Examiner's Approach Interview: P3 - Business AnalysisDocument Transcript
Examiner’s Approach Interview: P3 - Business Analysis
Interviewer: Welcome to the P3 Examiner’s Approach interview.
The following is an Examiner’s Approach interview for Paper P3,
The content of this interview has been prepared by the examiner,
working with the Qualifications team at ACCA, and is presented by
actors representing an interviewer and the examiner in discussion.
For more detail on the examiner’s approach, please see the article
produced by the examiner in the May 2007 archive edition of
The P3 examiner is Steve Skidmore. Steve is currently technical
director of an international training company. His background is in
training, management, business analysis, consultancy and systems
development. He was also formerly a principal lecturer at a UK
Steve is the author or co-author of several books on information
systems and information technology.
Interviewer: I suppose it would be most appropriate to start off by asking where
P3 fits within the overall structure of the ACCA Qualification.
Examiner: The Professional Level of the ACCA qualification syllabus is divided
into two modules – Essentials and Options, with Essentials coming
before Options. Both these modules have been set at an
intellectual level equivalent to that expected of a student taking a
The focus of the syllabus at the Professional level is to build upon
the technical skills already acquired, and to explore more advanced
professional techniques, skills and values which are required by
the expert accountant acting in an advisory or consultancy role at a
P3 is included as an Essentials paper. It is ‘essential’ that all
professional accountants have mastery of this subject before they
can qualify as ACCA members. P3 recognises that the accountant
may be involved in strategy development and strategy
implementation. They may also influence strategy or be asked to
evaluate its feasibility.
Interviewer: From what you have just said, P3 is connected to other papers
within the ACCA Qualification. What are the links with other
papers, or with other components?
Examiner: P3 develops much of the knowledge first examined in F1,
Accountant in Business, where an appreciation of business
strategy and environmental influences are introduced in the wider
business sense. The concept of IT and other information systems
are further developed, along with leadership, management and
In addition to developing on F1, P3 also draws upon Section E of
F7, Financial Reporting ‘Analysing and interpreting accounts’
where such capabilities may be drawn upon in the Section A case
study question, or could appear in a Section B question.
Some capabilities acquired in P1, Professional Accountant are also
applied in P3, for example in Section A6, such as the ethical
implications of business analysis, considerations for formulating
and implementing strategy, corporate responsibility, and for
managing change, including ethical aspects of people
Also, the knowledge and capabilities acquired in P3 may be
applied within P5, Advanced Performance Management, which
also examines the strategic aspects of organisational performance,
and managing and reviewing performance.
Finally, knowledge and capabilities acquired in P3 will be applied
in context within the Practical Experience Requirements. The
relevant Performance Objectives for this paper are Performance
Objectives 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Interviewer: What is the overall concept or theme for P3 as a paper?
Examiner: P3 is a paper which is mainly about analysing a business; where it
is currently, where it needs to be in the future and how to get it
there. The term ‘business’ here is not restricted to the private
sector. Scenarios will include public sector organisations and
organisations in the ‘not for profit sector’. Note that the term
‘business analyst’ and the employment of business analysts is
common in both of these sectors.
P3 is based primarily on the idea that business analysts should be
able to assess the strategic position of the organisation, evaluate
strategic choices available to it and then determine and implement
appropriate strategic action. By this I mean that accountants as
business analysts could get involved not only in the strategic
planning process but are also likely to be responsible for
implementing strategy across the business, or within a business
area or department.
This means that they will need to understand business process
change and how IT systems support this, through effective project
and people management, using appropriate financial analysis and
P3 is concerned, therefore, with both strategy formulation and
The following quote sums up this idea.
‘Strategy without implementation is the slowest route to victory.
Implementation without strategy is the noise before defeat.’
This quote explains that both strategy and implementation should
go together and that managing a business without the effective
management of both is the road to failure. It must be stressed,
however, that strategy is not always a top-down process as in the
Johnson, Scholes and Wittington ‘design-lens’ model. Strategy may
also emerge from business process or IT development, during an
operational change management phase. Therefore this quote
merely confirms that although strategy development can be both
‘top-down’ and ‘middle-up’, successful strategy depends on doing
both not trying to achieve one without the other.
Interviewer: What are the other broad themes which run through the syllabus?
Examiner: Well, P3 is essentially about strategy formulation and its
implementation. However within this broad concept are the
Theme 1 is strategy. Here, the syllabus explores how businesses
undertake strategy planning from assessing their position to
evaluating choices and determining action.
Theme 2 is business process where the accountant as implementer
of strategy must manage business process change, at the relevant
levels, to support the strategic plan. In some cases the accountant
may influence strategy from the middle levels of the organisation,
through the management of the change process or through systems
Theme 3 is how the accountant needs to harness information
technology, knowledge management and to make effective use of
project management to manage business process change
Theme 4 recognises that the management of quality control and
other issues should underpin all aspects of strategic planning and
Finally, theme 5 is the recognition that strategy formulation or
implementation cannot be delivered effectively without adequate
resources. In other words, it is necessary to deploy and motivate
people properly, evaluate financial implications or constraints and
to recognise that resource constraints can often influence the
strategic choices available to an organisation.
