What’s the best way to study ACCA P3? How long should I study for? Which topics come up most often? What common mistakes do students make, and how do I avoid them? How do I pass ACCA P3?
We sat down with ACCA specialist Mary Farmer, the expert tutor behind our ACCA P3 course, and asked her everything you’ve ever wanted to know about passing P3.
If you’re hoping to pass ACCA P3, you need to read this.
Introducing… ACCA P3 Tutor Mary Farmer
LS: Mary, hi! Thanks for making time to speak.
M.F: You’re welcome; it’s for a good cause! Students always have so many questions about the paper they’re sitting, I’m happy to share my expertise.
LS: I know, and there’s really not much information out there. We get asked the same questions a lot, so we thought we’d come straight to the experts and get some answers!
Let’s start with the obvious question… which topics are most likely to come up on the ACCA P3 exam?
M.F: I get asked that all the time! It’s the question everyone wants an answer to, but there’s just not a prescriptive answer. The entire syllabus is examinable, so anything could come up.
(Source) The ACCA P3 syllabus structure.
Saying that, there are certain patterns. For ACCA P3, there is almost always something on parts A, B and C of the syllabus, Strategic Positioning, Strategic Choice and Strategic Action. A, B and C are the chunkiest bits of the ACCA P3 syllabus, so it tends to be tested in the most depth and on the compulsory first section of the exam.
…Section 1 will often be a scenario testing you on parts A, B and C of the syllabus, Strategic Positioning, Strategic Choice and Strategic Action…
ACCA P3 is designed to test students on whether they can give practical and sensible business advice. Most often you’ll be given a scenario, putting you in the position of senior management with some tough decisions to make. What you would do in a given situation, basically. How is organisation X doing? What are they doing well? What are they doing badly? What do they need to change? You’re being tested on your ability to analyse a situation and give strategic recommendations based on that analysis.
(Source) ACCA P3 tests your ability to deliver sound strategic insight.
The other 3 questions will often tend to be more focussed on the other sections of the syllabus. If section 1 is more about analysing the big picture, section 2 is likely to be more specific. You might be given a scenario where a company has a problem specifically with their information systems, for example.
LS: Do you need to know the whole syllabus to pass ACCA P3?
M.F: Question spotting really isn’t a good tactic; anything on the syllabus could come up. ACCA P3 is a final level paper so you really do need a breadth and depth of knowledge to pass.
Not everything on the syllabus is going to be examined in depth though, and parts of the syllabus might be combined into one question. Some parts might only be worth a couple of marks, but a couple of marks can make the difference between a pass and a fail.
… If you’re panicking, remember that you need 50% to pass ACCA P3 – you can still pass if you get half wrong!…
Look, I say this to my students all the time: you’ll never know everything perfectly – and that’s OK. But you do need to know as much as you can, and you can’t afford to skip parts of the syllabus. If you’re panicking, remember that you need 50% to pass ACCA P3 – you can still pass if you get half wrong!
LS: Which other papers are most relevant to ACCA P3?
M.F: It leads on from F5 Performance Management. You’ll be expected to know your Management Accounting techniques as you may need to interpret the financial information given or evaluate the strategic position. There’s a bit of F9 Financial Management as well, such as ratio analysis or being able to recommend sources of finance. Showing you have solid financial awareness will be important in answering some of the questions, in particular those that cover section G of the syllabus..
Oh, and the paper draws on F1 Accountant in Business too. In particular, section H of P3, which covers strategy and people, requires knowledge of sections A, B, E and F of F1.
LS: How should students study for the ACCA P3 exams?
M.F: It’s all about application of knowledge, not just knowledge. Learning the entire syllabus by rote won’t help you pass ACCA P3.
There are a lot of management models on the ACCA P3 syllabus, for example, but it’s not enough just to learn them. What’s more important is being able to understand the models – when and where and how you’d use them. There’s little point in memorising them if you can’t apply them intelligently in a given scenario.
