Four blogs into the ACA Case Study and you might just start to think that I am slightly obsessed with this exam. The ACA Case Study is so different to any other of the 15 ACA exams that I feel there is so much to discuss for this exam. I was not planning to go into detail about the Case Study marking key. However, I have recently realised many who are independently studying or who are taught by different providers may not have all these details or the same level of understanding. In order to pass the ACA Case Study, you do really need to understand how it is marked. Today this is exactly what I will delve into.

You may also want to refer to the other three ICAEW ACA Case Study blogs: ICAEW Case Study Made EasyICAEW Software Testing and How Much Preparation is Enough?.

If you are unaware of the exam structure for the ACA Case Study exam, I would recommend reading the Made Easy blog before reading details about the Case Study marking key. You essentially need to know the report you are required to produce is split into an executive summary and three equally weighted requirements.

ACA Case Study Marking Key Terms

This will overlap with the ICAEW Case Study Made Easy blog where I have briefly touched on the marking key. The ACA Case Study marking key can be explained using the following terms: “boxes” and “diamonds“, where boxes are skills assessment boxes (SABs). The meaning of these will get clearer as we go on but to give a quick explanation, the Case Study marking key is split into 40 boxes:

  • The executive summary has 6 boxes (2 for each requirement)
  • Each requirement (r1, r2 and r3) has 11 boxes
  • There is one final box for the overall assessment criteria
ICAEW ACA Case Study marking key diamonds

Within each box, there are diamonds/bullet points that you need to hit to get marks. The maximum mark for each box is 6 marks. Each box will have up to six “diamonds” that are up for grabs from your answer. For example, one diamond could be met by stating revenue increased by x amount/(y %) based on the case study numbers. This will make more sense once you start looking at mock exams for the ICAEW ACA Case Study.

Maximum Marks and Marking

The Case Study marking key is not completely straight forward. It is not one mark per one diamond. Here is how it works:

Number of DiamondsGradeMark /6
0Not attempted (NA)0 marks
1Insufficiently demonstrated (ID)1 marks
2Insufficiently competent (IC)2 marks
3Sufficiently competent (SC)4 marks
4+Clearly competent (CC)6 marks

From the table above you can see you do not benefit from getting more than four diamonds as you will be capped at 6 marks. You may be in fact wasting time and time is definitely of the essence in the ACA Case Study even if it is 4 hours. However, it is difficult to know whether a point you make is a valid diamond or not so it is perhaps best to aim for 5 diamonds at most in each box of the Case Study marking key. 

aca case study marking key diamond catcher

What makes the ACA Case Study very different from the other exams is that there are no predetermined correct answers. I have been told only after assessing the first say 100 papers are the diamonds and the marking key put together. You need to write what everyone else writes so state the obvious and work together when preparing beforehand! This ACA Advanced Level Telegram group (essentially WhatsApp without phone numbers) where you can connect with other students may help.

The maximum marks for the ACA Case Study is 240 marks. Remember, there are 40 boxes and the maximum mark is 6 per box. You may think as the ICAEW ACA Case study exam is 50% to pass, you just need 120 marks to pass. Again, the Case Study really is not that straightforward. 120 marks across the whole paper will not cut it. You actually need 50% in each requirement (including the executive summary) to pass. Getting 66 marks in requirement 1 but 20 marks in requirement 3 is a no go. However, this is not the only way to fail the ACA Case Study…

Different Ways to Fail the ICAEW ACA Case Study

The below ways to fail which I will touch upon are less black and white than the 50% in each requirement criteria. This is a very grey area and is not nice for anybody in this position. I have come across candidates who have achieved 50% in each requirement and still failed. Below outline the other potential reasons why one could fail the ACA Case Study exam:

icaew case study ways to fail
  1. As mentioned, achieving less than the overall 50% pass mark.
  2. Achieving less than 50% in each individual requirement and being deemed incompetent often. You really need to show you can produce a strong report to be on the safe side. In each requirement, you should ideally be getting over 50% competent grades (CC or SC) which means six or more boxes. Five SCs (30 marks) and the remaining ID/IC grades (6 marks) would get you above 50% in the requirement (33 marks) but may not be enough to pass.
  3. Missing out parts of the report. If you score above 50% in all requirements but have missed out 4-5 skills assessment boxes, you are likely to fail. There cannot be gaps in the report. A fail could also be for writing poor conclusions and recommendations throughout.
  4. This exam is all about balance. If you have too many NA and ID grades, this could also be a factor of failure.

Essentially, the examiner wants to see that you can write a complete and balanced report. If you do not do as ICAEW say in this exam you will be punished and you will fail. This really is a grey area, especially as for those marginal scripts there is re-moderation to decide which scripts pass and which fail. It does seem quite harsh as surely getting 50% would be enough but examiners will only want to pass a good quality report. Further marking details can be found here from ICAEW and is definitely worth a read.