Interviewer: The syllabus for P3 is structured into 9 main sections. Can you
briefly explain the main content of these syllabus sections?
Examiner: The first three syllabus sections are about strategic planning and
very much follow the areas as covered in the 3.5 paper of the old
ACCA Professional Scheme. Please note that in syllabus breadth,
these three sections cover almost half the syllabus. They cover
assessing strategic position, evaluating strategic choices, and
determining strategic action. These sections include all the main
strategic planning models such as SWOT, PESTEL, Porters
Diamond and the Ansoff matrix and so on, but also require the
student to learn about marketing, particularly e-marketing. They
also require the student to understand a variety of ways of
achieving competitive advantage.
Section D is about business process change and process re-design.
This includes considerations around the appraisal of change
initiatives using such models as Harmon’s process-strategy matrix,
and being aware of the implications of such strategies as
outsourcing, including evaluation of software solutions.
Section E focuses on how IT can support strategy, mainly around
e-business applications, both up and downstream.
Section F covers quality issues including quality assurance and
quality management systems.
Section G covers project management as a vehicle for strategy
implementation, including project initiation and the assessment
and management of risk.
Section H is about financial analysis as it relates to evaluating
strategic choices and in determining and implementing strategy.
And finally, Section I deals with people and how the successful
delivery of strategic objectives requires effective leadership. It is
also reliant on the management of performance through
formulating appropriate job design, reward management systems
and staff development programmes.
Interviewer: Thank you for explaining the main content of the syllabus for us.
What can you tell us about how the exam itself is structured?
Examiner: First of all it is worth noting that as P3 is an Essentials paper, all
students must sit this exam.
As with all papers at the Professional level, the writing time for this
exam is three hours. All ACCA three hour papers have been
allocated an additional 15 minutes reading and planning time,
within which students can read the paper, understand the
requirements and choose which questions to answer. An article
explaining how this time should be productively used has been
published in the student accountant magazine in the August 2007
edition which can be seen on the website.
Interviewer: What exactly can students do in reading and planning time?
Examiner: They can make notes and plan answers. This may only be done
on the question paper and not on the answer booklet. The answer
booklet cannot be used until the exam begins.
Interviewer: What kind of questions will appear in the exam?
Examiner: As P3 is a discursive paper, students will need to be able to
understand, analyse and evaluate textual, quantitative and
financial information and to write professional reports. The
requirement, at this level of the syllabus, is for students to be able
to use information from case and scenario information and to apply
professional judgement in their approach to answering the
question, drawing valid conclusions and making appropriate
recommendations where necessary.
Interviewer: Can you tell us how many questions there are in the exam and
what choice, if any, exists?
Examiner: As can be seen here, the exam is divided into two sections, A and
Section A of P3 will contain one 50 mark case study question, in a
number of parts. This question can potentially assess any area
across the syllabus, and may typically assess capabilities from
several sections. These are Sections A, B and C, and Section H –
Section B contains three 25 mark questions, which are usually
shorter scenarios divided into two or three parts. Each Section B
question will normally assess one discrete section of the P3
syllabus, but could in some situations draw from more than one
The student must answer two from three questions from Section B.
For more information about the exam itself and how it is
structured, there are past papers to refer to, which can be found on
the ACCA website.
Interviewer: What would you say the key features are of the P3 Exam?
Examiner: As I explained, the exam revolves around setting a substantial case
study in Section A essentially to examine the first three syllabus
sections on strategy position, choice and action. This case study
will concern global – and globally understood – industries,
including some quantitative information, which will need to be
analysed as part of the requirements. Section B will usually assess
a discrete subject area from one of the other syllabus sections.
These are likely to be shorter scenarios than in Section A, but will
still require students to analyse and evaluate verbal information.
Interviewer: How should students deal with a requirement that asks the
candidate to do something AND something else?
Examiner: In P3 where some questions ask the candidate to do more than
one thing under the one requirement, the candidate would
normally have to use judgement to decide how much effort to
devote to each aspect, based on cognitive difficulty, for example
describe is usually easier than assess. However, in the P3 paper
there will usually be a 50/50 split in the marks awarded in such
cases or markers will be asked to exercise quite a lot of flexibility in
awarding the marks in this situation.
Interviewer: What are professional marks?
Examiner: Between 4 and 6 professional marks will be awarded within
Section A for the form and tone of an answer, for its structure and
for the strength and persuasiveness of arguments put forward.
There is an article which was published in the October 2007
edition of student accountant explaining what professional marks
are awarded for. This article will give more information on the
awarding of these marks.
