Few things are as valuable to ACCA students as examiners reports. Here we summarise the key learnings from ACCA F5 to ACCA F9 all in one place – so you’re armed with the knowledge you need to pass your next exams.
We’ll briefly review the important general points that came up in each. Then we’ll get into the nitty gritty for each paper, highlighting the topics that need extra attention.
Important general takeaways from September examiner’s reports
Students talk about passing the ACCA as if there’s some big secret to pass but really, lots of these mistakes are basic. Fix these, and you’ll be well on your way to qualifying.
- Don’t question spot. Lots of students dropped basic marks because they clearly hadn’t studied the entire syllabus. Don’t be that person!
- Read more carefully. The examiners always, always see students dropping marks because they answer the question they want to see – not the question they’re given.
- Use the information you’re given. Another silly mistake. Examiners saw lots of students performing unnecessary calculations for information they’d been given – a complete waste of time.
- Be selective. Knowing your stuff means knowing what isn’t relevant. Examiners repeatedly see students trying to write everything they know for an answer. A waste of time, and shows you don’t know enough to be selective.
- Show your working. Another constant mistake – students not showing their working for computations. If you don’t show working, you can’t get any marks for that working. So if your final computation is wrong, you get a big fat zero.
- Improve critical analysis. F5 onwards step up from the first four papers in applied knowledge. Which is probably why there’s always such a huge pass rate drop between F4 and F5 onwards. The reports all highlighted a tendency to perform calculations followed by very minor analysis like “this is an improvement from last year”. The examiners are looking for why there’s improvement.
- Time management. Students always run out of time. Probably because they spend too much time writing too much on earlier questions and performing unnecessary computations. Enough said.
- Watch your presentation. It’s the same every session: students drop marks because the examiner can’t clearly understand what they meant. If your handwriting is bad, leave extra space. Paragraphs and headings are your friends. And use clear columns to show computations.
Those are the specifics. Now let’s look at each exam, because there are a few areas you should really watch out for.
Exam by exam: key syllabus areas to improve
Feel free to skim straight to the exam you’re preparing for.
ACCA F5 – Performance Management
September 2017 pass rate: 43%
One of the higher pass rates from the last few sittings, but still more students fail than pass. Here were the key problem areas for F5:
- Environmental management accounting. A smaller and often neglected area of the syllabus, and one that many students struggled with.
- Performance management. Financial ratios especially, and also the Balanced Scorecard and Fitzgerald and Moon’s Building Block Model. You might not be specifically asked about these but they’ll help structure and give weight to your answers.
- Pricing. The report highlights an issue with F5 that crops up every year: many students aren’t confident on pricing calculations, particularly MR=MC. There’s simply no excuse now – the examiners have told you they’ll test you on it; they’ve told you students consistently get it wrong.
The report especially recommends the June 2015 past paper which includes a 15-mark pricing question.
- Budgeting. Some students lacked basic knowledge including flexed budgets.
- Limiting factors. Students weren’t generally strong on limiting factors, especially key factor analysis. The report especially highlights mistakes ignoring minimum production level – a regular occurrence in these questions, that students should look out for or risk dropping silly marks.
ACCA F6 – Taxation
September 2017 pass rate: 48%
A lower pass rate than we’ve sometimes seen for ACCA F6, but not dramatically so. Still though, more students failing F6 than passing – not ideal. Here’s where students dropped the ball:
- Tax administration. An important area and one many students were uncomfortable with. For one question, every single incorrect answer was chosen by more students than the single wrong answer!
- Extraction of profits. Issues here with poor layout and making unnecessary calculations. One common mistake was to include dividends within NIC calculations. Dividends are NOT subject to NICs.
- Residence status. When discussing UK ties, focus on ties which are met – not ties which are not. And again, there’s no need to give detailed explanation of immediately obvious facts.
- Individual taxable income computation. Many students complicated computations here, confusing which calculations can be included as a simple one-line calculation within the overall calculation and which need their own workings. This was also often not displayed in a clear and easily understandable way, which you drop marks for. Embrace the single column approach with adjustments in brackets.
- Computation of company trading loss. Again, embrace the single column approach to avoid confusing additions and deductions.
- Computation of company taxable profit. Many students made basic mistakes like deducting the annual exempt amount when calculating corporate chargeable gain.
- Corporate loss relief and group relief. Students fell afoul of vague answers like ‘claim terminal loss relief’ when you needed to specify details about the relief.
ACCA F7 – Financial Reporting
September 2017 pass rate: 47%
The pass rates for F7 always hover around the 47% mark, so this sitting was unexceptional. F7 is the middle rung of the financial reporting journey that started with F3 and continues to P2, Corporate Reporting. Let’s look at where students dropped marks:
- Intangible assets, leases and revenue recognition. Students lacked the in-depth applied knowledge of these topics, including recently-released standards from the IASB.
