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Empowering students to take control of their exam journey

Mark Foley

The CIMA Institute’s decision to revolutionise their assessment methods is having far reaching consequences for organisations with finance study programmes. As other Institutes also move to more flexible examining models we examine the impact this is having on students and employers.

What has changed?

Assessments are now more flexible so that students can now plan the timing of their examination dates for the CIMA objective test papers so they, in effect, peak at the right time and maximise their chances of passing their examinations. With ACCA moving to four examination sittings a year, greater levels of flexibility is being given to the student to take ownership of their exam and study journey.

CIMA say that this is as an opportunity for the student to take more control of their studies. This certainly supports the view of self-direction, personal responsibility and accountability, all key characteristics of CIMA qualified accountants. This approach would allow CIMA students to develop these behaviours earlier in their studies and become well rounded finance leaders on qualification.

It also allowed students the incentive of planning their studies around holiday, work and life changing commitments.

The amount of flexibility provided by the Institutes should only be applauded and already we are witnessing significant real and meaningful benefits:

  • Students can complete the examinations in 3 years and avoid studying during critical year end routines
  • Students’ study can be staggered so they’re not all out of the office concurrently
  • Students can take more control of their own study pathway and ease the administrative burden on training managers
  • The case study examinations try to mirror time pressured work tasks, set by a line manager, and therefore aim to demonstrate application to work based scenarios.

Addressing issues with flexibility

However, employers are advised to retain some structure and ownership of the study programme as deferral rates are higher than ever. Students feeling less confident can now defer their exams at short notice with little penalty. While in certain circumstances this is commendable, proficient exam standard students are choosing to defer with the main influence being their own lack of self-belief and exam confidence.

Exam dates used to be compulsory, now it depends on a number of factors such as work and social commitments, desire and confidence. The consequence of this has been a dramatic slow-down in the time to qualification.

How this can affect employers

  • It’s more difficult to keep track on progress given there are fewer formal sittings
  • Disrupts staff scheduling and their availability for critical work tasks
  • Disrupts career and succession planning. Having a prescribed examination date provided some inevitability – whether you felt fully ready or not, the exam was there for the taking
  • Work and study become less integrated and as a consequence it becomes confusing to know what knowledge is being imparted and when this can be applied in the workplace.

The changes are far reaching. Kaplan’s Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith goes further:

‘Changes in assessment methodologies have a far greater impact on teaching and learning than people realise. On demand examinations or more frequent assessment leads for the need to have more flexible course structures. Classroom delivery has to be scheduled and so by definition is not ideal. The result is an increase in demand for on-line provision which requires a different teaching style and a rethink of academic methods.’

Top tips for avoiding business disruption

  1. Kaplan Account Managers have reported an increase in the number of clients using our progression planning calendars displaying exam results, course timings and anticipated study completion dates.
  2. Organisations are now changing their study policy outlining a specific deferral authorisation process to ascertain the reasons for the request and decide on whether it’s appropriate to grant the deferral.
  3. Some organisations have training contracts which expire after a 3 year duration, which provides some rigidity and reduces the number of times a student will defer.
  4. Kaplan’s learning counsel advise an exam should be taken within two weeks of revision course completion to maximise the chances of examination success.
  5. Account management and tutors can play an increasing part instilling exam confidence, perfecting technique and advising on delivery methods for all learning styles.
  6. Finally, it’s more important than ever for employer engagement on practice assessment performance to identify more objectively if students are ready to sit their examinations and avoid unnecessary deferral.

How Kaplan is supporting trainees to keep control of their studies

To address potential issues with learning flexibility, OnDemand for CIMA has been developed to provide the required stability alongside flexibility to ensure that pass rates are not affected.

To build student exam confidence, a large bank of over 600 practise questions and mock exams is available, and students get immediate feedback after completion.

Tutors also play an important role in the OnDemand course, ensuring students stay motivated and on track.

Ultimately, providing that courses are taught in the correct way, flexible learning and examination will continue to grow and benefits businesses and students alike.

Mark Foley FCCA is Head of Kaplan UK Account Management.

This article was updated on 2nd August 2016.