My CIMA journey began at around the middle of April on 2016. At that time I was quite intimidated at the long road that was ahead of me, but I was also eager because of the unique challenge that it presented. I started my CIMA studies from, what was at the time, the Certificate Level and made my way through each exam one by one. As of this writing, I have managed to clear the Operational Case Study exam, and I am currently studying for my first Management Level exams while also looking for employment through internship programs to build relevant experience. These last few years were tough and gruelling at times, but I have felt that I have undergone much personal growth from it all. The Operational Case Study I recently gave was certainly the most unique exam I have ever given. There were a couple of techniques that I adopted in order to prepare for and face this new challenge:
- Gain a mastery over the technical skills
The majority of marks awarded in this exam (around 60% for Operational Level) come from technical skills, the specific knowledge that we have been studying for our previous Objective exams. It is important to make sure that the fundamentals are known and well-versed. It is not good enough to just memorize them, but to have a firm understanding of it so that we understand what they are and how we can use them. Start small by preparing with the individual chapters in the course and work up to the past Case Study exams. Keep practicing and getting that “hands-on experience” and, little by little, you will get a strong grasp over these technical skills.
- Develop the other component skills (Business, People)
In order to pass the Case Study exam, you will also need to show your ability in the other required skills besides technical, namely business skills, people skills, leadership skills and integration skills. To pass the exam you will need a scaled score of at least 80%, and performing a below adequate level of business or people skills (for Operational Level) will automatically result in a fail, no matter how well you demonstrated the other skills. Developing these skills will be tricky since the Objective exams do not really prepare us for this. You will need to think more broadly while solving the given tasks and be comfortable in explaining things in detail, to elaborate over the “how’s” and “why’s”. You will also need to be able to present all of this in a neat and structured format, complete with paragraphing and headings, in order to make it easier to read to the person you are writing to (which helps earn more marks).
- Be familiar with the Pre-seen Material and the Company
About a month or two before the Case Study exam, CIMA will release the respective pre-seen material for it. This has information about the fictional organization we will be working for, containing its background, its various functions and staff, its operation process, its financial statements and other relevant information about the organization. The tasks we will perform in the exam will be based off of this organization written in the pre-seen, so it will be smart to use it to your advantage. However, do not try to memorize specific numbers or measures from the pre-seen, since the tasks usually attach all the relevant information you will need in a separate window. You should try to understand the values of the company and its processes and be familiar enough with the pre-seen to navigate around it easily for reference.
- Be very aware of time management
The scariest part about the Case Study exam for me was the limited amount of time it offered. There are only 45 minutes to complete each of the four elaborate tasks. Your answer will be locked in once you proceed to the next task or if your 45 minutes for that task are finished, meaning you must focus to complete each task as it is given in progression. For this you will need to read the task and attached material, plan, structure and write down your answer before you run out of time. Be aware that you will not have the chance to check your previous answers once they are locked in, so try your best to fully complete your answers as you go. It can be helpful to practice your keyboard typing skills while preparing for the exam, because no matter how well you might be able to solve the tasks, you still may be unable to write it all down in time because of slow/poor typing skills.
- Assume a relaxed and steady approach
Whether it be studying or giving the Case Study exam, I highly recommend that people should adopt a relaxed and steady approach. The tasks given in this exam cover so many concepts and can alter or change drastically as you proceed. From the past Case Study exams, I have noted how much the same organization would vary depending on which Variant I choose. Perhaps it has faced success from a new product, or perhaps it has been in decline due to unplanned economic conditions, or perhaps it has faced numerous accounting issues due to it recently acquiring a competitor as a subsidiary. My point is that it is impossible to predict with certainty what will appear in the exam. So I insist that my fellow students should try to maintain a healthy balanced routine so that they do not overwork themselves, to embrace an open mind and adapt and bend to whatever the exam might give them, and to tackle each task in a creative and innovative way in the hope of coming up with their own unique style for an answer.
So in summary, my 5 tips for passing the CIMA Case Study exam (at least for Operational Level) are:
- Work on and master the fundamental technical skills, keep on practicing little by little
- Do not neglect business and people skills (as well as leadership and integration skills), learn how to connect your answer to business and to be supportive to those reading it
- Be familiar with the Pre-seen Material so that you can navigate it easily, try and keep in mind the general values and structure of the organization
- Be sure to manage your limited time properly, practice keyboard typing to help save time
- Embrace a relaxed and steady approach, be ready bend to whatever the exam gives you
I would like to wish all of my fellow CIMA students luck for their studies. It is said that all things will appear hard at first because we are unfamiliar with it, that we do not know exactly how to do it right/properly. But through dedicated practice and hard work, anything can be achievable as we learn for ourselves how to do it. Even failure is a lesson for success!