Introduction to Management Case Study
CIMA has taken a totally different approach towards Case Studies (CS) as opposed to the Objective Tests (OT) papers. I assume you know the differences since you are reading this article, but just to cover everything, let me just quickly give you an overview of how the exam is structured and what does it consist of.
Article updated in December 2018 in order to reflect MCS February 2018 (Nortan and its FOSSC).
The aim of the CIMA Management Case Study (MCS) is to apply the knowledge you have gathered across the whole management level. In OT tests you show what you know, here in CS you show how to apply what you know. CSs assess everything, that cannot be assessed via an OT exam. That’s why CIMA introduced the competencies, so they could check the application of your knowledge to the real life business case scenario.
It simulates what management accountants do in the workplace.
Few facts about the MCS:
- 7 weeks before the exam you get the pre-seen material. It is mostly a description of a fictitious situation and gives you a perspective on what has to be done.
- Just like OT, case studies are also computer based. They take 3 hours.
- Exams are conducted 4 times a year (end of February, May, August and November) over a period of 5 days.
- There are 5 different variants of this exam (so in case there is another person taking the same exam, the chances of you both having the same questions is low).
- Each variant has on average 3-4 sections and each section lasts for 30-60 minutes (on average 45). Section represents a request that you get from your superior, colleague, CFO/CEO etc which you need to address by writing an email or a report.
- Exams are marked manually by CIMA, so it takes 4-5 weeks to know if you passed or not.
- You will get a mark out of 150, according to a scaled score. 80 is the passing mark (around 53%). But you need to demonstrate a minimum threshold score for each competency and integration (approximately 1/3 of the total marks available for each competency.
- Number of questions - for the MCS that number varies between 3-5 (mostly 4). The time is allocated accordingly to the weight of the marks. Let’s take a logical approach - 180 minutes accounts for 150 points, so for a 30 minutes section, you will get 25 points, for a 45 minutes questions - max 37.5 points (of 25% of total marks), spread across competencies and integration.
Dreadful competencies - what is it all about?
Passing the CS will demonstrate that you can apply the technical, business, people and leadership skills. That was designed specifically to replicate the real life scenarios and, at the end, make you more employable. Because let me tell you, those skills are really useful at work! You will get emails from your boss, or from a Finance Director asking for your opinion, asking to analyse something, asking for a recommendation in a form of an email or a report.
So think about it as a necessary evil that aims only at improving your career.
Summary on those competencies:
- Technical skills - 39% - knowledge taken mostly from the F2 and P2 (E2 is rarely represented here, application of E2 knowledge is mostly in the people and leadership competencies). Here you can be asked to prepare plans for financial reporting including group accounts, recommend on the compliance with tax and IFRS, analyse and manage cost using information produced at the operational level, such as product costing (and that information will be provided to you). So no worries, no heavy and tricky calculations will be done via MCS. CIMA assumes you know it already, but they will definitively check if you understand all that by nesting improper assumptions. Your role would be to spot them and suggest how to fix that.
- Business skills - 24% - here knowledge from E2 is mostly tested. You will need to be able to define short and medium-term goals, understand the environment of the company and identify all the stakeholders, deal with risk. You can demonstrate the business competency by linking to the Pre-Seen material.
- People skills - 21% - are all about communication, negotiation, influence, making decisions and collaboration. Are you would need to e.g. communicate plans in order to influence or empower as an aid to decision making (E2).
- Leadership skills - 16% - here you are expected to be able to manage change, drive performance improvements (again E2).
Finance Manager - your role in the MCS
- You need to put yourself in the shoes of the finance manager (that is your role in the MCS). You need to think and write from the perspective of who you are.
- Identify what your line manager/audience wants from you (the task requirements), including the depth of detail required.
- Remember why you are supplying this information (e.g. to assist in decision making).
- Plan how you are going to communicate your response and to whom (format, tone, level of detail and technical complexity).
