Rachel Harrison is a Global Credit Process Analyst for TT Electronics based in Bedlington in Northumberland, England (see LinkedIn profile here). She is currently studying at the management level of CIMA.
As it is the first case study style exam that CIMA students face, the Operational Case Study presents its own unique challenges. Here Rachel Harrison discusses the challenges she faced in passing her OCS exam, as well as offering some great advice to students yet to take the exam.
When did you take the OCS exam and how did you get on? Was it your first attempt?
Rachel: I sat the OCS exam in November 2018, I scored 93 and found out I had passed just before Christmas. This was the second time I sat the exam, the first time being in August 2018 where I scored 65.
How long did you spend preparing for the OCS paper (how many weeks/months and how many hours on average per week)?
Rachel: I started studying for the OCS in June 2018 to get ready for the exam in August of that year. I spent around 6 hours a week studying which increased to 20 hours in the few weeks before the exam. As this was my first OCS and I had 2 exemptions for P1 and F1, I found this to be more about revision than studying to make sure I could base each theoretical model on the given company.
Did you find having not studied P1 and F1 put you at a disadvantage? If you were starting again, would you sit the P1 and F1 exams?
Rachel: There was a slight disadvantage as some things were not as fresh in my mind as items examined on E1 but i worked hard for my degree and gained many exemptions so i wanted to utilise that knowledge. I can see how sitting P1 and F1 would have been useful and may have relieved some of the pressure from studying as I study in my own time outside of a busy role. I have also been given an exemption more recently from F2 at the management level. My university was very supportive and offered modules with many exemptions.
Did you take a course or did you opt for self-study?
Rachel: I have been completing my CIMA qualification through self-study in my own time outside of work. I did have some exemptions from my degree in Accounting and Finance. I have only used VIVA tuition for the OCS exam and found this very helpful as the videos went into a high level of detail and stopped me from spiralling and focusing on unnecessary areas.
What (if anything), did you find especially difficult with the OCS in relation to your preparation? e.g. balancing personal life with study, balancing work with study, the material was dull etc?
Rachel: The balance between work/personal/study time will always be difficult for people and I found the pressure in all areas build in the week leading up to the exam. I try to find a balance and set specific times for each area to make sure I do not feel overly pressured or feel like I am losing control. For the OCS, this was different to the other exams as you need to base your answers on the company from the case study whilst balancing your knowledge in the specific models per question. In my first attempt of the OCS exam, I found this very difficult as my previous exam history had always been based on knowledge only and not much on the application to a certain company. I do find it very hard to memorise the IAS numbers and who completed different business models as I like my answers to show the history and further information where possible.
What (if anything), did you find especially difficult with the OCS in relation to the exam day? e.g. time management, nerves etc?
Rachel: I struggle with nerves really badly, and going into the exam I was in high panic mode. At the test centres I have visited there are strict rules when taking a CIMA exam, and I always get my glasses taken off me to be checked for software, sleeves checked for notes, and I've even been asked to show nothing is in my ears! This very high level of checks before being allowed to sit the exam always worries me as I am an anxious person and this adds to my nerves before being sat in front of the computer to take the test. Once I am sat at the desk with the test open I am fine. Using the VIVA videos always helps me to feel prepared for the context and questions that may be asked in the exam. Its the exam conditions that I do not enjoy. I had prepared using the videos by VIVA tuition and even had these playing through headphones on the way to the exam to hear the key topics/issues. Once in the exam I start to calm down as there is nothing we can do now but try our hardest. I found time given was relevant to the level of information needed and I only struggled for time on the last question – which was the same for both exams I have sat.
Was there an area of the Operational syllabus that you liked more than others?
Rachel: I preferred the E1 syllabus as this has more information and models I enjoy learning. These are seen in many aspects of my day to day working life. This was also the only multiple choice exam I had to sit for this level which may make me biased.
Was there an area of the Operational syllabus that you liked less than others?
Rachel: I do not enjoy learning the IAS numbers as I tend to forget these or get the numbers and information mixed up. This has been something I have struggled with since university but I think this may be down to the way I was first taught these as it was very monotone and boring.
Do you have any tips for other students about to sit the OCS?
Rachel: Don’t forget to tie the case study company into your answers. I aimed for this every time I made a model/theory/IAS reference - I always tried to tie it back to the company being discussed. Make sure you plan your answers, write headers for each topic you want to discuss for each question to help you keep on track. The time goes quickly in the exam and you don’t want to spend your valuable time writing an introduction or an in depth model history. I would write the main points I wanted for each heading then go back and add any extra information once I had finished to ensure all required answers were given as sometimes the questions have multiple answers required and it is easy to be sucked in and end up only answering one.
Have you used VIVA’s case study materials? If so, how did you find the materials?
Rachel: For the exam in August I ordered only the key issues video and pre-seen video analysis. I did not think any more was needed as the information was so in depth. When I sat the exam in November, I ordered the Smarter Study Pack which is covered by a lifetime pass guarantee and which gave me exam questions and further videos. This was really helpful and insightful in giving a breakdown of the information and it helped me to focus on the main areas that could come up. Having the lifetime pass guarantee also took some pressure off the situation as I knew VIVA would be there to support me if I needed to resit. I will be ordering these for all case study exams going forward.
Do you have any final comments/recommendations/feelings/thoughts about your OCS experience?
Rachel: The VIVA study packs are very helpful and the videos are kept to the point and interesting. Without these I would have really struggled to pass the exams so I really recommend them to anyone planning on sitting a case study exam.