ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide
ACCA SBR Examiners’ Guide

The first thing to remember about ACCA SBR is that it is a Professional exam. What is ultimately being examined is your fitness for a professional role. You are being asked to put yourself in the position you will one day occupy, so answer not as a student, but as an accountant reporting to stakeholders.

To be successful in the ACCA SBR exam it’s important to understand what the examiners expect to see included in your answers. This is vital to score high marks as there may be a big difference between what you consider to be a good answer and what the examiner is looking for.

This guide summarises the key issues that examiners have highlighted in recent reports. In particular it identifies the areas where students have performed poorly and where future students need to give more focus. We strongly recommend that you don’t ignore this information as it comes from the people who will decide whether you pass or fail!

Find the full list of Examiners’ Reports on the ACCA website here: ACCA SBR Examiners’ Reports


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1.   Dedicate time to preparation

The first thing you need to know about ACCA SBR is that it is a real step up in terms of what is expected of the student. This requires students to devote a lot of time to revision in preparation for their exam, including using a wide range of resource such as Study Texts and past exam papers.

Here are some of the key points the examiners have made about preparation:

“A well-prepared candidate would have reviewed relevant websites including those of the standard setters (IASB), the profession, and ACCA to maintain their knowledge and keep up to date with topical issues (it is normal for this exam to contain one question focusing on a topical issue, and this exam was no exception).” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“Practice of past exam questions and exam-standard questions under timed conditions will better prepare candidates for allocating their time in the exam.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide

So, as you can see the examiners are expecting you to put in a significant amount of time and effort in preparation for the exam. It is very unlikely that you will be successful through last minute revision. Don’t take short cuts – ensure you have a thorough knowledge of the syllabus, look at external resources and test yourself with past exam papers.

At this stage you are expected to know how to do most of the core accounting techniques, so you are largely tested on your ability to go beyond this and really think like an accountant.

Don’t forget, the examiners also expect candidates to have a wider knowledge and understanding of the business and accounting world. Accounting is a profession that requires more than just book learning – business acumen is needed too.

2. Application to the scenario

Being able to do well in the exam does not only mean learning core syllabus topics but being able to apply this knowledge to the scenario within the question.

Students are expected to e specific details on the case within the question and comment using the relevant theory/knowledge to back up their points.

This is what examiners had to say about recent candidates’ performance in this area:

“This examination required candidates to display more than just a rote knowledge of accounting standards. Professional accountants are required to advise clients, and the Corporate Reporting examination tests the candidate’s ability to apply knowledge to a scenario: the ability to explain the correct accounting treatment, the principles that underpin the treatment, and the implications of this, in complex scenarios.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide

Remember, it is absolutely vital that you demonstrate to the examiner that you have linked the scenario into your answer. Don’t simply write down everything you know about the subject. It is far more important to refer only to the relevant theory and state specifically how it relates to the scenario.

The best way to get into the habit of doing this correctly is through practise. You should aim to complete at least 3 full past exam papers under examination conditions before your final exam in order to ensure you make these links effectively.

3. Full answer the scripts

Another key point raised by examiners is the issue of incomplete answer scripts. Obviously students will not get marks for parts of the questions that are not answered, so this can have a major impact on their performance in the exam.

“The first requirement was, generally, well-answered. The second was not; with a significant number of candidates not even attempting it.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – March 2016

“Several candidates did not even attempt to answer the part of the question dealing with the sale of the equity holding even though this knowledge is fundamental to IAS 21.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – December 2015

So, what are the common reasons for incomplete answers scripts?

ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide

1. Inability to identify the requirements of the question – to overcome this read the questions slowly at least twice and get into the habit of highlighting key words. This should make it obvious exactly what the question is asking you to do.

2. Poor time management – do not spend too much time on an early exam question resulting in rushed and incomplete answers towards the end. Divide your time up based on the number of marks awarded for each question and then ensure you allow enough time to fully answer every requirement. If it’s a subject you particularly like, don’t be tempted to spend too much of your time demonstrating your knowledge in this area and so end up neglecting other questions – move on!

3. Lack of knowledge – many candidates simply do not know the answers to the questions. There is no substitute for knowing the full syllabus in detail. Incomplete answers expose a lack of knowledge and lead to exam failure. Ensure your revision plan covers all areas of the syllabus.

4. Answer the question asked

A large number of comments in the examiners’ reports refer to the tendency of some candidates to misinterpret, misread or misunderstand what a question asks. Of course, some of these candidates simply do not know the answer to the question and so, in hope of salvaging some marks, they regurgitate information on a syllabus area they do know.

Other students, however, will not have properly understood the question before they dive into an answer. If you attempt to answer a question which is just slightly different from the one on which the marking guide is based, you can end up scoring no marks at all. Doing that just once in your exam could easily be the difference between passing and failing!

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide

“The question outlined that the business held retail outlets under operating leases, and weaker candidates spent considerable time explaining the differences between operating and finance leases, which was not relevant and earned no marks. Candidates must read the question carefully, and not jump into an answer.” ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

Get into the habit of highlighting the key words within a question. Doing this will make it apparent what the questions is asking you to do. It’s recommended that you closely look at the verb (E.g. “Explain”, “Discuss” or “Comment”) as this will give you a great indication of what the marker really wants from you.

In addition, make sure you that read the question slowly and read it through at least twice before answering the question so that you don’t miss a key requirement.

5. A deeper understanding is required

At this level in your studies you need to be able to demonstrate to the examiner an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

It is not enough to simply know the basics, the student needs to show to the examiner an understanding of the principles behind the accounting standards in order to achieve high marks.

Here’s what the examiners had to say:

“As in previous examinations, this examination required candidates to display more than just a rote knowledge of accounting standards.”

“The Corporate Reporting examination requires a deep understanding and knowledge of the Conceptual Framework, IFRSs and Code of Ethics. – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

ACCA SBR Free Examiners' Guide

“Questions at professional level will challenge the candidate to show this knowledge and then to apply it to a particular scenario, and this requires extensive preparation.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – September 2015

“Knowledge and understanding does not come quickly in this subject. It does not come through rote learning but through a deeper understanding of the subject matter. The subject lends it to a principles approach whereby the candidate understands the principles used in a range of accounting standards.” – ACCA SBR Examiner’s Report – June 2015

One final point to make then is that you should approach this exam almost like a philosophy student. You are being tested on your understanding of the core principles of accounting and this requires a sceptical and inquisitive approach.

You will not do well if you simply regurgitate accounting standards and practice. You need to ask questions about why there are accounting standards and how they function in the profession. Are they successful or are they a hindrance?

You will need to discuss the main issues surrounding a standard and then construct a rational argument around its application and use.

Make sure you are ready for this level of thinking. It is quite different to what you may have become used to!

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