ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
ACCA AA Examiners’ Guide

At Fundamentals level you need to demonstrate a good understanding of the main areas of financial and management accounting. To do this you must demonstrate to the examiner that you have mastered the technical skills of accountancy.

This guide summarises the key issues that examiners have highlighted in recent reports. In particular, it identifies the areas where students have performed poorly and where future students need to give more focus.

We strongly recommend that you take heed of this information as it comes from the people who will decide whether you pass or fail!

Find the full list of Examiners’ Reports on the ACCA website here: ACCA AA Examiners’ Reports


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1.   Don’t write too little
As the saying goes “It’s about the quality not the quantity”. This is true to an extent, but you also need to write enough to demonstrate to the examiner that you know what you’re talking about!

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“Candidates’ answers in March 2016 were often too brief and it appeared that candidates generally did not allocate enough time to this question.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“The explanation was often weak, for example explaining the threat of “self-review`’ as “the auditor will be reviewing their own work” is not sufficient. Candidates needed to comment on the possibility of the auditor “overlooking errors” or “not being diligent in their review” i.e. why is reviewing your own work a problem in order to obtain the full mark.”

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
“While many candidates were able to identify relevant issues from the scenario, candidates often did not explain the issues correctly, or in sufficient detail, therefore most candidates scored ½ marks rather than one mark for each issue”.

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – December 2015

Unfortunately nobody can give a definitive guide to how many words is enough for a question that is worth either 20 marks or 30 marks. There simply isn’t a precise answer to this. Instead of focusing on the number of words that you have down on paper, you should look at the number of points included in your answers and how much detail you’ve gone into on each of these.

Some short answers can be an unfortunate outcome of poor time management, spending too long on one question meaning there is limited time to answer the others. Practising past exam questions against the clock is a great way to ensure you’ve written an appropriate amount within the time limit for every question asked.

Of course, another factor in writing too little could be simply not knowing the answer to the question! Make sure that you have sufficient knowledge of the full syllabus to avoid not having enough to say.

2. Manage your time
Time management appeared to be a major issue with ACCA F8 candidates in recent exams. Examiners commented that students spent too much time on early exam questions and neglected other questions towards the end of the paper. 3 hour 15 minutes to complete the exam will go quickly so making a conscious effort to allocate a time limit for each question will play a key role in passing your exam.

Here are some comments from the examiners:

“Candidates’ answers in March 2016 were often too brief and it appeared that candidates generally did not allocate enough time to this question. Candidates should plan their time carefully according to the mark allocation of each question.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
“Often spent a disproportionate amount of their time on one of the factual questions in Planning and risk assessment and not enough time on the scenario based Internal control question which had more than three times the number of marks available.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – December 2015

“Unfortunately some candidates provided more than the required five deficiencies. Candidates are again reminded that only the best five can be awarded credit and therefore spending time providing more points can add to time pressure on later questions.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – June 2015

As with all exams, good time management is directly correlated with good performance. Leave yourself too little time and you will either fail to give a question the time it needs, or worse, not answer it at all!

Do not spend too much of your time on early exam questions. This can often result in rushed and incomplete answers towards the end of your exam. Divide up your time based on the number of marks awarded for each question and then ensure you allow enough time to fully answer every requirement. If it’s a subject you particularly like don’t be tempted to spend too much of your time demonstrating your knowledge in this area and then neglecting other questions – move on!

A great way to practice your time management skills is through attempting past exam scripts under exam conditions. It’s recommended that you complete at least three full past exams prior to the real thing.

3. Application to the scenario
Being able to do well in the exam does not only mean learning core syllabus topics but being able to apply this knowledge to the scenario within the question.

Students are expected to use specific details on the case within the question and comment using the relevant theory/knowledge to back up their points.

This is what examiners had to say about recent candidates’ performance in this area:

“Most candidates were unable to tailor their knowledge of general substantive procedures to the specific issues in the question requirements.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – March 2016

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
“The accompanying scenario described a situation where a payroll fraud had occurred during the year; however it is clear that many candidates did not consider the details included scenario at all when providing their answer.”

