Top 5 keys to MCS success [proven to actually work]

Are you aware what is the pass rate for the Management Case Study Exam? Do you also feel confused as to where to start and what can you do in order to maximise your MCS exam success?

The good news is – students actually pass it in the end, but it is a hard nut to crack. The case study exams are completely different from the objective test exams and there's a specific approach you can take in order to plan, organise, manage and finally succeed. There are certain things in case study exams that make a huge difference to what it takes to pass or fail.

I will skip the explanation of what a CIMA Management Case Study exam is about. All the details you need to know before you even sign up for this exam, you can in another blog I have written here:

How to Pass Your Management Case Study Exam, Tips Included

In this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the 5 things you can do to increase your MCS exam success rate. And they actually work! So let’s start.

The prerequisite - a good understanding of your role

finance manager

The prerequisite is having a good understanding of your role within an organisation. You need to understand, that you are going to be a finance manager working inside the fictitious pre-seen company. You are going to be a part of it. You will be required to write a memo, email or report to your director or senior manager. The unseen part of the case study will include related, consecutive tasks, that you will have to undertake over a specified period of time. So to illustrate, in a first section, you might be called into your supervisor’s office and he/she may describe a business case, an opportunity for the company and you will have to write him/her a memo analysing for example SWOT of that opportunity. The next section can happen 2 weeks after, when that business case becomes a reality and now you will have to deal with let’s say building a team for that project or some HR related issues. I hope you get the point. The tasks you will be given, are going to be related and you need to keep in mind, that you are working for that company so the way you respond is from an internal perspective. Don’t write “the company X is going to…” but instead write “our company is going to…” or “we are going to…”.


Key #1 Apply the theory to the Pre-Seen

In order to deal with those series of tasks, you have to apply your technical skills that you've learned as part of your objective test exams. But in this exam will need to take it a step further. The theory needs to mean something in your business, in your position. You need to analyse it to provide good business advice and for that you to need to have solid technical knowledge. It is not good enough to mention what Mendelow’s matrix is about. You would need to apply that to the scenario. So, it's not just the understanding the technical side that matters. It's analysing what it means for the business and then thinking how you should respond. The idea of the case is that it is an imitation of a practical real-life example, so you need to imagine that you are working within a business and that you are helping to support and develop that business and guide your manager or your director to make good business decisions.


It's no longer just about you having learnt the theory, it's about you giving good practical analysis and business advice. It is not enough to just know the theory, you need to apply that theory in order to get good marks. What the case studies are trying to test is whether you would be a good accountant within a business in the future.

That leads me to the key point number 2.


Key #2 Solid analysis of the Pre-Seen and Industry knowledge

Pre-Seen material is released 7 weeks prior to the exam date. It includes some information about the company you are working for, a bit more details about your position. It could include some financial information of the company and sometimes even of the competitor.

The better you understand the pre-seen, the better you are able to analyse the specific issues that will come up in the exam. So, the in-depth analysis is absolutely crucial to you. And in my opinion, it is just simpler and much faster (we’ve all heard that expression – time is money) to get that analysis from any online tuition provider. First of all, it is overwhelming to do it yourself. Personally, I tend to postpone things I do not feel comfortable with and that was the same with the Case Studies – I think I started to analyse the Pre-Seen 3 weeks after it was released. For 3 weeks I was just thinking that I should start analysing, but there were always some other high priorities to fulfill… At the end, I paid for the analysis… So, learn from my mistakes, don’t postpone it. Get your Pre-Seen Analysis together with other crucial materials from a provider who can guarantee the quality. By choosing or products, you also get money back guarantee. Here is the link to our materials.

You also need to broadly know the industry that you're operating within because again good business acumen is about providing advice, guidance or analysis that links in with that particular industry. It's important that you understand some of the things that are currently happening in the industry. Remember, examiners also read the same financial newspapers and there is a big likelihood that they will be inspired by the situation or trend happening on the market. The pre-seen itself gives you a good background to the industry. However a little bit broader research will give you that extra knowledge and that broader awareness that could make a difference between FAIL and PASS.

