Let’s talk about the new Strategic Business Leader exam. If you’ve got P1 or P3 left, you hopefully know by now that those exams are being replaced by the SBL this September 2018.

But you might not know why – and what that means for you.

WHY have the ACCA introduced the SBL exam?

The short answer is that the SBL is being introduced for your benefit. It’ll enhance your current and future job opportunities by giving you additional, highly-relevant skills. Having the SBL under your belt will prove very attractive to employers.

But let’s unpick that. The ACCA discuss the SBL paper in more detail in their recent article, ‘Strategic Business Leader – Examiner Approach’. Feel free to read that in full, but we’ve summarised the important points here.


The SBL was designed following extensive research into the skills and qualities – both technical and professional – that professional accountants really need to impact the workplace. So the SBL exam is designed to build your professional and leadership skills so you can add more value to organisations you work with.


The ACCA spoke extensively to members, learning providers and employers to conclude a whole new exam would be the best way to build and cement these skills, rather than adding to or changing the syllabus for another exam. This means the SBL syllabus is explicitly designed around those skills and capabilities highlighted in their research – to help future ACCA members fulfil their career and management ambitions.


After developing the syllabus, the ACCA then developed two specimen exams to work out how the syllabus could be most effectively tested. These two specimens integrate the syllabus requirements in a practical, business-relevant way through a single case study approach. This single case study approach means you get four hours in the exam to complete a range of tasks about that case study. This format tests the future leadership skills you’ll need but in a very practical, true-to-real-life way.

What should come across is that the ACCA have put a lot of work into this. They’ve researched the skills ambitious professionals need to advance their career, and designed an exam that equips you with the tools to step into more senior, more strategic roles in business.

Indeed, the ACCA qualification isn’t intended solely for finance, accounting, tax and audit specialists but for any aspiring senior business leader – and the new SBL exam reflects that ambition.

So what now? If you’ve got the SBL ahead of you, how should you approach this new exam?

Frequently Asked Questions around SBL

The SBL gives you the tools to step into more senior, more strategic roles

A new exam is always a little intimidating – although you now only have one exam instead of two! – but it needn’t be, as long as you don’t underestimate the challenge.

Is SBL just P1 and P3 combined?

Although you’re now only facing one exam, SBL isn’t a straightforward mix of P1 and P3. There’s be a fair amount of new material added in, and the subject is at least 1.5 times longer than a typical professional level subject – and you should treat it accordingly.

How long should you leave, to study?

Some students have told us they’re planning to study during the six weeks between the results and the next sitting. This isn’t enough time.

You should spend at least a very dedicated 12-weeks studying for SBL – and more, if you’re studying for multiple exams or can’t commit to extensive study time. Giving yourself more time will mean you’re more likely to pass. The LearnSignal videos for Strategic Business Leader are already live, so you can get that head start now – and additional materials are coming soon.

When should you take the SBL exam?

The ACCA don’t give any official advice on when to take Strategic Business Leader – but we recommend you save it for your last exam. We’ve gone through the syllabus in-depth and there’s plenty of overlap from other ACCA topics. Taking the rest of your ACCA exams first will make sure you’re best prepared for SBL.

How difficult is SBL?

The exam will prove a challenge for students that struggle applying their knowledge to a case study – which is many students, unfortunately.

The key is application not regurgitation. The exam puts you into specific scenarios where you have to give strategic advice to a client or company. It’s not about telling that client the background to a model, but about how you apply that model for the client, to benefit the business.

Also, time management and exam technique are especially vital for the SBL exam – and this is another area students often have trouble. This exam includes 20% of all marks as professional marks, for showing professional skills throughout. This isn’t an insubstantial percentage, so getting a decent chunk of these marks will be vital to an overall pass.

That’s another reason to take this exam last. If SBL is your last exam, you’ll already have your exam management skills well-honed, and that’s your biggest hurdle here.

Strategic Business Leader: Prepare for your future

Change is always scary, and students are understandably concerned about the introduction of a new ACCA exam. While the new SBL exam will present challenges, it’s ultimately a brilliant addition to your skills – particularly if you’ve got leadership ambition.

It’s never too early to start studying though, and the students that let themselves down will be the ones who under-prepare. LearnSignal are releasing a whole host of exciting new study tools and additional resources for SBL over the coming weeks, so take advantage – and make sure you smash it out of the park when the SBL rolls around.

LearnSignal’s Head of ACCA, Alan Lynch, recently completed the full Strategic Business Leader exam and is writing about his experiences for an upcoming blog – watch this space for his first-hand account.