The ACA Case Study was an exam I had not heard much about in detail before my time came to prepare for the exam. I was always one to book annual leave to ensure I had enough time to revise for the exams, especially as I would sit three at a time. When asking my work friends how much time I would need to book off for the ACA Case Study exam they would state only a day or two. As a lot of the exam is skills based and dependant on the real exam itself, it is difficult to know whether you have done enough preparation. I therefore thought I would write this blog to hopefully help.
Advanced Information (AI)
The AI is provided six weeks before the ACA Case Study exam. When the AI was released, I of course took a look to see what industry the business was in. For me, it was Beal the magazine company. As expected, I then read the whole AI when I had more time and went through, very slowly, with the highlighter.
Here is a checklist I have pulled together for what information you need to ensure to pull out of the AI:
- Details of who the report will be from so you can form your disclaimer – join my journey for a draft disclaimer included on the overall timing sheet with a draft structure for the report too
- Benchmarks/targets/key performance indicators (KPIs) for Requirement 1 – this will give you quick and easy marks in the real exam if you state whether these have been met or not
- The relevant PY figures from the AI for Requirement 1 – join my journey to receive how I laid this out and set it up for my Case Study as well as a blank template for your own that you can populate and copy in your exam
- For Requirement 2 and 3 you will need to pull out assumptions and these will come from the AI. The AI should also help you with the calculations for these. For my case study, I was able to pull out at least a page of assumptions from the AI!
- Business issues and wider context that you can put into any of the exam requirements such as whether the industry is competitive
- The ethics marks you should be able to easily identify these from the articles at the end of the AI
Past ACA Case Study Mock Exams
Something to consider is whether you need to practise past ACA Case Study mock exams. Now, I studied with Kaplan who really did not focus on the real potential exam much at all to begin with. Even when the AI was out, we would still be going through past paper exams. This was very frustrating at the time but in hindsight, it was definitely beneficial.
We actually ended up going through four ACA Case Study mock exams both in class and as homework and then ran through the real AI and two mocks for this too. Given each mock exam is four hours long, this was definitely not fun. However, timing is KEY with this exam and it is very important to nail timing. If you mess up your timings, leading to an incomplete report as a result, this could result in failure. If you need help with timings, join my journey to receive my timings sheet.
I would therefore strongly recommend practising at least a couple of ACA Case Study mock exams. Not only will it help ensure you are able to stay on top of your timings but another plus is that it does really help you to understand the mark scheme. The more you practise, the more you start to figure out where the marks/”diamonds” come from and how the mark scheme actually works. For example, knowing which figures are in bold and are needed or how conclusions and the Executive Summary needs to be written.
If you have joined my journey, you should also have been sent some blank planning sheets. These were very helpful when I was studying for the ACA Case Study so I thought I would share these. I only really went into detail on this planning sheet for Requirement 1. This requirement is quite predictable based on the AI in the sense that you should be able to grasp whether the areas of interest are revenue, gross profit and operating profit for example.
What is nice is that the AI purposely gives you three years of management accounts. The AI actually gives example analysis of the year-on-year movements too where they use a range of different numbers and movements. This should help you to prepare for Requirement 1 so you can get an idea of what kind of analysis comments, such as revenue mix, may score a “diamond”. However, a lot of this information and the marks are in the real exam so make sure to pull all of this information into your answers.
I thought it would be helpful if I showed you my Requirement 1 planning sheet for Beal so you can get the gist of how I did this:
Essentially for the Requirement 1 planning sheet I would draft it out similarly to how I have done. Include PY comparison figures so you have these to hand such as PY revenue growth or revenue mix. Also ensure to include business issues and wider context points and recommendations. If your AI mentions any benchmarks/targets/KPIs I would note to comment on whether they were met. Additionally, if there are any bank loan covenants to comment on a breach based on overdraft, note this down. A draft conclusion can also be made based on past mark schemes.
In college we did go through and do a few more planning sheets to Requirement 2 and 3 but I did not really use these given the reduction in predictability. It looks like I have more sheets stapled to the Requirement 1 sheet photographed. However, there are all actually blank (sorry to disappoint). I pulled this together myself but it may be worth going through this with a friend or study buddy. This may speed up time and it does help with this exam if you all write the same!
How Much Preparation is Actually Needed?
It does actually sound like I did a LOT of preparation for the ACA Case Study exam. Looking back, I guess I actually did. Here is a list of points that I think you must do:
- Read the AI and pull out everything I have said above!
- Practise a couple of past mock exams to time so you can nail timings and understand the mark scheme – depending on how well you do, you may need more practise.
- Draft a table with the PY figures for Appendix 1 so you can copy this out into the exam and get started almost straight away
- Practise a mock exam based on your AI. Hopefully you are with a training provider so you have access to this or see the next section for an alternative
Anything else on top of this is just an added bonus, such as the next section of this blog. The Requirement 1 planning sheet is not a must do but it really is worthwhile if you do have the time. You could also draft some standard recommendations for Requirement 2 or 3. I have included a photo of a some I had made below for Beal.
Given the above bullet points, I think you should not need to spend more than a few days on preparing for the ACA Case Study exam outside of college. It is very skills based in terms of how you structure and write your report. Many of the marks are going to be in the real exam so through practise, you should get better at knowing how to pull this out and where to include it in your report.
ACA Simplified/Paradigm Shift Mock Exams
Many of you have probably heard of the ACA Simplified or newly named Paradigm Shift ACA Case Study mock exam pack. I did actually get these for my ACA Case Study exam, where I was given five mock exams. It definitely was not needed to pass but I do think it helped. I did not practise any of these but did read through the mark schemes, understood the calculation workings and took these into the exam with me. Given there are so many mocks, I made a quick reference guide for each mock so I could easily identify the relevant mock.
The reason I wanted the mocks is because I found for my case study Beal that the Requirement 2 and 3 calculations were quite difficult. In all honesty, even though I love Maths and know I am good at it, I did always find these tricky. These mock exams give examples of potential calculations that could come up as well as model appendices to address these. The mocks were therefore helpful in this sense.
How Similar are these Mocks to the Real Exam?
The mocks were actually quite similar to the real exam in terms of the scenarios that came up. Such as an increase in the magazine price for one of the requirements. I was able to apply how the calculation was done in the mocks to the real exam. This is likely to be the case given the AI indicates a limited number of potential scenarios and I was given five mocks.
You do need to bear in mind that many of the marks/”diamonds” for the real exam will be based on the information given in the real exam. This of course cannot be predicted and so you cannot just copy the mock answers. The same exam will never come up so application is required and given the time pressure, you do need to know what you are doing. That being said, you can probably copy the business issues and wider context points.
If you have other Advanced Level exams to revise for, try not to get too carried away with the ACA Case Study. SBM also helps with Requirement 1 as there is an overlap with the performance analysis.
I hope this helps and good luck!