Past students usually emphasise that they wish they had understood a little bit better the industry. The exam is very practical and that broad industry knowledge would have helped them. Therefore – learn from the mistakes of others, not your own. Do a proper industry analysis beforehand and do focus on few biggest and most famous industry examples. Knowing how other companies respond to specific issues might help you respond to the tasks that examiner gives you. Practice Tests Academy has recently started cooperation with one of the best Case Study tutors and one thing that he does exceptionally well is that he prepares a bullet-proof industry examples with a detailed explanation. It really makes you think broader and that is actually what matters the most. In case you’re interested only in the Industry Analysis, you will find it here.


Key #3 Identify the requirements


What's challenging in the exam is that you will not always be given a straight bullet point asking you to perform a specific task. Sometimes it is indeed clearly stated, but in most cases you need to figure out what is that the examiner wants to get, what he/she wants you to write.

Identifying the requirements is absolutely critical. It helps you to distinguish between requirements and what is just broad background information in that real-life scenario. If you miss a requirement, you could potentially fail the exam. Just imagine – usually there are 4 sections in MCS. Each section will include between 2-4 requirements. If there are let’s say 2 and you miss one… well… you will most likely fail. Let me just explain you the exam marking to emphasise this point.

The below screenshot has been taken from May 2017 MCS – Variant 1.

Marking Guide May 2017 Variant 1

Just imagine you completely missed the requirement to write about communication (Section 3). Just to explain, there are 2 things you need to fulfill in order to pass:

  • Get at least 80 (out of 150) marks, AND
  • Get at least 1/3 of the total marks for each competency.

So if you miss that communication task, you would need to score max on the ethical issues (from the people skills’ perspective) in order to pass MCS. That would be extremely challenging.

I hope you understand why I emphasise the importance of identifying the requirements. But the good news is that there is something that you can do to train yourself! You can practice on past exams because when identifying the requirements, it doesn't matter too much about what the actual pre-seen is about. You can get the past papers with model answers either from the CIMA Connect website, or you could use our free resources to check Nov 2016 all variants. Just create a free account here (there is a form at the bottom of this article) and off you go!

And that seamlessly leads me to the next key point.


Key #4 Practice a lot of mocks

The pass mark is roughly 53% (80 out of 150 marks), which is challenging as it is, therefore you do need to write a reasonable amount of good quality information in order to pass. The key of getting good at these exams is practicing lots of different questions and ideally you will practice questions based on your current pre-seen. Well, these mocks you can only buy and that costs some money. PTA has prepared 3 high-quality mocks that were designed based on an analysis of the past papers. We switched our approach and now the main priority is to provide high quality materials. You could check our MCS mocks here.

However, I do believe there are also a lot of benefits in practicing past mocks. Have a look at the question and at a model answer provided by CIMA. That will help you understand what are they looking for in terms of the length, the structure of an answer and how the theory should be applied.

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.”

When you figure out what is the requirement for the particular task, then it is all about how you communicate your ideas.


Key #5 Writing skills

Writing Style May 2017 Variant 1You can know the theory inside out, but if you cannot get that message across, you will score badly. There is a certain writing style that scores excellent marks.

The key here is that you do need to explain your points fully. Very often students will make a brief point that maybe explains the technical side, but doesn't follow it up and analyse that in relation to the business. So, you need to write fully explained points, clearly made, coherent. The points you make, have to come across clearly or otherwise the examiner will not give you a mark for that paragraph you're writing.

Communication and writing skills are absolutely crucial. I hope you can see why practicing mock exams becomes important - it's about practicing that writing style.

Another tip is to get a perspective from another person. Get your mocks marked by a professional tutor 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. It will also 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 personalised feedback. 

I hope that this blog post has opened your eyes and gave you some food for thought on what you can do in order to make sure you actually pass. I do hope that my specific approach to exam preparation will really help you. We do have MCS packages that are specifically designed to ensure your MCS exam success and the link to those packages you can find here.

But this article is already full of tips anyway. I have another free bonus for you. Have a look at the box below. We have prepared some absolutely free resources for you, so sign up and take advantage of them right now!

Free Case Study resources

We've prepared for you great free resources. You can:

  • For MCS, there is a free mini (90 mins long) mock exam! It is based on Feb'18 Pre-Seen for Nortan (FOSSC).
  • Use our exam simulator to practice Nov 2016 past paper exams (MCS and SCS). Get used to the exam format in advance.
  • Take part in our 3-day free workshop. Get a deeper understanding of what the MCS & SCS are about, how they work, what is your role, what do you need to show, how to write and finally see a walkthrough of the exam.

 Sign up and get them now >>


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