way to your exam centre or just before your allotted exam time for those sat at home, just to double-check you really do know them.
Step 4: Mocks, mocks and more mocks!
This really can’t be said enough. CIMA F3 is not an academic subject to be admired from afar, it’s a practical syllabus that you will need to not only understand but also be able to apply under exam conditions.
As such, take all the mock exams your provider can give you, and (if you can afford it) get a couple more from other providers. And do them in as close to exam conditions as you can: alone, in a single sitting and without any notes to help.
It is the best way to prepare just before the exam, bar none! Not only are you checking your memorisation and understanding, you’re honing your exam technique. How will you manage the time pressure? How will you approach challenging questions? How will you schedule your time between easier and more difficult topics?
As with the practice questions before, you should be reviewing your mock results to see what you got wrong (even if you achieved a passing mark in that mock). It may seem negative, but it’s essential that you identify and address all of your weaknesses before you sit the real exam.
Don’t forget there are free practice questions up for grabs on the Pearson Vue website. This is especially useful for anyone new to these exams because it is based on the actual exam software, so you can get a taste of the real thing ahead of the exam. Astranti also have a free mock for you too so make sure you sign up for that.
Step 5: Taking the exam – Doing it in passes
You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the last step is to actually sit your CIMA F3 exam – but now’s not the time to take it easy!
This tip is relevant to all of the objective test exams, but it is particularly helpful with CIMA F3’s longer scenarios and complex/applied calculations. And the tip is: answer the questions in three passes, or ‘run throughs’.
1. First, spend 10-15 minutes going through and answering all of the really easy/short questions. Any that you know off the top of your head and you feel relatively confident in answering.
2. Then, in the second pass, take a bit more time, go back through and answer the slightly harder questions. Any that you get stuck on or you feel less confident about, flag them up but don’t spend ages on any of them yet.
3. Finally, with any time remaining, do a third pass of the flagged questions and take time to consider your answers. Since there’s no negative marking, always make sure to answer every question by the end – even if you have to guess!
5. Didn’t pass? Don’t give up!
Maybe you weren’t on top form, or you were given an especially difficult set of questions. Perhaps you just weren’t quite ready for the real exam. Whatever the case, failing an exam is disappointing. But one of the worst possible outcomes from a failed exam is that you give up, or indeed wait too long to resit.
Just under half of all F3 students fail their first exam, so it’s okay to fail. See it as a learning experience that will help you prepare for next time.
Wait the 2 days following the exam and log in to your MyCIMA account to find out what your score was and what areas you were ‘not proficient in’ and start planning your resit. Understand where you went wrong both for topics learnt and your approach to the exam. Did you really memorise the content? What didn’t you fully understand? Have you done enough practice questions?
You can find out more about the scoring system in our definitive guide to CIMA exams, but 0-99 is a fail and 100-150 is a pass. If you were relatively close to passing (around 90-99), we recommend taking it again sooner rather than later and focussing beforehand on addressing only the areas you were not proficient in.
Watch out for a ‘Pass Guarantee’ when you’re choosing your course provider. With that, if you fail the exam and meet the guarantee conditions, you will be entitled to continue studying until you pass your exam.
6. Astranti’s top tips for CIMA F3
Take time over the different subjects
CIMA F3 has the toughest topics of all CIMA exams. Take time over these, and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your tutors for help to clarify your understanding – you’ll almost certainly need to do this for F3 in a way you perhaps won’t have for previous subjects!
Learn your formulae
Lots of that tough F3 content is formulae. Now, some that you’ll encounter in your studies will be given to you in the exam, but most won’t be. In either case, you need to be confident in how those formulae are applied and what figures need to be fed into them.
It’s worth considering as you revise which formulae you don’t need to memorise, so check out the CIMA F3 formulae sheet. You’ll see that little or no explanation is given for each, but at least you won’t need to commit the algebra to memory, just learn how the formulae work.
Start revising early
You’ll need to cover the entire CIMA F3 syllabus during your studies, and as we’ve seen, there are some pretty tough topics! So, it is essential that you start your studies for your CIMA F3 exam early. Don’t put off starting your revision until the week before your F3 exam.
At Astranti, we advise that you allocate roughly 11 weeks for your CIMA F3 studies (with around 10 hours a week), but this can vary depending on the free time that you have available. If you have booked time off work to study, for example, you should be able to complete your studies in less time. However, you must be realistic about how long it will take you to learn and understand the content and become comfortable answering exam-style questions.
Some CIMA study material providers (like Astranti) will give you a course programme that you can follow. This can help you manage your study time and ensure you cover everything before your exam.
Keep an eye on the time
One of the main areas where students fall down in the CIMA F3 exam is running out of time and not answering all of the questions because of the number of lengthy calculations they need to perform.
You cannot afford to spend valuable time dwelling on a difficult question for too long as you may end up not having time to answer the questions you do know. You simply MUST use the ‘flag for review’ tool that allows you to mark any question in your CIMA F3 exam you’d like to revisit, and move on to another question if you’re spending too long on one.
When doing your mock exams, don’t forget to do them under timed conditions (some providers will have countdown timers built into the mock exam software).
If you find you’re struggling to answer all of the questions in 90 minutes comfortably, you need to find out what topics are making you pause or slow down and focus on becoming more confident in them – another reason why mocks are so important.
There’s no point in us telling you CIMA F3 will be easy, but hopefully, now you’ve read this page in full, you’ll be better prepared to face the challenge! If you still have any questions about the CIMA F3 exam, pop them in the question box below and we’ll get back to you!
Good luck with CIMA F3!
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