Find out what to expect from the ACCA Strategic Business Leader exam and give yourself the best chance of passing this ACCA exam first-time.

We recently gave an overview of ACCA’s new Strategic Business Leader exam, which is being introduced in September 2018 instead of papers P1 and P3. The material will draw from the P1 and P3 syllabuses, but Strategic Business Leader is not a straight replacement: the exam is changing fundamentally. Let’s look at what to expect in a little more depth.

Strategic Business Leader - leaders around table


This new paper will be a four-hour exam focussing on one integrated case study. You’ll get a range of mixed-media materials about this case study, which you use to complete a series of practical tasks like those you’ll face in your career – from data analysis to memo drafting.


The Strategic Business Leader exam tests the professional skills required by effective business leaders, consulting at senior level and steering organisational direction. It draws on material from the fundamentals exams, as well as the new Ethics and Professional Skills module.

The exam will cover the following areas:

  • Leadership, communication and professional ethics
  • Strategy
  • Corporate governance
  • Professional skills
  • Risk
  • Technology & data analytics
  • Finance
  • Organisational control
  • Innovation and change management

Mark Scheme

The Strategic Business Leader exam consists of 80 technical marks and 20 professional marks.

Technical marks

These marks reflect your understanding of the syllabus. These function as the current professional exams do, awarding marks for knowledge and application in context. These marks test whether you know the syllabus well enough to complete the tasks accurately.

Professional marks

These marks test whether you have the professional skills that you need as a qualified accountant and leader. These fall under five main areas, which test three leadership capabilities each:

Communication: Do you inform, persuade and clarify?

Commercial acumen: Do you demonstrate awareness, use judgement and show insight?

Analysis: Do you investigate, scrutinise and consider?

Scepticism: Do you probe, question and challenge?

Evaluation: Do you assess, estimate and appraise?

To get full marks on any task you must demonstrate both technical know-how and professionalism.


To achieve a top-scoring paper professionalism is vital, as the marks allow exceptional candidates to differentiate from lower-level candidates.

For example, you can earn all the technical marks for this paper while missing all the most obvious, relevant and advanced points. You’re technically right but somewhat missing the point, in other words. There are now professional marks available for making only the most important points, rewarding you for knowing the best answer, not just the right answers.

Equally, students are rewarded for consistently making valid points – even if they’ve already achieved full technical marks – for demonstrating professional credibility.

These professional marks are explored in more depth in the ACCA Strategic Business Leader syllabus.

Financial professionals today need to take a more strategic, advisory role in shaping business, and the ACCA The Strategic Business Leader exam is designed to prepare you for those expectations. The 20-marks for professionalism reflect that ethos. To pass the Strategic Business Leader exam, you should focus not just on syllabus knowledge but on mastering those crucial professional skills.

This is part 2 of our three-part series covering the Strategic Business Leader exam. You can read part 1 and part 3 here. 

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