- Analysis of financial information for single entity financial statements. Consistently the weakest area for many students, year on year. Study this well – you know they’ll test you on it!
- Net asset turnover for single entity financial statements was sometimes overlooked.
- Ratio calculation. Students dropped marks for not showing their working when calculating ratios, and for not analysing the ratio in enough detail. Simply noting a change from previous years is not enough.
- Fair value adjustments and acquisition/consolation dates. Some students didn’t understand the principle of control and the nature of consolidation processes. The deferred consideration calculation was not well understood.
- Revaluation surplus generally caused problems.
Read more: How to pass ACCA F7 – Tutor Interview
ACCA F8 – Audit and Assurance
September 2017 pass rate: 37%
ACCA F8 has a reputation for being difficult and dense. Every sitting, the pass rates back that up. Let’s assess the main areas for improvement:
- Tests for existence. Some students forgot that tests for existence should focus on where the balance is genuine and not overstated at year-end.
- Audit opinions. Most students got the question on audit opinions wrong, thanks to misunderstanding the use of Emphasis of Matter paragraphs.
- Planning and risk assessment. Many students lacked a basic knowledge of planning auditing engagements and risk assessment.
The report specifically recommends you practical the Sitia Sparkle Co’ question from the September 2016 exam, to cement your knowledge here.
- Audit risk factors. Another major issue was students failing to connect the risk factor to the impact, not just stating the risk factor without explanation. You also need to take care to be specific– ‘misstatement’ isn’t acceptable unless balance could be both over and under-stated.
- Auditor responses. Overall a real weak point. The responses given were either too vague or too impractical. Often students focussed on what management should do – which isn’t an auditor response!
- Internal control. Many candidates let themselves down with basic factual knowledge.
Try out the ‘Heraklion Co’ question from September 2016 to test your skills.
- Tests of controls. Students didn’t explain these well. Answers were often too vague (avoid excessive use of “check” and “observe”!) and commonly were mistaken with substantive audit procedures.
Try the ‘Baggio Co’ question from Specimen September 16 paper and ‘Equestrian Co’ from sample March/June 2017.
- Audit evidence. Students struggled with lack of applied understanding of substantive procedures. This comes up year-on-year!
- Review and reporting. Auditor’s reports are a massive area of the syllabus. Understanding ISAs here is vital, especially considering recent changes.
Practice ‘Snail & Co’ from the December 2016 CBE.
Read more: How to pass ACCA F8 – Tutor Interview
Read more: Interview with Kelly Crawford, who achieved joint 1st in Ireland and joint 11th worldwide for her ACCA F8 paper this summer.
ACCA F9 – Financial Management
September 2017 pass rate: 48%
A better pass rate than the last few sittings, but still work to be done. Here are some specific action points:
- Investment appraisal. Some students struggled to identify relevant cash flows for an investment project, or made mistakes about future cash flow timings. Capital rationing questions proved difficult too, and students often neglected to consider cash outflows and inflows. Lots of mistakes with timings for project cash flows, so watch this.
- Business valuation. Work on your understanding of dividends and how that relates to business valuation. Price earnings ratio questions were also difficult for many.
- Risk management. Many students didn’t understand the features of risk management derivatives, especially interest rate futures. Also pay particular attention to foreign exchange hedging as lots of mistakes came up here. Gap exposure was also an issue.
- Financial management environment. Study up on stakeholder and shareholder management.
- Working capital and funding. Many students weren’t confident on permanent and fluctuating current assets, and comments were often vague and lacking detail.
- Investment appraisal techniques. Calculations here were good but discussion let many students down. Make sure you’re confident evaluating the different techniques, and look for opportunities to critically compare and contrast NPV and IRR.
- Inflation and taxation in DCF. Brush up on your knowledge of inflation rates, particularly calculations using a per year inflation rate.
- Adjusting for risk and uncertainty in investment appraisal. Students can generally perform a sensitivity analysis well, but are less hot on critical discussion of the method.
- Estimating cost of capital. Check your calculations using the DGM, IRR and WACC!
Read more: How to pass ACCA F9 – Tutor Interview
ACCA advice, from the horse’s mouth
So, there you have it: straight from the mouths of the people who count. Take their advice and learn from other students’ past mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself!
For more insight like this, check out the LearnSignal ACCA library. Our tutors walk you through questions, exam technique and common mistakes for each paper, so you know how to address the exam more efficiently and effectively. We recently helped a student achieve a Joint 1st position in Ireland for F8 so our approach definitely works!