(Source) ACCA P3 students should practice, practice, practice.
A lot of people spend time just going over and over the material. I mean, yes, you need to memorise the key models but if you want to pass ACCA P3, that’s not enough. The best way to learn is to practice, practice, practice.
Studying for ACCA P3 is about balance. Just learning theory won’t help you pass, but neither will just doing practice questions.
LS: How many hours should students study for ACCA P3?
M.F: It’s hard to give a number of hours, because everyone learns so differently.
My best suggestion would be that you go through the material and once you’ve understood it, move onto question practice straight away.
Don’t dwell on learning the theory; as soon as you’re happy, move on. Start doing practice questions as soon as possible.
L.S: How many practice questions, ideally?
M.F: It’s different for everyone! But if you did, say, 2 or 3 years’ worth of past exams, this would definitely start to give you a pattern. You’d start to pick up on what the examiner likes to see, and get to grips with how questions are structured.
I don’t want to be too prescriptive, but you probably want to be spending around 40% to 50% of your study time on practice questions. That’s not to say that you have to write out every past paper in full. ACCA P3 is wordy, and writing whole papers takes a long time. You could do a detailed plan for some questions and write out others in full.
…you probably want to be spending around 40% to 50% of your study time on practice questions…
The main point is to practice application as much as possible. Theory is the foundation for ACCA P3 but practical application is what the majority of marks are for. There’s quite a big gap between the two, and really the only way to cross the gap is to practice. It’s about testing yourself. It’s easy to just look up the solution, but don’t. It should feel hard – you have to put yourself in the position of having to come up with the answer. That process is really important.
LS: Application is everything!
M.F: Exactly! You could have memorised the theory word for word, but if you haven’t grasped the application, you’re unlikely to pass ACCA P3.
LS: How does that translate into the exam? How can students prove to the examiner they can apply the theory?
M.F: It’s about relating the syllabus to the scenario you’re given. Use the information you are given in the scenario as much as you can to explain your answer.
(Source) To pass ACCA P3 students must connect the syllabus to the scenario.
While you can get some marks for using the right theory, the big marks are for giving examples that are relevant to the situation and explaining why. The examiner is looking for three levels of depth to award the marks: make a point; explain the point; relate the point to the scenario.
(Source: Mary Farmer supplied) An example answer that successfully connects the syllabus to the scenario.
Every point you make should reference something from the scenario as well as your knowledge from the syllabus. You should be using phrases like “this is because”, “this is why”, “for this reason”.
…ACCA P3 students must relate the syllabus to the scenario given, not just quote the syllabus. You should be using phrases like “this is because”, “this is why”, “for this reason” to link the two…
Try and give the impression that you’re measured, focussed and know exactly what you’re talking about. For example, management models will often have parts that aren’t relevant to the question, and you need to know which bits not to write much about too.
For example, you might need to use the PESTEL model to analyse the macro environment of an organisation, but only Political, Economic and Legal are relevant. Trust your instincts and don’t try and wedge things in that don’t fit. It makes you look like you don’t understand the scenario enough to apply your knowledge.
Failing to demonstrate applied knowledge is the major reason students don’t pass ACCA P3.
LS: Why else do students fail ACCA P3? What can students do to avoid these mistakes?
M.F: Many students don’t spend enough time doing practice questions. In that case, you’re not studying in the right way to hone the skills you need. It’s much easier to spend time going over and over the theory, memorising models and so on. Students just need to take the plunge and have the confidence to move onto practice questions.
The professional marks are another reason people fail. There are only 4 marks available across ACCA P3 so it might seem unimportant, but it’s surprising. If you look at the students who fail ACCA P3, most of them didn’t get those 4 marks.
…if you look at the students who fail ACCA P3, most of them didn’t get the 4 professional marks…
Just putting the time into planning your answers can make a big difference. You can pick up these marks even if your answer isn’t right, because they’re not about the content. Instead they’re about the professionalism of your answer – the structure, content, writing style, layout and the formation of your arguments.