Interviewer: And how does the exam assess Ethics?
Examiner: Ethics may be examined somewhere in this paper within a
business or accounting context, where an ethical dimension
connected with strategic planning or implementation may need to
be explored. There is also an article on how this is assessed in the
September 2007 edition of student accountant.
Interviewer: What advice would you give about revising effectively for, and
Examiner: I would recommend that the key strategy to adopt in the revision
phase is to closely revise from the relevant Official Study Text
supported by references to Exploring Corporate Strategy by
Johnson, Scholes and Whittington. Sections A, B and C of the
syllabus have been largely based on this text. This strategy should,
however, be supported by practicing questions from past papers,
and of course from the pilot paper.
Other key tactics to focus on, are developing a good knowledge of
global industries in both the private and public sector and gaining
awareness of the strategic approaches such organisations take. It is
a very good idea for tuition providers and their students to keep
abreast of business developments by reading the business press;
particularly about real-life case studies such as the airline model
used in the first examination. Candidates don’t have to be experts
in these global businesses, but some appreciation of the main
types of global industries and how they operate will be useful,
including broad trends and developments within them.
Students need to be comfortable with the application of models or
theories to scenarios. They should be looking for ways to explore
these (named) models within the information included, including
any quantitative and financial information which may need to be
analysed. Remember, few marks will be available for describing a
strategic model such as PESTEL, for example, unless it is applied
to some specific case or scenario information.
Other tactics to adopt are to ensure that students study across the
syllabus and avoid concentrating on one section or sections to the
exclusion of other areas.
Interviewer: What would your three main examination tips be?
Examiner: My first tip is to ensure that you practice thoroughly by tackling
exam style questions from the text books, from the pilot paper and
P3 past questions as the archive develops. There is no substitute
for working through such questions including relevant ones from
the old paper 3.5, and possibly the odd question from the old 3.4
from the exam resources archive. Students should pay particular
attention to highlighting what they think are the relevant pieces of
information using a marker or highlighter pen. It is then possible
to use that information to help to make points and to support
Note that published answers to questions may not include some
other valid approaches to answering past paper questions, or all
the valid points that could be made by candidates.
My second tip is to manage and allocate time effectively in the
exam itself. I suggest that students should take approximately 25
minutes to read Q1 and make notes. They should then allow 70
minutes to answer that question. In Section B I would recommend
allocating 10 minutes to reading and deciding which question to
answer, and then 35 minutes per question for writing time.
My third tip is to make sure that students strictly apply any
information, including making use of any financial information or
other data provided, in a relevant way, according to the precise
requirements of the question.
Interviewer: What do you believe to be the main potential pitfalls in preparing
for, and taking, the P3 exam?
Examiner: Well at the moment we only have one sitting to go on. However,
three main pitfalls emerged from that sitting:
The first pitfall is a general lack of preparedness for the exam by
many candidates. In December 2007, students hadn’t adequately
prepared for project management, and were unprepared to discuss
quality aspects sufficiently such as Six Sigma in Q4(b).
The second main pitfall is poor time allocation within questions,
and answering some questions too comprehensively such as in Q1
a) and b) in the December 2007 exam. Remember that only one
mark can be awarded per relevant point and no more marks can be
awarded than are available for any single part of a question.
The third main pitfall is poor or inadequate use of data. Many
candidates either fail to use data given in the scenario, such as
financial information, to answer the questions, or they take a
scattergun approach to answering certain questions through the
indiscriminate use of models or theories that they are aware of, in
a complicated and unapplied fashion.
Interviewer: It is clearly important to follow the above tips and avoid any
common pitfalls in exam revision and performance. What further
information about student performance would you give which
might help students prepare for exams?
Examiner: After each examination session, all ACCA examiners are required to
produce an exam report. These reports highlight key issues arising
in the last exam and focus on where students performed
particularly well or badly. These are published in February and
August and can be found under paper resources for each paper
which can be accessed through the website.
In addition, after each exam session has been completed, the exam
review board meets. This is a board consisting of ACCA internal
Education staff and six representative members of the approved
learning partner community. Minutes from this board summarise
the comments made by tuition provider representatives, report
survey results about the exams from student questionnaires and
detail the responses. Again, the minutes from the exam review
board are available on the website.
Interviewer: And finally, what would be your concluding advice about the P3
Examiner: Firstly, students must always read the question as carefully as they
can; identifying clearly the instructional verbs contained within
Second, it is important to properly understand the requirements,
assessing how much the examiner is really looking for in each
question part. Students should also be fully aware of the marks
available for each requirement.
And finally, don’t forget that answers given should relate to the
question actually asked, not the one that a candidate would have
liked to answer!
Interviewer: Thank you very much for sharing your insight into this exam paper.
I’m sure it has given students and tutors lots of useful information.
Examiner: Thank you.