The truth behind the pass rates for CIMA exams

CIMA has been running the new 2015 syllabus for 4 years, so I thought it is high time to have a deeper look at the exams pass rates. Yes, currently we have 2019 syllabus, but it is not that much different from 2015, so I thought it would make more sense to show you the full analysis for the last 5 years. Also, I will not bore you with a full statistical analysis, because that is not the point. As a CIMA student, you should understand the numbers and get some insights from them. So here it goes - the most recently released data is from July 2020.


(UPDATE - this article has been updated to show the most recent data from July 2020).

I will show you the pass rates in the following order:

OT Pass Rates

CIMA OT pass rates overview 042019

This line that goes through the whole chart, is the trend. It’s no rocket science that more advanced you get, the more difficult it becomes, hence the pass rates are getting overall lower.

The exam pass rates are calculated on total exams passed over total exams taken for the periods stated below.

Papers with the lowest pass rates

According to the graph, the P pillar seems to cause most of the problems for the CIMA students.

  • P1 has the lowest pass rates: 52% and it doesn't seem to be moving from the 1st position for a very long time...
  • P2 & F2 is next in line with 53% & 59% respectively (F2 has increased in the last few months, which I think is a very positive sign),
  • P3 and F3 have a passing rate of 55% & 57% respectively - those results are pretty stable across last years.

On the contrary, E pillar seems to get the highest scores. So if you don’t know how to approach a certain level and if you’re motivated by success, attempt E paper first. 

Of course, that is not always true in real life. A little disclaimer here - statistics was actually my major at the University… BUT… if a man is walking the dog, statistics say that on average each of them (the man and a dog) has 3 legs :) 

The same goes for the E papers. We are individuals and we have a preference towards a specific pillar. For instance, my preference rating is P > E > F. I always passed P without any problem, on the first sitting. F was always a big stretch for me as first of all, I am a converted management accountant (I prefer the management part of that phrase ;) ). I had financial accounting subjects during my university time, I had some exposure at work, but I’ve always been an auditor or a controller. And that explains why P was the strongest. Statistically, I’m among the minority here.

My point is that everyone has a preference for a certain pillar (paper). If a failure puts you off, start with a topic you enjoy the most. If you are new to CIMA and cannot really judge based on the papers’ names, look at the syllabus. And if you still don’t know and you need success to keep you going, go for E papers first.

Let’s look at each pillar across those 5 years:

Enterprise Pillar pass rates' evolution

E pillar pass rates 042019z

CIMA mentioned that over time, the questions would be revised and replaced. They do that every quarter. As you can see what was good, stayed more less the same, even though I’m surprised that CIMA didn't do anything to make E2 (the red line) a bit more difficult… 2019 syllabus seems to even made it even more manageable, which is great for students :)

The positive point here is that all the pass rates for the E pillar are going up.

Performance Pillar pass rates' evolution

P pillar pass rates 072020

As mentioned above, the Performance pillar, on average, is causing the most troubles to students. However, the chart speaks for itself - the pass rates for every P paper are going up!

I see 2 possible reasons here:

  • Questions have been slightly revised and therefore the exam’s difficulty has slightly decreased.
  • Students become more comfortable with CBA (Computer-based Assessments).

This is really a high-level overview. It would be really interesting to dive deeper and see which parts of P pillars are causing so much difficulty. But… the high-level data is all we have. Practice Tests Academy’s tests have built in functionality to always inform you how well you’ve done on a specific part and within a specific part or even chapter - so you know where you need to improve. I’d like to see that kind of data coming from CIMA’s exams one day.

Financial Pillar pass rates' evolution

F pillar pass rates 072020

What can I say here - CIMA seems to be adjusting (slightly) the numbers - the “easy” F1 paper is becoming a bit more difficult. The more difficult F2 and F3 are becoming a bit easier. I believe that is due to the amendments that CIMA does every quarter and also that student gets more familiar with the exam’s environment. 

Final comment on OT exams

That’s why I believe it is so important to properly plan your preparation. Kaplan has done research and the outcome was that the more knowledge checked (revision questions) you embed in your studying process, the higher chance of passing the exam on the first try you will have. I would say it is common sense, but it is good to have proper research done to back up what I'm always saying.

That is the screenshot I took during Kaplan’s webinar about CIMA exam success. FTP means First Time Pass rate. It represents only Kaplan’s students population, but I think it is safe to say that it relates to the whole CIMA students’ population. The outcome is simple - you need to practice more in order to pass. That was the reason why we created Practice Tests Academy in the first place.

