Book Nowbook-now


arrow-small-back Back to blog

Pass exams first time

 In short, the focus was predominantly on CIMA explaining how pass rates haven’t been affected that much since the introduction of the new exams, some technical explanations about how the ICS pass mark, marking and scaling process works,  insight into competencies and a ‘job application’ approach to ICS exams.  Some handy exam technique tips that we’ve mentioned at IBTC Open Days before were recapped. View the presentations here: IBTCSA

Pass rate analysis

 Twenty-five thousand exams have been taken to date. That supplied CIMA with enough statistical data to have some insight into pass rates. A table of pass rates was provided, showing progression rate, first-time pass rate and exam pass rate. All-in-all it was found that pass rates were comparable to the May 2010 sitting, which was also the first sitting of a new syllabus. Having said that, the pass mark for P3 and F3 was lowered after a review, as the exams were found to have been too difficult. 

Q: Is the pass mark 70%? A: ‘It depends …’

Each exam has its own pass mark. If the exam was very hard, the pass mark might be 68%. The pass mark is determined by the combined difficulty of the questions making up the exam. So “just prepare as if the exam pass mark is 70%”, was advised by CIMA.

 A simple ‘spelling test’ example may illustrate why a set pass rate is tricky in an exam variant situation: 
     If George scored 18/20 for a spelling test and Barney scored 17/20, who
     performed better? Surely it’s George. But what if George spelled words like ‘cat,
     hat, and mat’ and Barney spelled ‘laboratory, investigate and supplement’? Did
     George still outperform Barney? Think not. 
So due to the variant papers, the pass mark per exam may differ. It’s a complicated explanation involving scaling and curve bells, which appear to be statistically sound but is open for interrogation. 
General comments from the attendees expressed unhappiness with not getting a % when you fail. How do you know how far off the mark you were? Well, you won’t. 

General ‘pass first time’ tips were given, such as:

  • Study not just to answer the multiple choice questions, but to understand, because you are going to need it for the case study. 
  • Just doing a lot of questions as a way of learning the content? Well, that won’t work. Question practice is to test your knowledge, not to teach you the content.
  • CIMA suggested that you use the additional CIMA tests available online for more questions practice. (Note that this is not free. There was general student dismay at having to pay CIMA for practice questions, after they have just increased the exam fees.)
  • Some general OT exam technique was offered, such as skip questions that require you to select ‘all that apply’ and require calculations or involve numbers. Do the easy ones first.
  • Don’t follow the 1,5min per question formula, because some questions are harder than others and may need up to 3 min, while others can be done in 15 seconds. 
  • Make sure you use the review screen and flag functionality correctly. When you select ‘next’ at the end of Question 60, the Review Screen will appear, which shows you which questions have been flagged or are still incomplete. You may not have left any incomplete intentionally but it will tell you if you did not select the right amount of options or if you didn’t enter your answer correctly. Very helpful if you accidentally missed it during the exam.

Integrated Case Study (ICS)

The single biggest error made in the ICS exams is when students use the answer as a dumping ground for their knowledge. Students give theory knowledge in their answer without relating it back to the case study. 
WRONG: “ABC is a costing model that …
RIGHT: “We have a range of products (name them) which use the resources to different degrees, so we need a system that fairly allocates …”
Competencies: Note that the CS exam does not set out to have equal coverage of the underlying subjects. It sets out to have equal coverage (at least at Strategic Level) of the competencies.
CS tasks are set around the competencies required. One question might be set to test a technical skill and a people skill. So make sure you are familiar with the competencies required before you start studying. 
Calculations: You will not be required to do any specific calculations. You may use calculations in your answer and we even suggest that you do some ratios to illustrate a point you like to make, but the requirement won’t be to do a calculation.  [We suggest that you pull out some figures and do some ratio’s to illustrate your point. IBTC]
Integration: Students must demonstrate a minimum threshold in all 4 competencies plus integration. Nobody thus far has done well in the exam and then failed because of poor integration. Any well-constructed answer will have good integration, as per Peter Stuart from CIMA.
The strategy CS comes predominantly from E3, the management CS from P2 and operational CS from P1.


Examiners consider your script from a ‘Would we employ this candidate in this position (the role of the persona relevant to each level) based on this script.’ Consider your script to be a job application. And consider the pre-seen case study as reading up on the company prior to your interview. It comes down to a pass/fail decision. The examiners ask “would you employ this person based on this script? ’It was recommended that you spend 10 min on answer planning when you have a 45 minute answer.

Grade/score/feedback: A lengthy explanation was given of the grade, score and feedback, which was very technical and appears sounds. But it’s so technical that it still creates a lot of confusion amongst students.  So, what does ‘moderate’ mean? Well, it means you’ve either failed or passed that competence. And ‘cut score’? It’s too technical to explain here, so if this really interests you, we suggest that you fully investigate it, as it’s a very interesting topic, but in our opinion won’t help you as much as studying to pass your upcoming exam.
Exam centers: Students raised issues experienced at some exam centers. Most issues seem to relate to connectivity issues and lack of Pearson Vue and CIMA support. Students requested that CIMA ensures that all exam centers are up to standard and that there is proper Pearson Vue and CIMA support in place. 


That’s it. We hope it was useful and insightful. Please note that this document was created from the rough, hand-written notes from some of our IBTC delegates present in the sessions. We can’t guarantee that it’s accurate, unbiased or helpful and invoke all appropriate disclaimers to protect ourselves.


Comment on this post