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ICAEW Business Strategy and Technology Exam Tips

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

This blog has been developed to set you up for your ICAEW ACA Business Strategy and Technology (BST) exam so you can be in the best possible position to pass.

The level of the exam

The BST exam forms part of the Professional Level of ICAEW ACA qualification and has elements that you’ll be familiar with from the Certificate Level papers Business, Technology & Finance and Management Information.

However, BST will take the underlying concepts a step further with greater emphasis on applying models in context and providing reasoned conclusions that are supported by data analysis.

Key exam topics

Students often ask what will come up in the exam. Though the desire to create certainty in the exam situation is completely natural, the BST examiner is unlikely to oblige by providing a consistent set of topics or scenario settings.

However, as the general rule of thumb, the exam will contain the following:

  • Strategic analysis (30-40% of marks) – the topic of environmental analysis has long been a students’ favourite. Questions on PESTLE or Porter’s 5 forces help students to ease themselves into the paper.

  • Strategic choice (30-40% of marks) – Porter’s generic strategies is probably the most useful theory in the whole syllabus as it could be applied to almost all contexts and is an easy way to get a few knowledge marks.

  • Implementation and monitoring of strategy (25-35% of marks) - it’s virtually guaranteed that every exam will contain questions on the topics of ethics or sustainability.

Exam structure

The exam is 2.5 hours long which makes it very time-pressured and there are no permitted texts, so you’ll need to know your stuff well in advance. There are three compulsory questions in the paper, each is based on its own scenario.

Question One Format and Marks

This is often referred to as a mini case study due to its length. It often exceeds two pages including many numerical exhibits and is normally allocated 40-45 marks.

Question Two and Three

These are shorter, with a page for each scenario, which might include some numerical information, and these are worth 20-25 marks. The pass mark for this paper is consistent with the rest of the ACA ICAEW qualification and stands at 55%.

Key challenges of the exam

Many students find the volume of information in the exam overwhelming. One question in particular tends to consume much more time than would be recommended, which means that the whole exam becomes extremely time-pressured.

In addition, ICAEW has recently strengthened their requirements when it comes to data analysis and digital skills and now expects students to be familiar with the following spreadsheet functions:

  • AVERAGE – useful when determining the mean of several values, such as an average profit over a number of years.

  • COUNTIF/ COUNTIFS – helps to determine how many cells contain values that meet certain criteria. This could be useful when determining the number of years when an organisation’s profit exceeded a certain threshold.

  • IF- allows for logical comparison between two values, such as whether the profit in a given year is above or below the budgeted figure.

  • RANK – provides the rank of a number within a series of values, such as ranking the branches of the organisation based on their profit margins.

  • STDEV (Standard deviation) – it is used as part of statistical analysis to reveal the spread of data around the mean. Higher standard deviation reflects greater variability of results. For example, a greater standard deviation in past profitability indicates a greater risk of an organisation not producing the expected returns in the future.

  • SUM/ SUMIF – allows to quickly total up a set of values, for example when determining the profitability of the organisation as a whole by summing up the returns of its divisions.

What should I do to pass the Business Strategy and Technology Exam?

Start by working on your business awareness. BST will challenge students by giving a wide range of scenario settings in the exam, ranging from air traffic control or charitable organisation.

There are also more familiar settings such as retail, banking or manufacturing industries. Small steps needed to increase commercial awareness include reading business publications. To paraphrase a famous proverb – a business article a day keeps the examiner at bay.

As always, it is important to practice past exam questions. By going through as many recent past papers as possible, you will start to see repeating patterns in the way that scenarios are structured and how the requirements are formulated.

The exam experience becomes much more palatable if you have a good understanding of the approach you are expected to adopt when dealing with wordy scenarios and pages of data.

Remember to keep the balance between knowledge and skills elements. In BST you can’t just rely on rote learning of theories as the knowledge element makes up only 25-30% of the marks.

At this level knowledge is assessed in context and thus must be applied to scenario circumstances. To demonstrate your application skills, you will need to show that you fully understand the situation an organisation is facing and are able to provide solutions and courses of action.

Do remember those all-important conclusions! The examiner is expecting you to provide a reasoned explanation for your choice, as well as its consequences.

To support you with your studies, Kaplan offers a variety of different study methods for the ICAEW Professional Level course, including OnDemand, Classroom, Live Online and Recorded Online to fit in with your time commitments and required level of support.

With expert guidance from our skilled tutors, you will find it easier to acquire both the knowledge and the exam techniques needed to succeed in the BST exam.