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Are accountancy exams getting harder?

17th Sep 2012
Sports finance reporter
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Alex Miller asks tutors at BPP and LSBF whether accountancy exams have fallen prey to grade inflation, or have become harder in recent years.

Institute pass rates can be quite variable at paper level, but according to top colleges, there has been no significant overall increase or decrease in long-term averages to suggest that passing professional accounting exams have become harder or easier to pass than in days gone by.

What has changed over the last 15 to 20 years is that the number of exams students need to pass on their way to qualification has generally reduced slightly.

But Sue Hoof, CIMA programme director and head of the management accounting faculty at LSBF and a former ACCA tutor, says: “On the flipside, there is a very strong argument that says in the case of many current papers, the overall breadth of the syllabus has sufficiently widened to more than compensate.”

What has also changed over this 20-year time period is the amount of flexibility that is now built in to the progression rules governing how a student can plot a path through the exam matrix.

In the 1990s, CIMA students, for example, had to pass a ‘level’ at a time, made up of four papers; failing just one of them could lead to having to resit the whole level.

BPP programme leader Steve Malpass, says: “Nowadays, all the institutes allow students to sit a single paper at a time (in the vast majority of cases) with only the occasional rule to follow in terms of moving from one level to another.”

Another key change is the move towards computer-based assessment (CBA) and the introduction of what are effectively “exams on demand”. These again offer significantly more flexibility for students, allowing them to sit an exam when they want to (and you would assume, when they are ready for it).  

As well as being offered almost across the board for entry-level papers, in CIMA the final Test of Professional Competence (T4) exam is now predominantly sat on a PC, with students submitting a comprehensive business report in Word, with appendices in Excel and even graphs, charts and PowerPoint slides.

Arguably these are tools that many students should be very comfortable with from their day jobs (more so than pen, paper and calculator) but it doesn’t seem to make the exam itself any less daunting for them.

The most significant challenge for accountancy students studying today compared to the previous generation, is the need to balance their studies with demanding work commitments.

The amount of study leave granted to students by their employers continues to fall and this is increasingly pushing students’ study time into the evenings and weekends - or sometimes even off the agenda altogether at month end and year end.

Malpass says: “The fact that overall pass rates have remained consistent for some time could well demonstrate that today’s students are studying harder to match the achievements of their predecessors, or studying more effectively under the guidance of tuition providers who have successfully tailored their courses to offer maximum flexibility and prioritised study guidance.”

This year BPP students achieved the highest ever overall pass rates in the college’s history, taken across all papers. The exam papers themselves may not be getting harder, but as Malpass says: “An accounting student today may well argue that the previous generation never had it so good.”

Replies (12)

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By B Roberts
18th Sep 2012 12:52

This doesn't make sense :

"Malpass says: “The fact that overall pass rates have remained consistent for some time could well demonstrate that today’s students are studying harder to match the achievements of their predecessors"

 

Also, what is the basis for this comment :

“An accounting student today may well argue that the previous generation never had it so good.”

In the past, CIMA students had to sit and pass all 4 exams in a stage and could not carry any forward.

I understand that the current situation allows students to sit one exam at a time, and if multiple exams are taken they are allowed to carry forward any that are passed.

And don't get me started on computer based exams and submitting a report - how do you know who is actually submitting this work ?

 

 

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By Trevor Scott
18th Sep 2012 15:38

Oh dear, the poor darlings....

"The amount of study leave granted to students by their employers continues to fall and this is increasingly pushing students’ study time into the evenings and weekends..."

 

Since when was there copious amounts of time to do any other things? I thought working 16 hours a day, all week, every week, every year ... either at work or studying... was normal…with most people giving up a “life” for three years.

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By Halex
21st Sep 2012 11:32

Sorry - I don't see that it is any harder today than it was.

I passed my CIMA finals 20 years ago when you had to pass all 4 papers each time or resit the lot. I have taught CIMA students and the attitude is to focus just on one or two papers at a time which must suit the weaker student better. As for time available - In those days everyone put their life on hold. Evenings and weekends were for study and I had to find 15 hours a week for study even if we were in the middle of budgets/year-end/financial meltdown. I would say that even then 15 hours wasn't enough and I had to find additional time for wider reading and general preparation, particularly for the later stages. The key to success has always been total focus.

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By philh74a
21st Sep 2012 12:01

No difference

I qualified CIMA in 2006. I worked late most days in a demanding role and studied at college Saturdays or Sundays. I don't think this has changed much to this day, it's always been this way! Why should it be easy!?

My girlfriend is currently doing Strategic Level CIMA. The syllabus content contains all that I studied back in 2006 so it's the same level. She sat resits which were done on PC in a controlled Exam Centre and there is a whole new sophistication of online studying resources available so I'd say this aspect makes it easier and more flexible.

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Replying to evan705:
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