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Mind your language

As you progress through ACA exams, having great technique becomes increasingly important, as Peter Woolley, tutor at Reed Business School explains

The use of poor language skills and techniques will hold you back in your ACA exams, so knowing what constitutes poor techniques will help achieve success.

To be fair, exam markers don’t have all day to read and assess your script. If they can’t see your points easily and quickly, you will inevitably score less. Here are some tips to improve your answers in written exams:

Mirror the question in the structure of your answer
Marks allocations follow the question. For example ‘what are the advantages and disadvantages... 10 marks’ = five marks for advantages, five for disadvantages. Use the question to give headings in your answer.

Consider your audience
These are usually intelligent, experienced business people without expert knowledge. Pitch your answer accordingly.

Volume of points: use the mark allocation
Assume you will be awarded one mark for each point you make, but don’t assume that you need full marks: time management is important as well if you are to complete all questions asked of you.

Start strongly, making one point per paragraph
Aim to reproduce what’s on the markers’ guide in the first few words of the paragraph – most people lose the point in waffle along the way. Define a paragraph as something that contains one and only one complete point.

Explain and relate
Sell the point by demonstrating its relevance and importance in the exam scenario [this carries particular weight with the examiners].

Time
Be complete but as concise as possible. Don’t water your points down: there are no marks for volume without relevance.

Don’t use text speak
It’s not an essay writing competition but you need to write using complete English, not fragments.

Think before you write
Don’t write your train of thought – it’s unfocused and hard to decipher. Would you write an unclear answer if a client or colleague asked you for advice?

For more exam preparation articles, visit icaew.com/examresources
For information about Reed courses, visit reedlearning.com

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 edition of VITAL.