In this guide we introduce some tips for success to help you master the Strategic Business Management exam.
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The Strategic Business Management syllabus is substantial and includes significant parts from many of your previous studies. Strategic Business Management is still a technical accounting exam, if a client asked for advice they would expect you to know in detail the appropriate regulations or techniques in detail. You therefore need to have a deep and thorough knowledge of Financial Management, Business Strategy and Technology and Financial Accounting and Reporting. If it is some time since you studied these areas then the early part of your Strategic Business Management studies is the time to recap these subjects thoroughly.
The Strategic Business Management workbook includes the full Strategic Business Management syllabus which you can use, or you may prefer to refer back to your university or Professional Level notes if these are more familiar. However it isn’t just a matter of rote learning the syllabus. More than at Professional Level you need to be able to use these techniques, to tailor them to a situation, to flex them for unusual situations or to explain how they work and their pros and cons. Therefore as you work through the syllabus ask yourself questions, such as:
- How does a foreign currency futures hedge work? could you explain it to a non-accountant?
- Is that hedge better or worse than a traded option and why?
- What sort of business valuation method would be suitable for a service company, or a new start-up or an asset heavy business?
- What are the pros and cons of different methods of business expansion?
- What are the pros and cons of different forms of business finance, what would be most appropriate for a new start up, a large manufacturer?
Finally make sure you follow current business news, not because it will be examined directly but the commentary will remind you of typical business issues both internal and external to an organisation, and how they are described in the language of a non-accountant.
More than any other ACA exam the key to success in Strategic Business Management is developing the right exam technique and you can only do this by practising past exam questions.. The examiner assumes that students have attempted all these questions.
As with real life, no two SBM businesses are the same. Students find themselves wondering “where do I start, what does the question require” when they first look at a question. There are rarely standard ‘templates’ such as you would find in Financial Management. It is therefore vital that you get used to dealing with this uncertainty by practising questions properly as if you were in the exam hall.
In addition, the debrief of questions is as important as attempting them, look at the range of points, the balance across the requirements, the application to the scenario. The examiner’s model answers are often a little daunting, including much more than even an excellent student would achieve. You don’t need to match the model answer, but you do need balance and application. Also read carefully the examiner’s commentary, these tells you what successful and weaker real students, these comments are like gold dust – they are telling you what you need to do to be securely on the right side of the pass mark!
In the exam – challenges and approach
It sounds obvious, but the reason students fail Strategic Business Management is because they don’t answer the questions. This may either be because they run out of time and don’t even attempt some of the later parts, or because individual elements with high mark allocations are either missed or answers are very weak.
With no mark allocation in the requirements it is not always clear how you should balance your work and time across the questions. This is a skill that you will improve as you practise more questions, you will recognise elements that tend to be worth a significant portion of the marks. However as you break down questions you will realise that even large requirements are made up of many small components eg. the pros, cons and recommendation for a particular course action, or a hedging calculation and its associated financial reporting treatment. It is therefore key that you don’t get stuck and spend too long on any one element. You won’t fail by getting one calculation wrong, however spend far too long on one part and miss easy marks later on, and you may fail.
Very simply the key to good exam technique in Strategic Business Management is not to overly focus on any one section, but to attempt all parts of all questions and attempt to balance your time reasonably evenly.
Another common reason for failing Strategic Business Management is overthinking sections of the question, especially calculations. As an Advanced Level exam there are of course technically challenging sections, however you are often advising non-accountants, and therefore it is unlikely that a deeply technical and involved calculation will be required. In addition, as we have already mentioned, the marks awarded for any single calculation will often be limited. Therefore it is generally sensible to attempt a relatively short calculation and spend the remaining time discussing the issues, driving factors and implications rather than spend all your time on a complex calculation.
The final challenge of the Strategic Business Management exam is a lack of application. As mentioned already you are generally in the position of a business adviser, your answer must be the sort of output that a client would pay for. This means that simple repetition of theory will never be enough.
Your answer needs to focus on the key issues for that particular client. What should they do and why. Whenever you write a statement in your answer you should ask yourself the question, could somebody say “why?” or “so what” or “what’s the impact?”. If you can ask these questions then your writing probably isn’t precise and specific enough.