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Introduction to the Case Study exam


Published: 10 Sep 2021 Update History

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In this guide we will introduce you to the Case Study exam, and will cover what the Case Study exam is and why it is unique, the importance of time management, the professional skills examined as well as tips for success.

What is the Case Study exam?

Case Study is designed to reproduce a typical situation in which ICAEW Chartered Accountants find themselves. It puts you in the position of a final year trainee, reporting directly to a Partner. You will be required to draft a formal business report on the current position of a client firm, advising the client on the way forward.

What is unique about the Case Study exam?

The Case Study exam is very different to any other exam you will have sat during your ACA studies to date. The major points of difference include:

  • There is no syllabus.
  • You will access a detailed pack of advance information six weeks before exam.
  • There is a prescribed format for your answer.
  • There are explicit marks for ethics and business trust analysis.
  • It is marked using a matrix, with a total of 240 marks available.
  • Always try and attempt all questions and requirements and answer them fully to give you the best chance of exam success. 

Time management

When you practise your first Case Study you will immediately become aware of the unique time pressure of this exam. Some students are of course able to think, plan and type very quickly, and will be able to produce their answers within the four hours permitted. However, most students will find time management the single greatest challenge in passing their Case Study exam.

The timings suggested below may support you to manage your timings during the exam:

  • Reading and planning - 1 hour
  • Calculations - 1 hour
  • Drafting your report - 2 hours

Professional skills

Across the mark key matrix you will see four columns, each referring to the skills that an ICAEW Chartered Accountant acting as a business adviser is expected to have. The Case Study exam requires you to demonstrate competence across ALL of these skills:

  • Assimilating and Using Information (AUI) - using basics facts to support your analysis, identifying how to use data in calculations.
  • Structuring Problems and Solutions (SPS) - using data to perform meaningful analysis, identifying commercial and ethical aspects of business scenarios.
  • Applying Judgement (AJ) - interpretation of data analysis, explaining the impact of commercial issues, recommending how to deal with ethics and business trust issues.
  • Drawing conclusions and making recommendations - summarising your analysis, identifying practical ways to implement commercially-driven advice.

Tips for success

The key steps in the Case Study exam preparation include:

  • Be familiar with your advance information. You must imagine that you are in the workplace, reporting to an actual client. Your analysis and advice must be relevant and impactful, and this only comes with client-specific knowledge.
  • Be strict with your time management. It is better to submit a complete report that feels a little 'thin' in places, than a report that is very detailed but incomplete.
  • Plan your calculations before starting them. There will always be more numbers in the advance information and the exam than you need, therefore, you must think about the most concise way to deliver the numerical analysis you need. Failing to plan can lead to excessively detailed financial appendices that add little value, and crucially wasting your precious time.
  • Plan on paper – it may help to take blank marking keys into the exam with you, and in the early stages of planning Requirements one, two and three, fill in the mark box headings, then complete your bullet points before drafting your report. This will help you produce a coherent and concise report.
  • Use headings from the marking key in your answer. If your report headings correspond with those in the exam marking key this will ensure the relevance of your answer and make it easier for the marker to award you credit.
  • You must complete your report. The importance of completing your exam means that if you are overrunning in any section of the report you must switch focus to writing up the Executive Summary section for that section, then move onto the next requirement. Remember an incomplete report, or a report lacking an Executive Summary section will likely lead to a failed result.
  • Practise, Practise, Practise, Practise. You are advised to attempt at least four past Case Study exams before your advance information is released. This will help you build the skills and time management techniques you need to pass.
Watch the webinar

View this short webinar for an introduction to the Case Study exam.

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