What was my first impression of the ICAEW Case Study? Weird. This exam is completely different to the 14 ACA exams prior which actually have new content to learn. The ICAEW Case Study was completely unknown to me until I came to study for this exam. It was not really an exam that was spoken about at all beforehand. For this reason, I have written this blog to give others an insight into the ICAEW Case Study exam with tips to pass. If you would like to know how much preparation is needed for the ICAEW Case Study, click here.
I will also share a few of my ‘help sheets‘ for free to those of you who have kindly joined my journey. These sheets can be tailored to your ICAEW case study, printed out and taken into your exam as it is open book. It isn’t too late – join now! You will receive these within three/four days of joining at 6pm (UK).
Introduction to the ICAEW Case Study
To reiterate, there is no new content that you need to learn to pass the ICAEW Case Study. Passing this exam is more skills based than anything. According to ICAEW, students need to demonstrate they “can provide advice on complex business issues in the form of a written report“. In order to do so, you will have to analyse both financial and non-financial data as well as portray ethical awareness to form conclusions and recommendations.
In terms of difficulty, the calculations involved are quite basic such as percentage change and there is minimal technical knowledge required. You will even already know roughly 40% of the exam that is going to come up. The remaining 60% is somewhat predictable too based on the case study information you are given.
If you are reading about the ICAEW Case Study for the first time, you are probably thinking “this is great!“. I know I was. However, hold your horses as you might start to smile slightly less as you continue to read on.
ICAEW Case Study Materials
The way the ICAEW Case Study works is that prior to the exam (roughly a month before I think it was) you should get sent the Advanced information (AI). This is 40-50 pages of information – it is everything we need to know about the client before the current financial year. Do not worry about researching the industry outside of the AI as there is plenty of information including prior year financial statements and a few news articles within this. My case study was during COVID-19 and there were not many extra marks available regarding this.
Using this AI, you can really get to know the fictional client. You should understand the history of the company, the products the client sells, the pricing, competitors, opportunities, etc. Furthermore, you can perform a SWOT analysis, PESTEL analysis and all sorts.
The surprise aspect of the ICAEW Case Study comes in the exam where you will get 10-15 pages of new information. However, this information is unlikely to be a total surprise as the AI will point towards this. For example, my ICAEW Case Study was about a magazine company. The AI mentioned the possibilities of exploring different consumer markets, different prices for magazines, a different type of magazine, etc. In the exam, out of all of these options price changes was one of the questions which came up so I was somewhat prepared.
The way I see it is that the AI is historical and the exam information is like meeting with your client for a new financial year and they update you on how it went. You will get the latest financial statements, hear of actual potential strategies and opportunities as well as get provided some newer news articles.
ICAEW Case Study Exam Format
Every ICAEW Case Study will have the same exam format as follows:
|Exam Percentage (%)|
|1||Executive Summary (ES)||15|
|2||Requirement 1 (R1) – Financial Statement Analysis||27.5|
|3||Requirement 2 (R2) – Evaluation of Proposal||27.5|
|4||Requirement 3 (R3) – Evaluation of Strategic Opportunity||27.5|
|Overall Assessment Criteria – Language, Structure and Style||2.5|
For more information regarding each of these key exam areas, see the tabs below. As this is a report, your ES and requirements will need to be numbered throughout. My ‘help sheet’ will assist with this.
This first thing to do before even reading the exam question is to start the executive summary. You will need to address the external report to the client from your accountancy firm as per the Case Study. Following this, you should also write a disclaimer regarding liability. Doing this will get you a tick in the overall assessment criteria and my ‘help sheet’ has this all set out.
The purpose of the ES is to provide a balanced summary of all the three requirements. If someone did not have the time to read your full report, they should be able to pull out all the key information from this executive summary. The ES is standard for any ICAEW Case Study exam and is part of the 40% where you know what will come up.