“Candidates are reminded to read the question carefully and to make full use of the information that is provided to them within the scenario.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – December 2014

Remember, it is absolutely vital that you demonstrate to the examiner that you have linked the scenario into your answer. Don’t simply write down everything you know about the subject. It is far more important to refer only to the relevant theory and state specifically how it relates to the scenario.

The best way to get into the habit of doing this correctly is through practise. You should aim to complete at least 3 full past exam papers under examination conditions before your final exam in order to ensure you make these links effectively.

4. Answer the requirements
A large number of comments in the examiner’s reports refer to the tendency of some candidates to misinterpret, misread or misunderstand what a question asks. Of course, some of these candidates simply do not know the answer to the question and so, in hope of salvaging some marks, they regurgitate information on a syllabus area they do know. Other students however will not have properly understood the question before they dive into an answer. If you attempt to answer a question which is just slightly different from the one on which the marking guide is based, you can end up scoring no marks at all. Doing that just once in your exam could easily be the difference between passing and failing!

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“Many candidates did not provide a covering letter which was specifically requested in the question requirements. Two marks were available for a covering letter.”

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide

The conclusion from these examiners’ comments’ is to always show your workings. The point about method marking is very important because you could still get marks even if your final answer is incorrect as long as they can see your workings clearly.

Think of your workings as part of the requirements of the question, so make them clear for the examiner to read.

5. Don’t waste your time

In such a time-pressured exam, it goes without saying that you cannot afford to waste time on things that don’t directly contribute to you getting marks! Yet, the examiner has repeatedly had the following to say:

“Other issues relating to poor examination technique included […] the needless repetition of figures and/or question requirements which resulted in a waste of the candidates’ time.” – ACCA FR Examiner’s Report – June 2014

“A minority of candidates wasted a lot of time; needless repetition of written points, writing out a question’s requirement before answering it, providing unnecessary workings (for simple line item calculations) and sometimes even duplicating an answer by writing it out again more neatly.” – ACCA FR Examiner’s Report -Dec 2013

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
A number of candidates referred to third party inventory however this was not mentioned in the scenario and therefore any related procedures were not valid.

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“Candidates continue to prove unable to tailor their knowledge of general substantive procedures to the specific issues in the question requirement.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“Additionally a minority of candidates ignored the question requirement to only consider the audit report impact if the issue was unresolved. Lots of answers started with “if resolved the audit report …..” this was not required and no marks were available for this assessment.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – June 2015

Get into the habit of highlighting the key words within a question. By doing this it will make it apparent what the questions is asking you to do. It’s recommended that you closely look at the verb (E.g. “Explain”, “Discuss” or “Comment”) as this will give you a great indication of what the marker really wants from you.

In addition, make sure you that read the question slowly and read it through at least twice before answering the question so you don’t miss a key requirement.

6. Appropriate structure
Poor presentation skills have been an issue frequently addressed by examiners in recent years. They identified the need for students to clearly structure their answers. This can range from the logical flow of the answer through to the simple use of headings and subheadings to signal the progression of the answer and how it relates to the question.  A well structured answer allows examiners to identify key points and easily assess whether the student has answered all the requirements of the question.

Here are some of the examiners’ remarks on this issue:

“In addition candidates often did not structure their answers appropriately.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“Poor layout of answers, including not using columns for questions.”

ACCA F8 Examiner’s Report – June 2014

ACCA AA Free Examiners' Guide
The key to ensuring you don’t miss out on marks due to poor presentation is to take a little time after reading each question to think through how you are going to structure your answer – before you start to write! Sometimes students are reluctant to do this due to the time pressure in an exam situation, but the feedback from the examiners emphasises that typically the best answers are well structured and show signs of a plan.

So don’t dive straight into answering before you’ve thought about what you’re going to write – impress your marker by including an introduction, conclusion and headings throughout!

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