Thursday, 30 April 2015

A guide to marking your mock exam script

Practicing exam questions through completing mock exams is extremely important. However it's also important to see where you can improve your answers in order to be really prepared for the real exam.

Practicing is just the first step in a 3 step process for improvement. The second step is just as vital and often the part of the process which is not always done properly, you must review your own answers carefully.

Here is the full 3 step process:

1) Practice a mock exam under exam conditions using your acquired knowledge -

2) Review your attempt - (See a guide to doing this below)

3) Work on your weaknesses that have been shown by in the review - e.g. Revise theory and practice how it can apply to the preseen


Of course, you can get someone else to review your script. If the reviewer is highly experienced then the feedback will be more detailed and helpful.

If you are marking your own script, here are the main questions you must ask yourself:

  • How well did you apply the case to the unseen scenario - are you scoring enough application marks?
  • Your application to the preseen - are you using preseen information enough?
  • Is the balance of your points under the technical, people, business and leadership areas even? If not and where you need to improve?
  • Your exam technique - are you focusing on what you need to do to score more marks or are your answers unfocused and unstructured?
  • Your writing style - is the way you make points scoring good marks? Often people don’t do this in the right way and lose easy marks.
  • Are your points long enough and your explanations detailed enough?
  • Are you writing enough to pass?
  • Do you need to make more points and in which sections?
  • Are there any key areas of technical weakness that you need to revise?
  • How do you rate your overall performance compared with the solution? (Our mock exam solutions are the equivalent of an 90%+ exam script so do not expect to write in as much detail as these)
Nick Best and the Astranti team

Monday, 27 April 2015

How to avoid waffling in an exam

When watching the recent general election debate here in the UK it was brought to my attention how difficult it was to truly see the different parties pledges in amongst all the heated discussions that were taking place. Often you just want them to quickly get to the point in simple language that you can understand.

This made me think how hard it must be for a marker to find an answer when a student 'waffles' in an exam. It goes back to the well known saying quality, not quantity.

Waffling in this context is when a student provides detailed information that isn't necessarily relevant to the actual question/answer. This information is often 'nice to know' and shows you've revised a broad range of topics, but this doesn't actually give you any additional marks if it's not relevant to the question.

There are three main reasons for students to waffle:
  • They are unsure of the answer
  • They get distracted by a small point that they have made in their answers that then takes them in the wrong direction
  • It makes them feel more at ease that they have something down on paper and gives them the illusion that they are doing well.
As a result of this students waste a lot of valuable exam time writing out answers that ultimately don't gives them any extra marks. It can be very difficult for the marker to establish the points that do relate to the question due to the large amount of text in front of them. In addition a rambling answer may signal to the marker that the student has not spent time revising that particular topic.

So how do you avoid waffling?
  • Make a plan! Spend some time at the start of the question making a plan of each point you want to raise in your answer. Sticking to this plan will prevent you from writing down unnecessary information.
  • When you begin writing your answer, make each point and move on. We usually recommend starting a new paragraph after each point. This will also make it clear to your marker what your points are.
  • The key thing is to 'know your stuff'. A good knowledge of the subject matter will help to avoid waffling. You will be prepared to answer a variety of questions on the subject – and get straight to the point with your answer.
  • Read the question and then answer. Answer the question the examiner has asked, not the question you wish he had asked! Re-read the question and look for the key words. Ask yourself what do they really want?
Going back to my point on the general election here is a great example of Ed Miliband giving an answer he wants to give but not actually answer the question (on several occasions!).

So waffle does not lead to good answers or high marks. Remember, make sure you don't go off track. If you start to do so, then be strong. Re-think and re-plan for a few moments before you continue.

For more advice on how to avoid waffling in addition to other exam techniques take a look at our SCS videos via this link: 

I will finish this blog now so that I don't start waffling!

Good luck and keep to the point.  

Nick Best and the Astranti Team

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Time waster or life-saver? Industry Research for the CIMA SCS Exam

After the March exam, we sent out a survey to find out a bit more about your real exam experiences. We had over 250 responses and the comments from students were truly fascinating. You can look through them by skipping to the end of the survey here.

In one question, we asked "What would you do differently in your preparation now that you've completed the exam?"

One student answered that they would have:

"Done more reading about the industry in which the case study company operates in. The exam was more focused on real life experience and knowledge rather than theoretical models. Having a better understanding of the industry may have allowed me to generate more ideas with my options and recommendations."

You might ask yourself why this "Industry research" would be of any use?

Don't CIMA state that further industry research is not required for the exam?

You're absolutely right. You don't have to do it, and you might pass without further research, but it's really helpful if you do have more industry knowledge.

In my "Real World Industry Analysis" you will find an overview of the real oil industry, with profiles on the key players and organisations, and in depth look at one particular company that closely resembles the fictional company from the pre-seen.

