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CIMA 2015 revised syllabus – Part 1

Running a professional body is not easy. Students want to become members, so would like the exam to be easy. Members, on the other hand, want the exam to be hard. How often have you heard a qualified accountant declare “it was far more difficult in my day”?

The truth is, of course, that it’s not about hard or easy exams, but fairness and purpose. The exam is not there to keep people out, but to ensure that the skills demanded by the market place are taught and tested to the required standard.

The approach adopted by CIMA in designing their new 2015 syllabus is therefore to be applauded.

After comprehensive research with numerous organisations around the globe, CIMA have built a competency framework based on what these organisations expect finance professionals to be able to do, and are endeavouring to deliver not only a syllabus, but also an assessment regime that ensures their qualified members meet these expectations.

New assessment and syllabus changes

CIMA themselves describe their changes to syllabus content as “evolutionary, not revolutionary”. They clearly don’t perceive that students struggle to obtain the knowledge required to perform on the job. What is more commonly lacking is a student’s ability to see how individual pieces of knowledge inter-relate to one another, enabling them to view the bigger picture.

CIMA have delivered the ability to achieve this within a rigid exam based environment. Gone is the idea that students should demonstrate knowledge of individual subjects in isolation.

Under the new plans, students will be required to sit three 90 minute online objective tests for each level. After that they will face a three hour integrated case study exam before they are able to move on to the next level. This is not dissimilar to the Strategic level at the moment with T4 as the over-arching case study.

Case studies have long been recognised as a very effective way of developing higher level and application skills. Harvard Law school is said to have developed the case study method in the 1920’s but it has taken some time for them to be adopted in professional education. CIMA have been strong supporters of this method, introducing a standalone case study paper way back in 2001 and it is good to see them building on this strength.

Such is the power of a case study that Kaplan has been integrating case studies into the teaching of topics for some time, most recently within their new AAT PassPlus courses and the ACA qualification. To see it being used as a more widespread assessment methodology is therefore very encouraging.

Is it all good?

From an educational perspective there is much to like, focusing on assessment rather than content is a refreshing approach. And it does feel that CIMA have taken a long hard look at what they want Chartered Management Accountants to be good at, it’s more about competency than syllabus. This sits very comfortably with our views as to how examinations should develop and the way that we now work with clients.

However, what has become clear at the tuition providers conference is CIMA, currently, have no plans to test full calculation style questions within the case studies. This leaves them open to criticism that a student could gain the qualification without ever having demonstrated their ability to prepare a full set of financial statements.

Students and members are both likely to have some concerns. That feels like a good place to end our train of thought on the changes discussed so far. If you have any thoughts or questions Kaplan would be interested to hear them!

Later today, I’ll discuss the concerns the change brings for some, share some insight into other technology-based revisions and finally reflect on what this means, in the long run, for both students and employers.

You may also find our video on the CIMA changes useful.

At the time of writing we have yet to see the style of case study and some of the comments above may change as a result.

Stuart Pedley-Smith is Kaplan’s Head of Learning and has taught CIMA T4 since 2001.


Stuart Pedley-Smith, Head of Learning for Kaplan Financial, has been involved with training and educating finance professionals for over 20 years. He is especially interested in the process of learning and the exam skills and techniques that contribute towards success in the classroom and in life. Stuart has written two books – The E word – Kaplan’s Guide to Passing Exams and A student’s guide to writing Business Reports.