Introduction to Management Case Study
CIMA has taken a totally different approach towards Case Studies (CS) as opposed to 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 it consists of.
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 demonstrate what you know, but here, in MCS, you show how to apply what you know. Case Studies assess everything that cannot be assessed via an OT exam. That’s why CIMA introduced the core activities, so they could check the application of your knowledge against a real-life business case scenario.
It simulates what management accountants do in the workplace.
Table of Content
A few facts about the MCS:
- There are 4 exam windows throughout the year: February, May, August and November.
- Each preseen is valid for 2 exam windows, which means that there is the same preseen for May-August session and then another one for November-February.
- For the May and November sessions, 7 weeks before the exam you will get the pre-seen material. It is mostly a description of a fictitious situation and gives you a perspective on what needs to be done.
- Just like OT, case studies are also computer-based. They take 3 hours.
- Exams are conducted over a period of 3 days.
- There are 3 different variants of this exam per sitting (so in case there is another person taking the same exam, the chances of you both having the same questions are low). Another 3 will be released for the 2nd exam window.
- Each variant has 4 sections and each section lasts for 45 minutes. The 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 6-7 weeks to find out if you passed or not.
- You will get a mark out of 150, according to a scaled score. The cima pass mark is 80 (around 53%). You do not need to demonstrate proficiency within any of the core activities, you just need to get at least 80 marks.
- The number of questions - for MCS, that number is 4. The time is allocated accordingly to the weight of the marks. Let’s take a logical approach - 180 minutes accounts for 100 points (then they are scaled to 150), so 45 minutes equals 25 points.
Core activities and the famous "I can'' statements - what is it all about?
Within each Management Case Study examination, five core activities will be assessed. These core activities represent the tasks that are most frequent, critical and important to the Entry level finance professional role.
The five core activities are:
A. Evaluate opportunities to add value.
B. Implement senior management decisions.
C. Manage performance and costs to aid value creation.
D. Measure performance.
E. Manage internal and external stakeholders.
The 5 core activities are linked to associated assessment outcomes expressed in terms of ‘I Can’ statements that speak directly to the skills and competencies that drive the employability of successful learners.
Here are the famous “I Can” statements from above-mentioned Activities. We’ve added the OT papers where those statements are coming from.
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, detail length and technical complexity).
- Consider what the impact may be for other parts of the business, such as other stakeholders and on 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).
Your role in the exam - as described by CIMA:
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 preparation?
Have a look at what Steven Scullion, 8th in the world for Nov 2015 SCS, said about preparing your study 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 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 attempted (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 that 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 and what could be useful.
- Practise, Practise and PRACTISE! 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 needs to be covered, let’s figure out how to do it.
The way I see it, you have 3 options:
- you can either do self-study,
- you can enroll in 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 sat 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 fullfill and still there is 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 myself had those questions. With years of experience, I've learnt that there is no point in reinventing 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 study time at least in half. Just think about it, that’s all I’m suggesting. I just don’t want you to be frustrated and underprepared for your exam.
I think now is the right time to show you the video that I made about How to Prepare for Your Management Case Study exam. It shows you how you should approach your preparations for MCS, what are the most important steps that you should include in your study plan and how we - Practice Tests Academy - can help you with that.
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 can help you - we partnered with brilliant tutors, all recommended to us by CIMA, with whom we prepared the necessary materials, helping you succeed in your next MCS exam.
Pete has prepared the first bit, where he aims at providing you the goal of Case Studies why they were created in the first place, what is their objective, what is expected of you and how you can excel at your role.
In case you are interested in seeing 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've 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 the 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 £49 now! Personally, I think that sometimes you need that extra push, that structure that the revision course provides. Anyway, it's up to you, I'm just saying you have an option not to do it on your own or attend 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 (for e.g.) had issues with calculating WACC, but you understand why companies should be using it, you are more less fine.
If you took the Gateway route, well, I would roll my sleeves up and go through the study books.
When the Pre-Seen is released, read it. Don’t postpone it. 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 until “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 really that long.
For your convenience, I have added here a link to the latest MCS Nov'22-Feb'23 Pre-Seen from the CIMA Planner site:
My suggestion, give it 2 attempts:
- Skim through the material quickly to get a feel for what the case study is about.
- On the next day, go through the material 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 also 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 the project management perspective and change - those topics come up very often. Let's also not forget about the newly added digitalisation aspect.
- 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 and Industry Analysis of the business that the company operates in.
Here at PTA, we have a slightly different view.
All the industry information you need for the exam is included in the preseen. That is why the preseen is released beforehand - so you can familiarise yourself with the environment of the company. Having more information about the company's industry (in our current case - Traynner - an educational course provider) will not land you extra marks, BUT it will help you round up your answers better AND will boost your confidence. Why? You will feel that you know more about the company you're supposed to work for. and we all know what a confidence boost can do in your exam :-)
That is why we've included extra examples of similar companies in our MCS Essential package. You should know what are their current struggles and that should help you to approach answering actual exam questions in a better, more comprehensive way. We do it in a concise way.
Let me explain - I really stress 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 for 4 hours watching something, but I need to be confident that it 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 Preseen and that you will not be given any additional marks for showing that you know a 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 issues likely to be examined. It is a good indication to open your mind to possible problems that the company may face. We're projecting what are the most possible issues that the examiner may touch upon, but not 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 to utilise big data. There was no mention of that in the Preseen! (I sat my SCS under the 2015 syllabus, which feels like ages ago, but still, 2015 is not that different from the 2019 syllabus). So just don’t think of that as a definite list. They 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.
In our MCS Preparation Packages, we will delve into identifying potential P2, then E2 and finally F2 threats and opportunities. You will have a complete analysis from each OT paper POV, that covers the core activities and therefore the famous “I can'' statements And to reinforce all that knowledge and information, we will kick off the writing process here. We’ve prepared 5 tasks for each paper, based on the current preseen. We want you to avoid the common mistake that most students make while preparing for their Case Study. They start doing mocks far too late, and sometimes not even under exam conditions. We believe that if you start practising your writing from the get-go, as if you were in an exam environment, and then go on to complete your mocks, you'll find that preparing the structure of your answers and then developing your points will become second nature to you. Obviously, properly developed solutions to those tasks are included in the package.
By now, you should have:
- reviewed the technical knowledge,
- read the Pre-Seen, made notes,
- 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.”
One note here, to clear things up. Of course, it is MUCH better to practise current-preseen questions. That is why we've created our innovative tool so that you have a lot of options to practice relevant exam questions under exam conditions. We've added 5 tasks per each pillar (so 5 tasks x 3 pillars) + 3 additional questions from ethics, which makes it 18 single tasks + 3 full mocks (our packages can be found >>here<<). You can see, there is plenty of practice, current preseen relevant of coruse. But I can understand that prices of mocks and other packages can feel a bit pricey, hence if you need to do more practising and you simply do not have access to current preseen mocks and/or questions, head over to the CIMA planner and review past exams' solutions.
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 that figure in mind!
“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 practicing under exam conditions. We have a gift for you :) We've separated 3 single tasks from our MCS Essential package and gave you access to it. You have 1 task from P2, 1 from E2 and one from F2. The only thing to do is to click the button and sign up for the free MCS package:
If, however, you are more interested in practicing current mocks, we have 3 full mocks for the current Pre-Seen. These also come with an exam simulator and instant solutions.
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 be the case. You would be surprised how many students do not read the questions asked properly! 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 learned 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 the possibility to get your mocks checked and receive feedback and some tips on how to improve your performance.
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 prize 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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Practise the above mini mock under exam conditions i.e. timed and using the similar word-processor, so you can improve your writing technique.