ACCA F5 is a manageable paper, says our expert tutor Garret Mulvin, but every year students make mistakes that hold them back. Especially for students with exemptions for earlier papers, ACCA F5 can be a real wake-up call. We talk to Garret about the mistakes students make, and what you can do to ensure you pass ACCA F5.
Read on for an overview of the ACCA F5 syllabus, a look at the changing exam format and what it means for students as well as plenty of ACCA F5 study tips!
Introducing… Expert ACCA F5 Tutor Garret Mulvin
LS: Garret, hi. Thanks for being here; I know you’re busy! It’s great to get an expert’s thoughts on the F5 paper.
G.M: Hi! No problem. I’m happy to be involved. I’m always sceptical of the word “expert” though! I have been teaching ACCA F5 for many years now though, so I know much more about the paper than I ever thought I would!
LS: OK, we’ll use “expert” in inverted commas then! Let’s get started with a broad overview. What’s ACCA F5 all about?
G.M: Well, the title of the course sums it up really. ACCA F5 is called Performance Management. Everyone – you and I, students, examiners – all refer to the papers as F1, F2, F3 and so on, but the title is important.
ACCA F5 is about how to manage the performance of a business towards profitability, across four main areas.
ACCA F5 focusses on how to manage the performance of a business across four key areas, in relation to making profit. That’s your ultimate aim – to manage a business towards profitability. Those four areas are the four parts of the syllabus: A – Costing and Management Accounting Techniques, B – Decision Making, C – Budgeting & Control and D – Performance Measurement & Control.
(Source) The ACCA F5 syllabus
There’s a story to the syllabus: they all link together. It’s a journey. For example, in A you’ll learn how to calculate the costs of a business, and then you can use that knowledge to move into B where you might set your pricing strategy.
Maybe you’re using your knowledge of costing techniques to work out your optimal production, to make product decisions. Once you know your costs, you can make decisions based on that, and then you can make a budget based on those decisions.
Ultimately areas A, B and C all lead into area D – when the year is over and you’re looking back, how do you measure and subsequently control your performance? How did we get on?
LS: Is it strategic, or more about practical knowledge?
G.M: It’s not massively strategic until ACCA P5, which it feeds into. Saying that, ACCA F5 is pretty forward looking. You’re not just reviewing what happened last year. You’re trying to use that insight to make a difference for next year.
The exam format is designed to test your practical knowledge, but also your ability to apply it in the situation. ACCA F5 is roughly 50/50 calculations to narrative.
LS: What is ACCA F5 exam format?
G.M: The exam format is actually changing as of September 2016. With this new format, the exam will have three sections, A, B and C. Once the computer based exam option is rolled out from September there will also be a minor change that Sections A and B can include objective test questions, not just multiple-choice questions.
As of September 2016, ACCA F5 will take a new format with three sections, A, B and C.
Section A will have 15 multiple choice questions worth two marks each. Section B will give three scenarios, and based on each scenario you’ll have 5 multiple choice questions worth two marks each. Then there’s Section C, which will have two long questions worth 20 marks each.
Section A and B questions will relate to the entire syllabus. Saying that, Section B scenarios demand a deeper understanding, as all five questions on each scenario will relate to one area of the syllabus. And Section C questions will only draw on syllabus areas B, C and D – excluding Costing.
Section C will require the greatest depth of understanding because of the longer question style. There might be calculations involved here, but on the whole there will be narrative involved.
For example, you might get a Section C question on Performance Management where you’re asked to assess your FPIs and NFPIs using a balance scorecard. You’d then be making calculations based on the data you’re given but you’ll also be explaining and evaluating the choices you’ve made.
LS: Why is the exam format changing? Do the changes make it more or less difficult for students to pass ACCA F5?
G.M: Don’t panic! The format has changed plenty of times over the years, but the skills students need to have to pass ACCA F5 haven’t changed.
The format is changing because they want the paper to be more segmented and more manageable from a computer perspective. The option to sit ACCA F5 as a computer based exam (CBE) is being rolled out from September. Ultimately, ACCA will migrate all their paper exams into a computer based exam format.
(Source) ACCA F5 is becoming a computer based exam (CBE)
LS: Will ACCA F5 become a purely computer based exam? When?
G.M: The migration is designed to make sitting the ACCA easier – to fit into students’ lives better.
ACCA will continue with paper exams as long as those are useful to students – it’s not meant to make things more difficult! The ACCA is a global qualification, so there are students in some countries who’ll find it easier to stick to paper based exams for longer, maybe if their IT infrastructure isn’t as developed.
At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, ACCA F5 will have the option of being computer based.
A major reason students don’t pass ACCA F5 is because they don’t cover the entire syllabus. The new format means the paper is guaranteed to have broad coverage over everything.
One thing that this does mean for students is that you can’t predict which areas will come up. Not that you could before, but the syllabus has changed so much in how it’s examined: you know everything will come up now.
The whole syllabus is examined across the whole paper, to ensure broad coverage. In the past I’d have said to the students just run over X, Y Z again the night before the exam, but you can’t do that anymore.
Not covering the entire syllabus in depth is a major reason students don’t pass ACCA F5.
LS: What other reasons do students fail to pass ACCA F5?
G.M: Students often fall down on the smaller areas. For example, in section D of the syllabus there’s an area on management information and management reports.
