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CIMA E3 exam tips from an experienced tutor

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Iryna Mcdonald
By Iryna Mcdonald, Tutor at Kaplan Link to Iryna Mcdonald's LinkedIn profile

Our experienced CIMA lecturer, Iryna McDonald, shares exam tips she’s given to students to help them pass the CIMA Strategic Management (E3) objective test.

The CIMA E3 exam

The CIMA E3 objective test is a 90-minute long, computer-based, and computer marked exam. Students receive a provisional result straight after completion followed by a confirmation within 48 hours. The latest pass rate from CIMA for the E3 objective test is 68% (covering exams between 01 June 2020 and 31 May 2021).

Once at Strategic Level, students often have the completion date for their CIMA Professional Qualification firmly in sight. This creates the drive and motivation needed to fast-track themselves through these final exams. CIMA Strategic Management might be their first objective test, or they may have decided to leave it till just before they do the Strategic Case Study.

Overview of CIMA E3 exam tips

  • Do lots of exam practice using Kaplan’s CIMA-approved study materials and online knowledge check tests in MyKaplan.
  • Create a study plan to help you balance your time between family and work commitments, studying the whole syllabus and sufficient exam practice.
  • Choose a study method that best fits your learning style and lifestyle. The OnDemand study method offers students possibly the most extensive level of support and flexibility.
  • Leverage academic and peer support to keep you motivated.

The importance of exam practice and study plans

At first sight, the E3 paper can appear deceptively straightforward as many models and theories would already be familiar to students from the preceding CIMA levels. However, that false sense of security quickly fades away once they start practising questions.

Students are often startled by the number of options they need to consider, particularly in those dreaded “select all that apply” questions. Also, it is common for exam questions to combine several models, include unusual industry settings or introduce additional information that further muddles the picture.

Lots of exam practice and good study skills are essential for CIMA students to pass E3. Kaplan’s CIMA Strategic Management exam practice kit, containing a huge bank of mock exam questions, is a CIMA-approved study resource.

At this level in their career, many CIMA students have to combine challenging projects and tough deadlines at work with equally challenging and time-pressured exams. As an additional resource, a study plan would also help to prioritise these competing concerns and make the whole exam preparation process much less stressful.

Common questions (Q&A)

CIMA Gateway students with exemptions

Question from Shamina, an E3 student: “Having come through the CIMA gateway route, I have received exemptions from all underlying objective test exams and thus E3 will be my first objective test exam. What should I expect?”

Iryna McDonald, lecturer at Kaplan: “Students who did not have any previous experience of objective test exams, often find it difficult to adjust. E3 can be a subjective, descriptive exam, when examined through multiple choice questions with a right and wrong answer. Of course, there will be further opportunities within your CIMA qualification, in the strategic case study, to fully develop and justify your points of view.

“However, E3 demands rigour and precision to fully grasp the details of the syllabus so that the correct answer option can be determined. These skills are built up over time, thus it is important to practice questions as you go along.

“The Kaplan CIMA E3 study text includes short questions to test your understanding of each area so you can build up your knowledge base as you progress through the syllabus. In addition, there are knowledge check tests in MyKaplan, our students’ virtual learning environment (VLE), that focus on individual topics and help you to get used to the computer-based nature of the exam!”

Using peer support and experience to bridge a study gap

Question from Ibrahim, an E3 student: “Due to personal circumstances I had to take a long study break. I feel I have forgotten a lot of stuff I have previously studied and may at times struggle with motivation. Would attending a course help address these issues?”

Iryna McDonald, lecturer at Kaplan: “Being in a class is a great way to build connections with other students. Some of your peers might be in similar circumstances and thus social support provided by the group, as well as your lecturer, is sure to keep you going.

“When it comes to the knowledge brought forward, the E3 course would give you a refresher of the key concepts with a strong emphasis on how these apply to real-world circumstances. At the end of the day, this is what the E3 examiner is aiming to replicate by providing scenario-based questions for students to tackle.

“Your practical experience would also come in very handy as many E3 questions require a common sense and business-minded approach. By reflecting on how your employer, or an organisation you are familiar with, have handled similar issues, you’d be able to better relate to the scenario set in the question. ”

Retakes, time management and confusing scenarios

Question from Nicolas, an E3 student: “I’ve attempted E3 before and it proved trickier than expected. The time was tight, so I didn’t have much left at the end to go over questions I wasn’t sure about. There were also bits of information in the question scenarios that seemed confusing. What shall I do so I’m better prepared next time?”

Iryna McDonald, lecturer at Kaplan: “Time pressure is a common problem in the E3 exam. As the exam is wordy, those scenarios can take a while to read through and absorb. The trick is to start with skim-reading the question requirements. This will give you a hint about the direction the examiner is taking on the issue, thus it will be easier to pinpoint relevant facts in the scenario.

“You’ve also done the right thing by flagging up difficult questions to return to at the end of the exam. Do remember there is no negative marking in the exam. So by selecting an option, even if it is initially just a guess, you might be able to score some marks. This way, if the time runs out, you’ve given yourself a chance to earn marks on each question.

“In terms of confusing scenarios, the examiner does have a habit of building in a decoy – a fact that initially seems important, but is designed to lead you astray. By considering the scenario circumstances holistically and focusing on key priorities of the given organisation, you’ll be better positioned to spot these decoys.

“Finally, to help ensure that your next attempt is successful, it is important to put question practice at the heart of the process. The E3 questions do have repeating patterns in the scenarios or in the way answer options are formulated. You will start to spot these more easily over time. As they say - practice makes perfect.”

I hope you found this Q&A session useful. If you feel you need more support during your study times don’t forget to reach out to our Academic support team, or view our other study tips blogs.