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How to pass your CIMA Strategic case study exam

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Written by Kim Lawley, Tutor, and Katie Collins, CIMA Product Manager

This blog has been developed to set you up for your CIMA Strategic case study exam, so you can be in the best possible position to pass.

The level of the exam

One thing that really throws students is the level of the exam.

Remember at Operational Case Study (OCS) you are a finance assistant and at Management Case Study (MCS) you are a finance manager. At Strategic Case Study (SCS), however, you are one step higher to reflect the level of your studies. So you need to think strategically, as an advisor to the board.

This means that you are trying to identify what the company should be doing, and why it should be doing it - really adding value. Remember - value adding information and offering advice is what you are paid to do.

At the early stages of the course, many people tend to explain how the company should be doing things. As a (close to) board level employee you will have more junior staff to work out the “how”, so make sure in your exam you focus on the “what” and the “why”.

Industry Research

In previous exams and previous sittings, rumour had it that students could pass purely from the material that CIMA gave them. More recently, however, CIMA have emphasised that students can add examples from real life to add depth and insight to their answers.

This doesn’t mean that you need to know everything about the industry the pre-seen information operates in, you just need to have some knowledge of the industry. Just imagine that you are preparing for a high level job interview and research accordingly.

How is the exam different from earlier ones?

You can argue that Operational and Management case study exams are extensions of the objective test subjects and integrate all the technical knowledge. But Strategic Case Study is very different.

During the exam process you are expected to advise, recommend, and evaluate. This takes a higher level thought process. Remember that this is your final step to being fully exam qualified, so it will require a bit more from you.

The key difference at Strategic level is you need to be able to understand and apply theories and techniques, as well as really adding the all important “value". If you rely on memory alone you are unlikely to be successful, and that idea has to flow through to the case study exam.

How would it work in real life?

Something that a previous student of mine said will always remain with me, and it resonates with me for this exam. The student was having problems with the thought processes. He told me the way he got through the exam and I now pass this advice on to you.

When he was doing questions/mock exams, he tried to imagine that his boss was opposite him and had asked him a question. He then had to answer that question and this is where the key point lies.

So if you are explaining something to your boss, will they want you to say “Oh, Michael Porter said this” or “JSW said this”? No. What they want is for you to tell them what and why, clearly and concisely – that’s the focus you need in this exam. CIMA have said that the exams are meant to be like a job interview so think of it as just that.

So what should you do to pass?

Here’s how we suggest you approach the pre-seen.

When you start your analysis you should think about the scenario (with a little structure such as PEST/Porter’s five forces) to try and gain an understanding of the following:

What could affect the business?

How could it affect the business?

What can the business do about it?

By doing that you can see that a story can be created. For example:

  • What strategy should a company adopt and why?
  • How will they fund that strategy?
  • What would the investors think? Would they resist?
  • How will it be communicated?

There can, of course, be many variants of the story and you won’t be able to predict every one, but what you can do is take previous exams and see what has come up.

The method we suggest is to take two past sittings and look at all the variants for them. Don’t try and answer them, just think how they could be applied to your pre-seen material and how you would handle them if they were.

Then you will, hopefully, have covered just about anything that can come up.

Remember if you do one of our Kaplan courses we will prepare you for your exam in the form of practice workbooks based on your pre-seen as well as marked exams with individual feedback. We are the only official provider of CIMA approved material so will put you in the best possible position to pass this final exam.

We are here to support you every step of the way so if we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our teams.

On behalf of all of us at Kaplan we wish you luck for your strategic case exam and all the best for your future careers, hopefully as an exam qualified CIMA accountant.