Students often overlook management information and management reports, in Section D of the syllabus. Small areas like that can make the difference between a pass and a fail
It’s an area students often overlook because it’s seen as simple and small. It’s one of those topics students leave out because they assume it’s unimportant, but then do badly on.
The important thing to recognize is that the margin between a pass and a fail is so small. A significant number of students will score marginally above or below the pass mark, so one or two multiple choice questions like that really can make the difference. Knowing every area of the syllabus will get you over the line.
LS: No question spotting then!
G.M: Definitely not!
The other big one is that students lack the level of assumed knowledge they need to pass ACCA F5. I see it all the time. Students come into ACCA F5 with an exemption, so they might not be familiar with the building blocks. F2 feeds into ACCA F5, and the F2 course teaches you things you’ll build on in F5. If you have F2 exemption, then you need to ensure you’re familiar with the basics.
One of the biggest reasons students don’t pass ACCA F5 is because they came into the exam without sitting F2. If you have an F2 exemption, remember that a lot of the same material will apply as assumed knowledge.
For example, F2 covers things like marginal costing and absorption costing. You’ll have done a lot on budget variances. All of this is assumed knowledge you’ll need to pass ACCA F5. Exemptions are great in the short term, but they can come back to bite you if you’re not careful!
LS: What’s the best advice you can give ACCA F5 students?
G.M: To remember that these are called ‘professional exams’ for a reason!
People come out of university and they’re used to a very different way of working. These are professional exams: they’re manageable, but they’re by no means easy.
The reason the ACCA is such a highly sought-after qualification is because it’s a very high standard. They’re a reflection on the person – passing ACCA is something to be really proud of. People know you’ve persevered, that you’re the sort of person who overcomes challenges.
(Source) These are professional exams, and they require a professional mindset.
You simply won’t pass ACCA F5 if you don’t approach this professionally. By that I mean, be prepared. Learn the entire syllabus. Be prepared to properly commit: this is a big time investment. Don’t take shortcuts!
ACCA F5 is sometimes a real shock. If students have just finished a third level or equivalent course and have exemptions, F5 might be one of the first papers they do. You’re suddenly not cruising – these are serious, challenging exams. To pass ACCA F5, you need to bring your A-game. Rise to meet the challenge.
I can’t stress time management highly enough either. Both when you’re studying and in the actual exam. Exam technique is important for third level qualifications too but these are a real step up.
LS: Be prepared, be professional – got it!
G.M: Be prepared, be professional and practice. You’ll never pass ACCA F5 if you haven’t practiced questions.
Students should make use of the multiple choice questions that are available through the ACCA. There are three sets so far, and a new sample computer based paper will be available from September 2016. Familiarize yourself with the questions; you should be all over them!
If you don’t familiarize yourself with the Examiner’s Report, you’re throwing away marks.
There’s also an Examiner’s Report published for each exam session that students should read. These include some examples of questions that were answered badly in that sitting. This gives you a heads-up that those questions will be examined again. If you don’t familiarize yourself with it, you’re throwing away marks.
LS: So students should learn the entire syllabus and read as many practice questions as they can. Are there any other study tips you can share?
G.M: Some students approach study in the wrong way. They’ll say, “I’m going to go away and study for 4 hours” and that’s that. Don’t say that! Instead, think “I’m going to go away and master lifecycle costing”, or whatever section it is.
If you want to pass ACCA F5, it’s not about time: it’s about learning each section of the syllabus.
Be disciplined – about your study but also about taking breaks. About learning in the most effective way. Remind yourself to take breaks. Look after yourself. But don’t let yourself off the hook – nothing except your best is good enough if you want to pass ACCA F5.
Nothing except your best is good enough if you want to pass ACCA F5. Don’t cut corners.
LS: Last question Garret. How much will professional experience help F5 students? Are you more likely to pass ACCA F5 with professional experience?
G.M: Professional experience can’t not help, but for ACCA F5 level it’s not overly important. There’s a lot of information you just need to learn, but obviously if you do costing and budgeting at work then you’ll likely grasp the concepts more easily.
At heart, ACCA F5 is about learning concepts. Do you know the facts, the formulas, the calculations? Can you explain these calculations and their implications? Then in P5 we may have to use this information to act as advisors to the business. How do you use the knowledge you have? Can you make business-appropriate recommendations to increase business profitability? ACCA F5 is the groundwork.
LS: Amazing, thank you. And I’ll ask you one more thing. Why should students consider using online learning providers like LearnSignal?
G.M: It’s the way of the future. You can’t get away from online learning. The way we learn and study is changing dramatically, and LearnSignal is tailored to that. It’s how people learn now, in the most effective way.
LS: Garret, thank you for your time. It’s very much appreciated!
Garret Mulvin has worked in professional accounting education for the past 8 years, where he specialises in the areas of Financial Accounting, Management Accounting and Financial Management. He’s a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland, and holds a Bachelor of International Commerce from the National University of Ireland.
Garret trained and qualified as an accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dublin, and he has years of experience since developing and delivering training programs and exam based training. He’s exceptionally well-placed to help students pass ACCA F5, and we’re thrilled to have him authoring our ACCA F5 course.
If you want to pass ACCA F5 or any other paper sign up for your LearnSignal free 7 day trial HERE.