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:
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
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 available prior to the exam date. Actually preseen is realised twice a year: 7 weeks before the May and November exam window. But as you know, there are 4 exam sessions in the year, and the same preseen is valid for 2 exam sittings, meaning there is the same preseen for May and August exam windows and also for November and February.It includes some information about the company you are working for, a bit more details about your position. It could include some financial information about the company, its environment and sometimes even about the competitor.
The better you understand the preseen, 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 our products, you also get money back guarantee and pass assurance. Plus we've developed a pretty innovative approach to analysing the preseen material. We focus on the possible issues - things that are most likely to come up on the exam day.
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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.
But as out tutors say - you don't need to be an expert on the industry. CIMA is providing the preseen document before the exam so that everyone has the same opportunity to get to know the market. Ift can happen that you actually work in the industry that is beging examined that therefore you will have so called "competitive" advantage against the other MCS candidates. The idea here is to level out the field, so that eveyone can have the same chance.
The exam is very practical and that broad industry knowledge would not give you extra marks, but will help you to better undertand the environmetn and as a resutl, better draft your answers. 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 included industry analysis without our set of preparatory materials. It is all part of the commercial overview of the company. We've decided to take a little different approach compared to other online tuition providers. We've intentionally split the content into manageable weekly chunks, so we could guide you by the hand. With this approach, you won't gt lost, that I am sure of.
Key #3 Create the structure of your answer
I think here we need to look at the exam from the high level perspective. MCS is a case study, a role simulation which is marked by humans. Put yourself in their shoes - how would you like to receive an answer to the questions you're posing? Would you like to read a 5 pages long essay that looks like a river of text OR a nicely formatted solution, with paragraphs, bolded text highlighting important points?
When you read the requirement, I’m sure you will have many random thoughts that fly through your head. Having those thoughts is good, but the big mistake here is not writing them down as bullet points, in a structured manner.
I found this example from this article on the CIMA website: Answer planning - does it really matter? This is how you should approach preparing MCS exam answers.
Figure out the number of points to make
Our tutor, in the first part of the MCS preparation package is referring to the so-called “rule of two”. That means that each valid point made will be worth a minimum of 2 marks if it’s correct, relevant and well-explained. Of course in the OCS exam you usually write a bit more, make more comments, hence the whole marking may be more diluted, which means that some comments may be worth only 1 mark. But in general - 2 marks for each valid point.
So how to calculate the points - it's not really rocket science. You need to take 100 as a total number (not 150). In MCS you have 4 sections, so each section is worth 25 marks. Recently (exams under 2019 CIMA syllabus) it is clearly stated what is the percentage assigned to each task. For example, if task "a" is worth 60% - that means 60%*25=15 marks. The mentioned above "rule of 2" that gives you an indication that you need to make 7-8 points.
Write down the headings
Then what is left, is to write down the headings for all those points. Anything that is relevant. Remember, you will not be pubished for making a strange remark. you will be marked based on your merits, as long as there is some logic to what you are saying, you will be given a mark.
Develop your points
After you've prepared your answer's structure (and it looks similar to the example above) - move to developing your points, so they can form nice paragraphs.
And that seamlessly leads me to the next key point.
Key #4 Practise 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 done quite an amazing job byt creating not only mocks, but also single tasks. You may wonder - what is that or why? Well, knowing hte behaviour of CIMA students I can say that the common mistake most of you are making is posponding attempring mocks till the end. And some students don't even attempt any mocks under exam condition before the exam. The exam is actually the first timed mocks they are doing... PTA would like to change that. We've incorporated writing into our MCS packages, so you start preparing and answering exam questions early on. And when you are ready, you move to the mock exams.
We've included 3 tasks in our Free MCS package, so go and have a look at it!
Below you can see an example of 1 section from a recent MCS exam.
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
You 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.
Just as a side note - PTA has incorporated a course on that topic in our MCS preparation packages. This is such an important area, tha we've even included lectures from 2 different tutors. Each of us has a different learning style and some teaching styles resonates more with you, therefore I hope that at least 1 of those lectures will rebe suitable to your 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.
Marking your mocks is another game changer. I understand, overall it is quite pricey, but if you can afford it, it will work like magic. Why? Just imagine that you keep making the same mistake while writing your answers. You won’t know that because no one has ever mentioned anything to you. Then you go to your exam and you do it again. When you get your mocks marked by an independent and experienced tutor, chances are that they will point out exactly what you’re doing wrong, so you can improve that and pass your exam.
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.
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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.