- Consider what the impact may be for other parts of the business, such as other stakeholders and the financial statements (this is where you may be able to demonstrate business and people skills and earn marks for integration).
- Consider what long-term measures can be taken for driving performance of the business (this is where you may be able to demonstrate leadership skills and, by thinking beyond the task requirements, earn marks for integration).
How to approach your MCS preparation
STEP 1 - Planning
Do you have a realistic (for you) study plan? Have you figured out how much time you need for the preparation?
Have a look what Steven Scullion, 8th in the world for Nov 2015 SCS, said about preparing your stay plan:
“My goal was to ensure I split my time between the key elements needed to pass the exam, i.e. technical knowledge, knowing the case study and exam practise. With this in mind I drafted a study timetable immediately after booking onto my course, ensuring that I set aside adequate time in each of these areas.”
Personally, I think it all depends on different factors such as when was the last time you took an exam, were you exempted from any of the management level OTs or perhaps this is the first CIMA exam you attempt (Gateway route).
What do you need to include in your study plan?
- Review your technical knowledge: E2, P2 and F2. I would do it in this order. It has to be a thorough review, make sure you understand the models and all the mentioned concepts. Make notes.
- Familiarise yourself with the Pre-Seen material.
- Familiarise yourself with the Industry of the Pre-Seen.
- Revise your notes from the 1st point. When you review them, think about the Pre-Seen - what could be useful.
- Practice, Practice and PRACTICE! As much as you can! Do plenty of mocks for the current CS, but also have a look at the past papers.
Now that you know what ends to be covered, let’s figure out how to do that.
The way I see that you have 3 options:
- you can either do a self-study,
- you can enroll in a classroom training,
- you can mix both by signing up with an online tuition provider.
My suggestion is - don’t do it alone!
A Case Study is a totally different type of exam and if you have sit OCS before, you know what I’m talking about.
Let’s compare it with starting a new job - you feel a bit lost, simple tasks take you ages to fulfill and still there is a big room for improvement. In these moments, haven’t you thought - “if only I could ask my boss how to do that” or “if only there was someone who could show me how to do it better and faster”? I know I had those questions. With years of experience, I've learnt that there is no point to reinvent the wheel, there are so many other things I could be doing. It is just more efficient to use someone else’s knowledge and experience to get your results faster.
I believe that signing up with a proper tuition provider can cut your studying time at least in half. Just think about it, that’s all I’m suggesting. I just don’t want you being frustrated and underprepared for your exam.
Now I think it is the right time to show you the video that I made about Management Case Studies showing you what a MCS / Gateway exam is all about, highlighting key points to focus on, explaining the structure and walking you through an example of a MCS. Also, I touch upon the competencies, explain the exam marking and finally give you some tips on what to do in order to pass you MCS exam.
The 1st step was all about planning, realising what the Case Study is about, what is the magnitude of the work you need to put in and deciding on your study option.
I could help you with that - we partnered with a brilliant tutor, with whom we prepared the necessary materials helping you succeed at your next MCS exam. He has a totally revolutionary approach towards the exam preparation technique, that works according to his past students. Have a look yourself what his recent student has said:
“I have found the coaching sessions with Paul very helpful and informative and would definitely recommend them to anyone. I started the CIMA alone and managed to complete the operational level. As I moved on, I ran into a few problem areas that I needed smoothed out. In just a few sessions, Paul was able to break down the area's I had problems with allowing me to move forward with my studies.”
Michael Kerstens, Belgium
In case you are interested to see for yourself, how great his approach is and why he has been so successful in preparing students for Case Study exams, have a look at our MCS offer.
STEP 2 - Studying
To sum it up - by now you should have chosen how you want to study (or with whom) and you made some kind of a realistic plan.
Let’s get back to our list of what should be included in the study plan. My suggestion is to make sure you are done with the 1st revision of the 3 pillars by the time Pre-Seen is released. We have used our expertise to prepare a set of revision videos for you.
