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The role of assessment-led learning in CIMA 2015

Students taking an exam

"Assessment-led learning" is a common phrase used within education, but what does it actually mean?

On the one hand, the term can be used to describe what might also be referred to as "exam-focused learning" – the idea that learning is structured specifically around what is needed to pass the exam. By identifying the key examinable areas, and practising lots of past exam questions a student can learn what is needed and achieve exam success.

Alternatively, the phrase can encompass a process of assessing a student's current knowledge (with an initial test), and then directing study at any understanding gaps in an attempt to be more efficient.

Under either interpretation it's clear that the intention of assessment-led learning is to speed up learning and make it quicker to pass an exam; a very appealing proposition in the current time-poor world in which we all live.

But just how useful is assessment-led learning likely to be in the new world of CIMA 2015?

Key examinable areas?

CIMA's 2015 exams will cover EVERY learning outcome on each paper.

This is a huge change from the past, when only 30-40% of the syllabus was tested on any one paper. The old days of a small number of key examinable areas are gone, instead students will need to be comfortable with the entire syllabus.

Teaching to the test?

How do you teach to the test when you don't know what the test looks like?

Past papers used to be a reliable guide to the content, style and structure of the exams. This is no longer the case – CIMA will not be publishing past papers for the technical (objective test) exam papers. The 'old' approach of drilling actual past exam questions simply won't be possible.

Knowledge or understanding?

Passing CIMA's 2015 qualification will require a deep understanding, as it isn't simply a test of knowledge. Students will have to apply their knowledge, both within the objective test subjects and the case studies, and students will need to practise on a wide variety of questions to ensure they truly understand.

Real or fluke?

Scoring 180 with 3 darts doesn't make you Phil 'The Power' Taylor! What happens if you fluke part of the initial test, and therefore don't study that area? You'll be horribly exposed in the exam, particularly worrying given the 70% pass mark.

Is it the end for assessment-led learning?

Whilst it may be tempting to take shortcuts, this will not lead to successful outcomes under CIMA 2015. So, whilst I'm sure assessment-led learning will continue to be a part of any decent exam preparation course, students should not seek to rely on it as heavily as they may have done in the past.


Ben Wilson worked as an accountant in practice, spending 5 years at the coal face. He now lectures at Kaplan Financial, training the accountants of the future. Ben is part of the team that designed Kaplan's new CIMA courses.