ACA Case Study Marking Key

Overall Assessment Criteria

This one box will look as follows (imagine the dashes are diamonds):

0.ES.OAC Layout, disclaimer and language
– Appropriate layout e.g. headings, paragraphs and sentences
– Appropriate disclaimer of liability and report from firm
– Suitable language e.g. formal, tactful, ethical
– Reasonable spelling or grammar

If you meet all four diamonds, you will show you are clearly competent and should get 6 marks.

Executive Summary (ES)

The executive summary is essentially meant to summarise each of the three requirements and provide the conclusion and recommendations. It is at the start of the report so if somebody did not have time to read the full report, they would be able to understand exactly what is covered by reading the ES. The Case Study marking key for the ES is as follows. Note this is very generic and may differ case study to case study:

Review of Financial Performance Evaluation of [Proposal] Evaluation of [Strategic Opportunity]
– Revenue (£, %)
– Gross Profit (£, %)
– Operating Profit (£, %)
– Adjustment/other issue
– Figures (e.g. profit) of the [proposal] £
– [Second proposal] or assumptions
– Assumptions
– Key ethical issue
– Figures for [opportunity] £
– Financial issues
– Strategic issues
– Operational issues
– Key issue
– Key issue
– Recommendation
– Other/Commercial recommendations
– Key business/strategic/operational issue
– Concludes on way forward
– Recommendation
– Other commercial recommendations
– Key ethical issue
– Concludes on way forward
– Recommendation
– Other commercial recommendations

ICAEW in recent years have been very clear that you cannot simply copy and paste the report into the executive summary. The two must differ otherwise you will not score any marks and this could result in failure! Spot the difference below…

aca case study mark scheme executive summary

Requirements – Generic ACA Case Study Marking Key

I will keep this much more generic and do all three requirements in one. Through these boxes you will need to demonstrate that you can: assimilate and use information; structure problems and solutions; apply judgement and form conclusions and recommendations.

Assimilating and Using Information (AUI)Structuring Problems and Solutions (SPS)Applying Judgement (AJ)Conclusions and Recommendations

Appendix: Content and style – a well presented table that is clearly labelled and easy to follow will get you a diamond
0.R1.SP1 Revenue

0.R2.SP1 Figures of [proposal]

0.R3.SP1 Financial issues
0.R1.AJ1 Revenue – so what… e.g. revenue mix with comparative figures

0.R2/3.AJ1 so what…
Conclusions with figures

Concluding on the way forward on R2/3 should get you a diamond

Appendix: Calculations with exact figures (can be stated in the appendix or report)
0.R1.SP2 Gross profit/OP
0.R2.SP2 [second proposal] or assumptions
0.R3.SP2 Strategic/operational issues
0.R1.AJ2 Gross profit/OP – so what… e.g. costs rising faster than revenue

0.R2/3.AJ2 so what…
Recommendations (aim for at least 5)

Any sensible recommendation will get you a diamond

Business issues and wider context
0.R1.SP3 Adjustment/other issue
0.R2.SP3 Assumptions/ethical issue
0.R3.SP3 Ethical/business trust issues
0.R1.AJ3 Adjustment/other issue – so what…

0.R2/3.AJ3 so what…

If you have not started any mocks yet, this may all look like gibberish to you. Trust me on this one, once you have been through a mock or so, you will be very grateful for the above tables. For the requirements, you essentially get two boxes for the appendices, two for each of the sub-requirements stated in the question and then two for the conclusions and recommendations. Keeping this in mind when you write your report is crucial to doing well.

Marking Yourself

If your ACA Case Study is marked by somebody else, I would highly recommend going through this yourself afterwards. This will really help you to understand what kind of points scores diamonds and which do not. You can also see where you are perhaps going overboard or not writing enough.

finance tracking spreadsheet bad

What I think is very beneficial about going through the Case Study marking key is that you will spot where things are in bold. You may have noticed this above. If “and figures” is written in bold, it means you cannot get the diamond without any numbers. Where I slipped up initially is that I was not including figures or sometimes comparative figures that were needed. You also sometimes must write the £ and % change to get a diamond. It really is worth going through this to maximise your diamond potential.


Hopefully this blog has stressed to you the importance of timings. If you get too many NA boxes, you are likely to fail. This means you cannot just miss areas out and move on but you do need to do it all. If you want help with your timings as well as planning sheets and help with requirement 1’s appendix, join my journey. I will be sending these out to you for free within a few days of joining.

join jags journey

ACA Case Study Wrap Up

Understanding the Case Study marking key is essential to do well in this exam. I can recall going through this for a full morning in college to make sure we really understood the marking key. If you do not have a solid understanding of this, as well as the different ways to fail, you may just do so. Hopefully this blog has been insightful and helped in some way. I would even suggest taking those generic marking keys into the exam with you so you do not miss anything out.

Good luck!


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