In the May 2015 pre-seen, you are told:

“You are a senior Finance Manager who works for the Slide Group (‘Slide’). You report directly to the parent company’s Board and advise on special projects and strategic matters.”

You are expected to provide logical business advice as if you were an employee working in this industry, and as if you know this industry inside out. If you know the types of issues in the real world and the types of decisions that real world companies are making, the chances are that your own logic in the exam will be better and producing a logical, well rounded report is key to passing this exam.

As you can see from the above student's feedback, people felt that the exam was extremely practical and they wished they had spent more time focusing on the case study and the industry and less on revising theoretical knowledge as they felt that would have helped them provide the practical answers they needed.

My analysis video series and strategic/industry analysis pack of the "Slide" preseen are currently on special offer for £34.99 and £19.99 each.

These guides will be a great place to start for anyone that wants an expert view on the preseen to help them prepare. I've used my 9 years of expertise on case studies to look at what is most relevant to the exam, and hope that will give you the focus you need to apply to the case in the exam and help you to pass in May.

See samples of the real world industry and strategic analysis here

Nick Best and the Astranti team

Monday, 20 April 2015

Top tips for using Google - How to get the most from this valuable search engine.

Have you ever thought about how often you use search engines? Over the weekend I used Google to find a restaurant for a family meal, to buy a pair of shoes online and to search for some holiday destinations for the summer. This made me realise the huge role in our everyday lives played by these search engines but most of us only use the basic functionality available to us. 

There are many ways in which our searches can be refined and improved to make them work even better for us.

Here are some tips that are useful in our everyday life but also as part of our studying for our CIMA or any other exams or research.  These tips will make your search more efficient, quicker and it will narrow down the search results to those that you really need.

1. Use Quotation marks - Using Quotation Marks in your Google search ensures that all the search results will include exactly those words in it. For example, “Porters Five Forces” will only generate results on this specific model, rather than include other models that Porter has developed.

2. Use the base word and not suffixes – This will ensure that you don't exclude any relevant pages. For example, use 'ethics' rather than 'ethical' or 'ethically' to capture a broader search result.

3. Use .. - This will obtain results for a specific period of time. For example,  2000..2015 will only show results within this time band.

4. Use site: - Using site: generate results directly from a specific website. For example, - will only include results from our website

5. The Google Auto-complete Function - Take advantage of Google auto-complete to obtain popular and similar searches. A drop down list will appear as you type.
6. Use OR - Using OR combines two searches. For example, SWOT OR TOWS will generate results for both terms. This can be useful where a variety of terms are used for the same subject.
7. Use Define: - This will define a word through search. By search define: working capital we get a number of definitions For example, working capital can be defined as "The capital of a business which is used in its day-to-day trading operations, calculated as the current assets minus the current liabilities”

8. Use a ~ (tidle) - Using a tidle before a word will also search synonyms and similar words.

9. Use related: - Using related: finds similar websites to the one that you searched. For example, will also generate results for other video websites.

10. Don't use common words - Try not to use common words such as 'a' and 'the' as these words are usually ignored in the search, They should only be used when they are part of a specific phrase.

11. Use a | (vertical bar) - A vertical bar will include all the words mentioned in the search bar. For example, searching for PEST | PESTLE

12. Use a – (dash) - A dash will exclude a term in the results if a dash in included before that word

I hope all of this has been helpful whether you are trying to find information on your CIMA exam subjects or simply planning a holiday in the sun!  

Nick Best and the Astranti team

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Select all that apply - see the answer to Tuesday's P3 question

On Tuesday I posted a question which was taken out of our P3 OT Mock exams. I wanted to highlight the issues that faced students who had to answer "select all that apply" questions in their real OT exam.

Here is the correct answer to yesterday's question:

So did you get the answer 100% correct?
  • If you did, well done!
  • If you did not, you may need to revise the subject of "governance" in the CIMA P3 study text. You can find out more here 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Select all that apply - The killer CIMA Strategic OT question

One type of question that seems to really catch people out is the "select all that apply" type.

From the student's perspective, this type of question is so so difficult. Not only do they have to know the correct answer(s), they also have to filter out other wrong answers that look very much like the correct answer. On top of all of this, you aren't usually told how many should be selected - meaning you could be correct on 2 selections, but actually needed to select a 3rd to get the question 100% right. In the CIMA OT exams, if you are not 100% correct, you get no marks.#

To highlight my point, take a look at an example of a CIMA P3 Objective Test question in this style...We will reveal the answer in Thursday's blog!

More P3 exam style questions like this one can be found in our Mock Exams and Chapter Revision Questions. Visit for more information.

How to pass the CIMA Strategic Case Study - free video