The Strategic Case Study (SCS) tests your ability to apply the theories and techniques you've picked up during your study of E3, P3 and F3 to realistic work scenarios. It's meant to test you on a broad spectrum of E3, P3 and F3 topics and it surely does, but there are some very interesting tendencies that pop up on close inspection of past exam papers. This article highlights the Strategic Case Study (SCS) key topics.
VIVA Financial Tuition has performed an in-depth review of all past strategic case study papers and exam variants between February 2015 and February 2018 (that's 13 exam windows and 65 exam variants). We've compiled all the feedback from the examiner in his/her post-exam guides and carried out statistical analysis to reveal the key trends across papers and the findings are fascinating.
Are all subjects (E3, F3, P3) equally represented?
It's very interesting to view the representation of the 3 strategic modules in the case studies over time. The 2015 strategic case studies demonstrated a huge preference for E3 topics with a massive 56% of all marks awarded for answers that leaned heavily on the theories from E3 across all 4 exam sittings in that year. This meant that in 2015, F3 in particular was very under-represented in these strategic papers with a paltry 18% of the total marks assigned to questions that focused on Financial Strategy! Interestingly though, in the 2016-18 papers CIMA seems to have corrected for this skewed assignment of marks. The 2017 papers had a perfectly even weighting assigned to E3, F3 and P3 topics. This equal weighting even held across individual variants of the exam i.e. for each and every variant of an exam in 2017 E3 topics account for one-third of the marks, F3 topics for one-third of the marks and P3 topics for one-third of the marks. It's important to note this because I have seen tuition providers recommend that students devote a higher proportion of their revision time to the big E3 theories. That may have worked in 2015 but nowadays P3 and F3 topics need just as much attention and review.
Are there Certain Topics the Examiners Focus On?
We've established that all modules/subjects (E3, F3, P3) now carry an equal weighting but is it possible to isolate certain topics within those subjects that the examiners like to focus on? The good news for CIMA students is...yes, you can isolate certain topics that the examiners really like to test students on again and again. There are topics that, given their weighting under each module, appear far more frequently or far less often, than we might reasonably expect. Topic A from E3 for example (Interacting with the Organisation's Environment) has a 20% weight for that particular module. Given the fact that there is now an even split between E3, F3 and P3 topics on the case studies in 2017 we should expect topic A from E3 to represent just 6.7% of the marks for a given case study (20% x 1/3). But what we see is that topic A from E3 actually accounts for 13% of the total marks assigned for the case study. We can therefore state that this particular topic is over-represented on the case study and it would be wise to dedicate more time to the theories that fall under this area.
As a reminder, there are 13 topics that CIMA expects students to cover during their E3, F3 and P3 studies:
Of the 13 topics in total over E3, F3 and P3, we see that just 3 topics represent 42% of all marks awarded in 2017. Those key topics are:
• F3: C. Corporate Finance (18% of total marks awarded in 2017 papers)
• E3: A. Interacting with the Organisation's Environment (13% of total marks in 2017 papers)
• E3: B. Evaluating Strategic Position and Strategic Options (11% of total marks in 2017 papers)
One would reasonably expect topic C from F3 to represent just 13% of the total marks awarded in case study papers (40% weighting within the F3 modules x 1/3) but it accounts for a much bigger representation in the 2017 papers as we see above.
Some other key areas include:
• F3: A. Formulation of Financial Strategy (11% of total marks awarded in 2017 papers)
• P3: B. Responses to Strategic Risk (11% of total marks in 2017 papers)
With the 5 topics above you have accounted for 64% of the total marks awarded for the 2017 case studies. Given the weights assigned to each of those 5 topics within their separate modules we should assume they would only account for 45% of the total marks awarded in case study exams. So, they are over-represented and this is proof that the examiners really like to test students on these topics.
Are there Topics that Rarely Appear?
Yes, absolutely! In the same way we can focus more of our energies on the topics that appear again and again, we can also spend less time on certain areas that are seldom examined. This does not mean you can ignore these topics completely but particularly if you are in a rush, you should devote less energy to them than the key topics highlighted above.
So, in 2017 there were 6 of the 13 strategic topics across E3, F3 and P3 that accounted for just 22% of the total marks awarded in case studies. Given the weight assigned to each of the below 6 topics in their individual modules, we should have expected to see them account for almost 42% of all marks assigned in the 2017 case study papers. So, for whatever reason the examiners are less fixated on these areas. They were as follows:
• E3: C. Leading Change (0.8% of total marks awarded in 2017 papers)
• P3: E. Managing Risks Associated with Capital Investment Decisions (3.7% of total marks in 2017 papers)
• E3: E. The Role of Information Systems in Organisational Strategy (4.1% of total marks in 2017 papers)
• P3: C. Internal Controls to Manage Risk (4.6% of total marks in 2016 papers)
• F3: B. Financing and Dividend Decisions (4.6% of total marks in 2017 papers)
• E3: D. Implementing Strategy (4.6% of total marks in 2017 papers)
In particular, it's surprising to see F3: B. Financing and Dividend Decisions account for such a small number of marks considering that this topic makes up 35% of the Financial Strategy subject.
Please be aware that absolutely anything can and does come up in these exams and everything has been tested over all 13 sittings of the case study to date. Therefore, your revision needs to cover all topics! However, the above article shows there are topics you can give more attention to and less attention to.