VIVA's 'CIMA Student Series' is a collection of interviews with CIMA students relating to their own experiences with the different CIMA subjects. Covering both case study exams and objective test exams, the idea is to step back and let students speak about their difficulties and triumphs on their route to full ACMA/CGMA status.


Ricardo Argibay is a native of Madrid, Spain who is currently based in Hampshire, England. He works as an International Accounting Manager at De La Rue, a company founded in 1813 and one of the largest designers and commercial printers of banknotes and passports (you can check out his LinkedIn profile here). Ricardo particularly enjoys the fact that he has to deal with over 20 countries in his current role, which means he is continually learning and improving his "cultural intelligence". Ricardo is a qualified accountant in Spain and is currently studying the Strategic CIMA level (P3 and SCS left) to obtain a double Spanish-British accounting qualification. He lives with his husband and dog in the British countryside and divides his time between Hampshire and Madrid.


In this interview, Ricardo discusses the challenges he faced in passing his F3 exam, as well as offering some great advice to students yet to take the exam.


When did you take the F3 exam and how did you get on? Was it your first attempt?

Ricardo: I took the exam on the 11/03/19 and I passed. It was my second attempt having tried two weeks before that, on the 21/02/19


How did you score on both attempts?

Ricardo: I got 94 in the first attempt and 100 in the second one.


How long did you spend preparing for the F3 paper (how many weeks/months and how many hours on average per week)?

Ricardo: I started studying the exam in November 2018 for a couple of weeks, then again in December 2018 for another couple of weeks. In January, February and March of 2019 up until the 11th (the day of my first attempt), I studied every week. On average, I studied close to 20 hours per week.


How did the time you put in for F3 compare to previous CIMA subjects i.e. more, less, the same?

Ricardo: My personal ranking can be listed as below (the F pillar is extremely time-consuming for me):

F2 and F1 – 2 months studying 45 hours per week

F3 – as per the above description i.e. close to 20 hours per week

P1 and P2 – 3 months studying 20 hours per week

E1, E2 and E3 – 2 months studying 20 hours per week


Did you take a course or did you opt for self-study?

Ricardo: For my first attempt, I took an online course with First Intuition (lectures, videos plus a bank of questions and 3 mock exams) - close to 700 questions in total. Also, when I failed in February I added the VIVA F3 pack of 500 questions and I used these questions for 2 weeks until my second sitting in March.


Do you think online courses are a big help compared to self-study?

Ricardo: I think it's worth distinguishing between pre-recorded online courses and “live online courses”. I took live online courses for the Case Studies (Operational and Management) with First Intuition, but pre-recorded online courses for the objective tests. For me pre-recorded online courses are basically self-study, as you have to study everything on your own but you have plenty of videos and lectures for each chapter prepared by First Intuition (similar to the Case Study with VIVA).

So basically, the courses I have taken for objective tests with First Intuition follow a similar concept to the Case Studies with VIVA. I only took live online courses for E1 and F1 (it was Kaplan at that time) but for me it was a total waste of time (having to stick to an externally imposed schedule, so slow, etc). I love online self-study, I just need plenty of videos and links and I can manage my own work and plan my exams.


What (if anything), did you find especially difficult with F3 in relation to your preparation? e.g. balancing personal life with study, balancing work with study, the material was dull etc?

Ricardo: Personally, I spend a lot of time studying the CIMA papers and that means spending quite a few hours getting prepared for the exams. The most challenging issue for me is balancing work with study as I have a senior role (manager) which requires quite a lot of time, so I have to manage to study CIMA at nights - which can be quite tricky sometimes. Also, my second challenge is balancing study with my personal life, as I have to travel quite a lot.

Finally, F3 has a few chapters which are quite conceptual and so required more attention and study time. I think books and tuition material are quite focused on theory and study whereas the real exam is more focused on real scenarios and on applying the knowledge. Papers from the operational and management levels were more theory and knowledge, and less practical.


What (if anything), did you find especially difficult with F3 in relation to the exam day? e.g. time management, nerves etc?

Ricardo: I was really nervous for my first attempt in February and I found the exam extremely difficult and challenging. I usually have 10 minutes at the end to review questions but with F3 I could only get 2 minutes at the end for review.

On my second attenmpt I found the real exam less complex (questions were shorter and clearer) and I could get 5 minutes at the end for a final quick review of more difficult questions. I was more relaxed also as I knew the types of questions and structure of those also.


Was there an area of the F3 syllabus that you liked more than others?

Ricardo: I really enjoyed the chapter about mergers and acquisitions and the one about dividend policy. I find the merger calculations quite interesting, understanding the number of shares to be issued in the target company, negotiating prices, knowing the minimum and maximum amounts, understanding differences between shares and cash payments for the acquisition etc. With regards to dividend policy, I found the different policies easy to understand and I liked how CIMA examiners are trying to confuse you with the questions because I felt I was really understanding the logic of their questions and how they were trying to mess with you with the questions (e.g. asking about price change in a dividend repurchase scenario where the price does not change, or scrip dividends changing the value of the company, which it does not etc).


Was there an area of the F3 syllabus that you liked less than others?

Ricardo: Learning ratios and any formula will be forgotten after a few weeks of not applying.


Do you have any tips for other students about to sit F3?

Ricardo: I would say make sure you read the questions very well (especially for those non-native English speakers) and sometimes the question is phrased in a tricky way. Paying attention to multiple answer questions when words like “always, never” are used, and also questions with double negatives (e.g. which of following are NOT Disadvantages of…).


Have you used VIVA’s case study materials? If so, how did you find the materials?

Ricardo: Yes, I took the MCS. It was absolutely awesome and for sure I will use VIVA again for the SCS.

I like the time spent by Thomas and Hugo in providing feedback on mock exams and explaining the strengths and weaknesses of the answers. At the same time I’m buying VIVA I am also buying First Intuition so I go to the case studies with 8 mock exams fully done and reviewed.


Have you used VIVA’s objective test materials? If so, how did you find them?

Ricardo: Only for F3. I discovered VIVA with the MCS a year ago, then I did E3 without using VIVA as I did not know they were offering question banks (otherwise I would have used them!) and now I will use VIVA for P3 and for the SCS for sure. The objective test materials are great, I think the questions in general are more challenging than First Tuition which is good. Actually, there are areas covered by VIVA that I never heard of in my classes with First Tuition (such as the “alpha” concept) which means First Intuition just focuses on the basics to pass the exam - which can be very, very tight!

I would love to see more content in the answers explaining why each of the other options is wrong (or even more, why the examiner put the other answers in to mess a bit with us poor students!); by doing that, we could understand better the logic of the examiner when preparing the questions, and it is easier to understand how they might try to mess with you.


Do you have any final comments/recommendations/feelings/thoughts about your F3 experience?

Ricardo: I feel a little bit disappointed with CIMA as I think this exam can be extremely difficult if they want to complicate things. I passed on my second attempt but because the exam was more ”reader friendly”. If I had exams like the one from my first attempts over and over I could have failed this exam 20 times!