You cannot simply copy and paste the conclusions from your requirements otherwise you will not get any marks. This could also result in you failing, see below. The ES needs to be slightly more detailed than the conclusion.
The ES is on a separate tab in the ICAEW software to the requirements so there would be a fair bit of flicking back and forth between the tabs to do this properly. The way I went about doing this was copying each of my requirement answers into sticky notes/comments on the exam exhibits. I would then paste these into the ES, remove less important information and reword parts to ensure I gained marks.
Timing is key in this exam so I would recommend to avoid leaving the ES until the end. Write it up after each requirement when the points are fresh in your mind.
Requirement 1 is part of that 40% where you know what question will come up. There is a small part of this requirement that is unknown but using the case study you can form an educated guess for what might come up.
The first thing you will need to do for every requirement is to create an appendix. These will be fairly basic calculations using information from the exhibits. Requirement 1 is all around financial statement analysis, in particular financial performance.
You already have the financial statements for the year prior to the exam statements in the AI. This will be used for the YOY comparison which is essentially what this R1 appendix is. You will need to have a movement column (£) and a % change column.
The software can be a pain when it comes to this requirement. This is because once you have produced the appendix, you will need to discuss the movements in the year and explain why this has happened using information in the exhibits. Again, this is fairly predictable and you can for example prepare reasons for increase/decrease in revenue beforehand. However, given the software you would need to keep scrolling up and down to see the numbers.
This is why my ‘help sheets‘ are useful as one addresses this issue. See a preview below. I took this in with me printed out as part of my open book file. As I was populating the appendix in the software I was writing all the numbers out too. This prevents having to scroll constantly and if you practice, it will save you more time than it wastes.
The less obvious aspect of this requirement will relate to a proposed financial adjustment. For example, a stock write off, bad debt issue, to do with cash flow or more. Do not worry too much as the AI will hint towards the potential issues.
As stated in requirement 1, you will need to produce an appendix made of fairly straightforward calculations. This should be the calculations behind evaluating a potential strategy or opportunity. For me, this was the potential revenue for different magazine pricing strategies. This was somewhat predictable so I had practiced calculations beforehand.
The rest of requirement 2 tends to have the same structure:
- Is the strategy or opportunity is worthwhile given your numbers?
- The assumptions would then need to be assessed. There will be benchmarks given in the AI and in the exam which you can compare these assumptions to.
- Commercial and ethical considerations based on the exam information would be made. For example, does this strategy align with the client’s values as per the AI.
- Conclusions and recommendations would need to be made.
Always state “any changes in the assumptions will affect the results of the model” for any ICAEW case study – it is an easy, guaranteed mark!
The shortest appendix will be needed for this requirement. It should be a few simple calculations to assess a potential strategy or opportunity. In all honesty, sometimes the lines can get slightly blurred between what could come up in requirement 2 or requirement 3.
As with 2, requirement 3 has roughly the same structure from ICAEW Case Study to Case Study:
- Financial impact using these calculations
- Strategic and operational issues
- Business trust and ethical issues
- Conclusions and recommendations
The recommendations can be quite straightforward such as carrying out market research. If there is another company involved, carry out due diligence on them.
Within all requirements, wider business context points are required to be sprinkled in throughout. These can be gathered from the AI and prepared beforehand but then ensure to add them in where relevant.
Different ways to Fail the ICAEW Case Study Exam
This is probably the most horrible aspect of the ICAEW Case Study. Either this or the fact that it is 4 hours long. What surprised me is that you can still fail this exam even if you achieve the actual pass mark. Yes, you read that correctly. Even if you reach the 50% pass mark, you can be failed for any of the other reasons outlined below.
- As mentioned, achieving less than the 50% pass mark.
- For not having complete coverage of the requirements – for example, if you scored 100% on R1 and R2 but then 0% on R3 or have a missing ES this would be seen as an incomplete report and you will fail. This is why time management in this exam is crucial which I touch on later and the ‘help sheet’ should help with.
