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Preparing to retake the Strategic Business Management exam

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Published: 23 Sep 2021 Update History

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In this guide we will cover how to prepare to retake the Strategic Business Management exams including reviewing what went wrong and how to focus your revision.

If you failed your Strategic Business Management exam then no doubt you are disappointed, dejected, perhaps even angry. This may be one of the first exams you’ve ever failed, however, don’t be too disheartened:

  • It’s an Advanced Level exam, at the top of the ACA qualification. Inevitably these are tough exams.
  • The Strategic Business Management pass rates are relatively high - often over 80%. Surprisingly this is good news, it means that the majority of people who passed Professional Level do go on to pass Strategic Business Management, if you have got this far through the ACA then you can do this too.
  • If you read the preceding sections you will know that Strategic Business Management is largely a test of skills and exam technique. It is not a deeply technical exam that requires strong mathematical skills, it is a test of analysis, commercial thinking and writing – practise will help you improve these skills.

Next steps

Review your attempt at the exam. There are a number of components to this:

  • Be honest with yourself. What did you feel comfortable with in the build up to the Strategic Business Management exam and which elements did you not feel confident about? When doing practise questions which parts did you find easy and which not? If you did practise questions and exams and marked them, look back at them - where were you strong and weak? And finally when you walked out of the exam what was your gut feel? It is rare for a student to fail and not have a sense of why.
  • Get your marks feedback from your online training file. Review the exam and model answer and overlay your marks - this will indicate areas you were strong and where weak. Also consider whether there is an indication of time pressure (such as weak later requirements), or consistent feedback such as strong numerical requirements but weak discussion.
  • Review the examiner’s commentary on the exam, where they discuss the performance of strong and weak candidates do you recognise errors in approach that you made. You are unlikely to be alone in the errors you made.

Now you know where you need to focus:

  • If your weakness is technical than now is the time to go back to the subjects covered in your Professional Level studies, particularly Financial Management. All the relevant material is covered again in the SBM study Manual. Although the marks for Financial Management based calculations are not always that high if you make a mistake you will lose a significant proportion of those marks while other students will get full marks on simple calculations like this. Likewise if you are making mistakes on simple calculations this may mean you don’t properly understand the nature of the calculation or its drivers and implication which has a knock-on impact on subsequent discussion. 
  • The beginning of the Strategic Business Management question bank includes a table of questions by subject area. You can used this to focus on questions that test your weak areas. 
  • If your weakness is exam approach and technique then there is no substitute for full question practise - doing questions fully and in the correct time. Make sure you attempt past Strategic Business Management exam questions. It is just as important to debrief your answers carefully as it is to attempt the questions. It is sometimes useful to take a few hours break and then come back to your answer and review it ‘cold’. Does it make sense? Are there enough points for the marks on offer (assume each well-made point gets one mark), have you picked up the key issue for the business, is it precisely and professionally worded? Fundamentally does your answer tell the organisation what to do and why in a precise and credible way? Would you pay for that advice?
  • If you have a colleague ask them to read your answer, even reading it without the scenario they can tell you if it’s professionally and clearly written. 
  • If you have a colleague who is also sitting the Strategic Business Management exam, then it can be very useful to swap answers (don’t be shy!). You will see an alternative way of approaching the question, there is no one correct answer but seeing different points can indicate areas you have missed, or a better and more efficient way of communicating. Discuss what is good and bad about each answer.

Finally remember that the pass rate for students retaking Strategic Business Management is even higher than for first-time students. As long as you practise enough questions properly you can get through.