In case this is something that might interest you, here is the link: Get your MCS Revisions package only for £55 now! Personally, I think that sometimes you need that extra push, that structure that the revision course is providing. Anyway, it's up to you, I'm just saying you have an option not to do it on your own or attending highly expensive classes. You can do it online for a fraction of the price. Again, the link is >>here<<.
If you have taken OT exams from the management level, then I hope you kept your notes since they are going to be useful now. Remember, no calculations will be necessary at this point, you just need to interpret the numbers you are given. So if you e.g. had issues with calculating WACC, but you understand why companies should be using that, you are more less fine.
If you took the Gateway route, well, I would roll my sleeves up and go through the study books.
Either way, technical knowledge accounts for 39%. You need to know it and then you need to know how to apply it.
When the Pre-Seen is released, read it. Don’t postpone that. I know it is a bit scary because reading will mean that you have to start preparing. I know how trivial that sounds. I made that mistake - I always found more important things to do and postponed reading the Pre-Seen till “tomorrow”… and that tomorrow lasted for 2 weeks… And then I was rushing through it in panic. Let me tell you - it is not worth it. Better to read a bit each day.
What actually put me off was the size - usually Pre-Seen material is 20-30 pages long. There are plenty of pictures and charts, tables, so in fact, it is not that long.
My suggestion, give it 2 attempts:
- Skim through case quickly to get a feel for what the case is about.
- On the next day, go through the case in detail – line by line, paragraph by paragraph, taking notes.
Since you reviewed the knowledge from the E2, P2 and F2 papers, you should be able to note the following:
- Enterprise pillar - which models / frameworks / techniques seem the most relevant to that paragraph and make notes on your Pre-Seen. You should be able to define short and medium term goals. You should be familiar with the environment of the company, with its competition, with all the stakeholders. Also be prepared from eh project management perspective and change - those topics come up very often.
- Performance pillar - identify the types of risks faced which you learned about in P2 and how they could be managed.
- Financial pillar - analyse the financial statements using key ratios to fully understand the current financial position and performance of the organisation.
A key TIP, coming from Kimanh Duong, 4th in the world in SCS from Aug 2015:
“Don’t leave it too long between your course and exams; get the exams booked early so you aren’t constantly juggling your busy lives.”
I’ve reviewed most of the online providers' materials and the majority of them focus additionally on Most Likely Issues coming from the Pre-Seen, Industry Analysis of the business the company operated in (in Nortan case - Oil Industry and Shared Service Centres). We have also included a concise version of that in our MCS Essential package.
Let me explain - I really stress out the word “concise” as I’ve watched industry analysis coming from other online tuition providers and they were just too lengthy without providing additional value. You see I can sit 4 hours watching something, but I need to be confident that is adding value to my study time. I read the examiners report and it is clearly stated there that all the information on the industry is given to you in the Pre-Seen and that you will not be given any additional marks for showing that you know few additional names of the top competitors. Therefore the concise version of the industry analysis is beneficial and will not waste your time.
Also, let me touch upon the most likely / top ten issues likely to be examined. It is a good indication to open your mind to possible problems that company may face, but don’t be limited to them. I remember when I sat my CS, I was still surprised at how the examiners twisted the unseen materials and found a way, how to utilise big data. There was no mention of that in the Pre-Seen! So just don’t think of that a definite list. Those are likely issues but there are 5 variants of the exam (if each variance has 4 sections, we are talking about 20 sections to be written). Examiners are going to be creative, that’s for sure.
By now, you should have:
- reviewed the technical knowledge,
- read the Pre-Seen, made notes,
- done the Industry Analysis done the Industry Analysis and gone through the Most Likely Issues.
Now, let’s focus on the exam itself.
STEP 3 - Exam Practice!
My suggested way around it is:
1. Take a sample from any past papers, have a look at the question and at a model answer provided by CIMA. That will help you understand what are they looking at. This is a tip coming from Steven Scullion, 8th in the world in Nov 2015 SCS
“Question practise is key. Get past paper questions or mock exams from whatever source you can. The greater the variety of questions you come across when studying, the higher the probability that you may get a similar question in the exam and be well prepared for it. Additionally, you will be more prepared for the “shock” factor of coming across a question that you did not expect.”