- Achieving less than 50% in each individual requirement and being deemed insufficiently competent often. Not only do you need 50% overall but you need to pretty much be passing each requirement. You really need to show you can produce a strong report here.
- Missing out parts of requirements across the ICAEW Case Study. If you score above 50% in all requirements but have missed out 4-5 skills assessment boxes, you will fail. There cannot be gaps in the report. A fail could also be for writing poor conclusions and recommendations throughout.
Essentially, the examiner wants to see that you can write a complete report properly. If you do not do as ICAEW say in this exam you will be punished and you will fail.
ICAEW Case Study Marking Key and Timings
I could honestly spend a very long time talking through the marking key. However, I do not want to get too bogged down with this in this blog. You will go through this in a LOT of detail once studying for this exam. I will therefore cover this at a high level. If you want further details about the ACA ICAEW Case Study marking key, click here where I have delved into this much more.
The main thing to know is that there are skilled assessment boxes (total of 40): ES (6); each of the three requirement (11); and one final box for the overall assessment criteria. The mark per each box is 0-6 so the maximum mark is 240 for this exam (40 x 6). Each box will have six points/’diamonds’ that need to be made. For example, one point/’diamond’ is stating revenue increased by x amount/(y %) based on the case study numbers. This will make more sense once you start studying for ICAEW Case Study.
|Points Made||Grade||Mark /6|
|0||Not attempted (NA)||0 marks|
|1||Insufficiently demonstrated (ID)||1 marks|
|2||Insufficiently competent (IC)||2 marks|
|3||Sufficiently competent (SC)||4 marks|
|4+||Clearly competent (CC)||6 marks|
From the table above you can see you do not benefit for hitting six points/’diamonds’ rather than four. You waste time but then it is difficult to know whether a point you make is in the skills assessment box or not. Through these boxes you demonstrate that you can: assimilate and use information; structure problems and solutions; apply judgement and form conclusions and recommendations.
You may be slightly confused as the marking key is unlike any others. There are no predetermined correct answers. In fact, only after assessing the first 100 say papers are the skills assessment boxes points/’diamonds’ put together. You need to write what everyone else writes so state the obvious and work together when preparing beforehand!
To briefly touch on timings, the ICAEW Case Study is four hours as mentioned. Believe it or not but it is very time pressured. There are many different ways to plan your time. I will share how I did it on one of my ‘help sheets’.
Make it Easy
This blog title is definitely not click bait. These ‘help sheets’ will definitely give you a good idea of how to approach the ICAEW Case Study.
In addition to this, people do say you cannot revise for this exam given there is no content. However, I do definitely think you can prepare and you will need to go through the AI beforehand. Like I said though, do not go overboard with this as the AI should have all the information you need. Find out exactly how much preparation is needed to pass here. You should also familiarise yourself with the ICAEW software beforehand.
Practice for this exam to master the technique and timing. You may be wondering how and you probably will not like the answer. I would recommend practicing mock exams, as in previous ICAEW Case Study exams. This is tough as sitting one four hour exam is bad enough. Additionally, you would have to read AI’s that are not relevant to your exam and it is a lot of work. It is worthwhile though to do a few!
Another way to practice is through ACA Simplified/Paradigm Shift. Once the AI is released, this company will use the AI to predict around 5 different exams for your case study. It is fairly expensive but if you do want to practice on your own case study it is worthwhile. You can take the mark schemes in with you too as it is open book so this can potentially help in the exam if a similar question comes up. I mentioned above that requirement 2 and 3 have simple calculations but these can actually sometimes be tricky depending on the case study. ACA Simplified can help with this.
And there you have it! This was a very lengthy blog so if you found this useful it would be great if you could leave a comment 🙂
I thought I would also throw in a video of my final ICAEW exam day (Case Study) in November 2020 – I am sure many of you can relate to these feelings!