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Certificate / Foundation level

Cert level transition

Here is a little problem. The new syllabus started only in January 2017, so there is not enough data to show you the evolution of the BA1-BA4 pass rates. However, we can still get a feeling how that could look like if you look at the C01, C02, C04 and C05 papers. 

BA level pass rates 072020

Well, the issue with the performance pillar trend starts from here. BA2 is called Fundamentals of Management Accounting and logically it is the basis for the further P pillar, so it is not a surprise that the pass rates are the lowest. 

Better results we can see on the BA3 side - Fundamentals of Financial Accounting, which is an introduction to the F pillar.

Update made in 2019: The outcomes of the last 2 years of pass rates published by CIMA are terrible! I thought I got my numbers wrong, so I triple checked them! It is true. BA2 was kind of "going downhill" but reaching 59% and then 60%, that is a bit of an exaggeration! And the fact that the "always with good pass rates" BA4 has almost reached the bottom, it is astonishing! We should ask - what does it mean? Either the quality of the students has decreased (difficult to believe in that) or CIMA has embedded too many tricky questions inside their tests. Maybe it is because BA4 has 85 questions and not 60 like any other tests. That is a new feature - and I am tempted to point out that the numbers indicate that 85 questions might be an overkill. But that is just my humble opinion...

Update made in 2020: Good thing is that since the introduduction of 2019 syllabus, BA level has significantly increased (even though those 2 sylabuses, changes are not connected). It seems that CIMA has realised and made improvements in the exam questions, which is excellent news!

Case Studies

cima case studies 072020

This chart looks more like Alps or Himalayas! 

What this could tell us is the fact that by the time you reach the MCS and SCS level, you will have the necessary skills and experience to apply yourself well.

Frankly, I don’t even know how to interpret that. Let’s try...

  • OCS - from what I hear from students and what I read on different study groups, most of the students try to prepare for those exams on their own. It is a bit of a shock to jump into the OCS after passing only OT exams. Also, the population of those exams is the lowest as some you get the exemptions from the full operational level. One additional thought that comes to mind is that MAYBE whoever is writing questions for OCS exams, is not really… congruent as once they seem easy and once difficult. That is all I can say now about it… 
  • MCS students are doing pretty well. The pass rate is around 60-70% and even it was close to 80% during a one-year period. In one of my previous blog posts on How to pass your MCS I recommend that you shouldn’t do it alone, meaning that you should actually sign up with a tuition provider because otherwise you will waste a lot of time and you risk failing the exam. Retaking the exam costs more than signing up for the basic online package for MCS - so why to risk wasting money? 

From my experience, I can say that the majority of students actually signs up for these courses, and obviously that is reflected in the pass rates. 

  • Gateway - what is sad though, is the pass rates of the CIMA Gateway exams. Just to remind you (in case you don't know), Gateways exams are actually MCS (no difference as per the content of the exam). However for Gateway students, this is their first point of contact with CIMA and it is assumed that the knowledge that they should have gained if they didn’t have the exemptions, is there. Frankly, it is a lot of materials to cover because you need to review the whole Operational and Management level papers (CIMA also suggests to review the Foundation level, but I think this is a bit of a overdo). Here I strongly suggest to sign up for a revision course designed specifically for the Gateway students. 

We do have the revision materials, however they are aimed to refresh your knowledge only. However, if you would feel confident to revise the material on your own, I think it is a great resource to make sure you covered and understood the content of all the previous CIMA papers. We also have a course called MCS Preparation, which aims at giving you condensed information you need before you start preparing for your exam. In my opinion, it is better to listen to tutors who have trained thousands of students, listened to their feedback and based on that have content that they can share with you. 

Again, if you are thinking about sitting the next CIMA Gateway, sign up by clicking the above button, so I can provide you with guidance, tips and free materials for the MCS exam.

  • SCS - The trend seems to increase with a “hick-up” in November 2016. Here’s a tip - if a previous case study pass rate was rather low (like Nov’16), you can expect easier versions in the next sitting, but… those are just mine speculations.

If you are thinking about preparing for your next SCS exam, the first step is to revise the knowledge you've learned from the E3, P3 and F3 papers. We've made that easier for you and prepared a set of 3 videos revising the theory from the strategic level, kepping in mind the Case Study. Let's face it, this is a Case Study exam, you're not redoing OT papers so you don't need the same knowledge level as for the OT papers. You need to have a differnet perspecitve and this is what our tutor has done. .

Add to Cart :: SCS Revisions (£49) or learn more about this package

I hope you found that article insightful and now you have a little bit different view on the CIMA pass rates within the new syllabus

Overall the conclusion is obvious, you won't improve if you don't practice - as they say - practice makes perfect (well, at least better ;)


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