So, for instance, you might be asked to present your answer as a memo or a letter, and then there would likely be marks awarded for how well you effectively do so. The fact is that most markers will prioritise scripts that are well presented.
…time management is a huge reason people don’t pass ACCA P3…
Then there’s time management. That’s a huge reason people fail ACCA P3. Often we see ACCA P3 scripts that are unfinished, where the first question was answered in too much detail and the student ran out of time.
(Source) Many ACCA P3 students fail because they run out of time and don’t complete the paper.
Students tend to write too much. It’s human nature – you start, it’s a topic you like and think you know well, so you want to keep going. You want to write everything you know, but that’s to the detriment of other questions.
LS: Time management is always an issue for the ACCA. Do you have any time management tips?
M.F: Work out how many minutes you’ve got per section and be strict about sticking to it. There are 1.8 minutes per mark, so you should spend 18 minutes on a ten-mark question. Even if you’re not done, you should move on after those 18 minutes. Be succinct – everything you write, think ‘Why am I writing this? Is this directly relevant to the scenario?”
Remember that the easiest marks are always at the beginning of the question, so even if you don’t complete your answer you’ll be able to get the easy marks and move on. I say to my students, you’re realistically only going to pass ACCA P3 if you attempt all of the questions.
If you are running out of time or you don’t know something, just write what you can. Write as much as possible – model headings, bullet points – you’re likely to get some marks for it. Those marks might mean the difference between failing and passing.
…You’re not being asked to write everything you know. Instead, ask “How am I going to get the most marks in the time available?”…
I just can’t stress time management enough. So many people forget about it, or don’t think it’s important. You need to be strategic if you want to pass ACCA P3 – you’re not being asked to write everything you know. The question you should be asking is “How am I going to get the most marks in the time available?”
LS: Perfect, thank you Mary. Is there anything else students should know to help them pass ACCA P3?
M.F: Read the question properly! Every year students fail ACCA P3 because they answered the question they thought they were asked, or avoided a question they could have done well on because it looked “difficult”. If there’s a topic that seems difficult, don’t automatically shy away from it. Often the question will be easier because the examiners know it’s a challenging topic.
(Source) Whether you fail or pass ACCA P3 is often decided in the reading time…
Use your reading time wisely, so you really understand what you’re being asked. Look to the bold requirements first because this will tell you what’s expected. “Evaluate the Strategic Position of Organisation X…” for example, would instantly tell you that section A of the syllabus is relevant.
Often the question will give you clues about which model to use too. For example, if PESTEL is relevant the question might emphasise politics – “Organisation X operates in such-and-such country, subject to extreme political upheaval”. Ask yourself, “why are they giving me this information?” – everything in ACCA P3 is included for a reason. If they mention something, it’s because you need to know it. If they give you numbers you should be using them, for instance.
…often the question will give you clues about which model to use. Ask yourself, “why are they giving me this information?” – everything in ACCA P3 is included for a reason…
It also important to read all the parts of the question. Often questions have two parts, like ‘Evaluate the strategic position AND make suggestions’. One common mistake ACCA P3 students make is to forget about the second half of the requirement. Whenever there’s an AND, circle it or highlight it during reading time so you can’t forget.
ACCA P3 is difficult enough without you making easily avoidable mistakes like not reading the question properly.
LS: Amazing, thank you Mary. One final question for you, as one of our expert ACCA tutors… Why do you think LearnSignal helps students pass ACCA P3?
M.F: LearnSignal offer a flexible approach to learning, and the learning material is concise, targeted and written by experienced professionals in each area. Students have the knowledge they need to pass, presented in an effective, flexible way that makes it easier to learn.
Mary Farmer is an experienced accounting and finance trainer who specializes in helping students pass the ACCA. With extensive experience as a tutor both in the classroom and online, we’re thrilled to have Mary on the LearnSignal team.
If you want to study for the ACCA P3 paper with Mary, sign up for a 7-day free trial HERE.