2. Make sure you spend enough time on planning your answers. CIMA suggests that you should spend roughly 1/3 of your time reading the scenario and planning it. If the average section in MCS lasts for 45 minutes, we are talking about opening 15 minutes on reading and planning! Keeps hat figure in mind!
There is whole lot more to be written about planning and structuring your answers for MCS… Maybe I should even write about that…. Is it something you would be interested in? Leave your answer below:
3. Attempt full mock exams under timed conditions and be strict with your time management.
Another quote from Brendan Ryan, 1st in the world from OCS in Nov 2015:
“Do all the practice exam material you can. Try not to master every single element of the course - listen to your tutor and focus your time on the key areas or any areas you find harder. For the case study in particular, it’s about applying the knowledge you’ve learnt. So try not to cram facts, but think about what’s relevant to the scenario and how this knowledge can be applied.”
We can help you out with the practice under exam conditions. We have a gift for you :) We give you an option to train yourself under exam conditions on all 5 variants of MCS from Nov 2016 (about ADF company). You will find the exam simulator, exam questions and model answers provided by CIMA, as well as examiners commentary and marking guidelines.
The only thing to do is to click the button and sign up for the free MCS demo:
If, however, you are more interested in practicing current mocks, we have 3 full mocks for the current Pre-Seen. These also come with exam simulator and immediate solutions. And, What I call a deal breaker - we have there as well a walkthrough video showing you how you should attempt answering the 1st mock. Plus you can test the past mocks there as well.
If you find that appealing, the link to the mocks is >>here<<.
Mock are manually marked. You can do all the preparation, you can plan your answers, but then it will be another person assessing how well you did. What you think was the gist may not only be the case. You would be surprised how many students do not read properly the questions asked! Just have a look at any examiners’ reports from the exams! Read the answer, pause for 3 seconds, read it again! And only then start planning your answers.
I think it is good to get a perspective from another person. It is not obligatory, but it is nice to have. Get your mocks marked so you can review the feedback. Ideally you will get expert feedback on your mock exams as this will give you a knowledgeable and experienced point of view on your level of performance to tell you how well you are getting on. You can review your own script if you fully understand the marking scheme of the exam and note any key lessons learnt ready for your next mock exam attempt, but I find this very rarely works as we are not very good judges of our own performance. If you do mocks with us, we give you a possibility to get your mocks checked and receive a feedback.
What to do a day before your exam?
- Re-read the Pre-Seen and the one page summary of your analysis.
- Create a list of key points you want to use in your exam.
- Review all the key lessons from your mocks.
- Review the key theories to refresh your mind, especially from E2.
- Try to visit your chosen exam centre, so you don’t get stressed on the day of your exam. prepare your admission slip and ID in advance.
- Take it easy the day before your exam, sleep well and relax the night before the exam. Being rested will improve your performance.
- Practice thinking positively ahead of your exam, visualise your future success.
What to do during your exam?
Be confident – even if you don’t feel like it, try and act like it (remember that phrase: fake it till you make it?).
Work quickly through your exam and aim to make lots of points.
Keep going right to the end, do not end the section before your time is up. You will nOT be rewarded for that!
Keep an eye on the time throughout and stick to your timings.
Stick to what has worked in your exam practice sessions before.
The key to passing is therefore being able to demonstrate your application skills as well as the business, people and leadership areas being tested. You don't need to be a price winner, you don't need to get 150 marks, you just need to pass. Overall, what you learn in that exam, will help you tremendously in your work life later on, so in my opinion, CIMA has done a good job in structuring those exams in such a way.
I believe you can do it! Be positive, keep on practicing and you will get there.
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- Use our exam simulator to practice Nov 2016 past mock exam. Get used to the exam format in advance.
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