How to start answering questions……

I received the below email from a student after our first Online Classroom Live Revision session

I wanted to share this problem, and my advice, with you all as it is something that students often struggle with – which is all about the application of knowledge. So…. Enjoy!

Note – this is one of my ACCA P2 students, so I mention topics in that syllabus, but most of the principles would apply to other exam questions!!

“Dear Davinia,

Thank you for the session today, it was really good. Unfortunately, it has highlighted the gaps in my knowledge. And it seems that the thing I find hardest is actually answering questions, even though I feel that I know the answer – so if I read the answer in the back I know what they’ve said, but I can’t get it down on paper… what can I do? Please help, the exams seem like they are really soon!”

Dear student,

I’m glad you enjoyed the first session, and it’s good that it has made you realise there are some gaps in your abilities now – as we still have time to fix them!

Generally, the problem you have highlighted, being familiar with the concepts but finding it hard to actually construct an answer, is one of many students!

The best way to get past this is, in short, to 1) not look at the answers and 2) keep trying! J

When you look at a question, the first thing to practice is ‘identifying’ what it is about. You need to know what topic a question is looking at so you know what you need to say. And this isn’t always as obvious as you may think.

To start with, it might simply be a case of trying to work out which chapter in the course/revision notes you would look in to try to answer it if you have no idea what it is! So is it revenue, pensions, non-current assets, financial instruments etc.

Bear in mind that you will often find that within a ‘paragraph’ of a question, there might actually be more than one thing, and so we want to break it down into the different parts and do the ‘identify’ step for each bit of information / scenario.

Once you’ve done that, then you want to try to be more specific… what type of pension / NCA / Financial Instrument is it?

When are they interested in it? – Is it when they get it (initial recognition), when something changes during the year (subsequent recognition / remeasurement), or when they are getting rid of it (derecognition)? A timeline can sometimes help to think about these different points.

Then just try and write down the facts you know about the topic based on when they are interested in it.

So, what types of NCA* are there? When can they be put in the accounts? Are there any specific criteria to consider? How are they measured? Does anything happen to them during the year? When do they get taken out of the accounts?

(*you can replace NCA with Pension / Financial instruments etc as appropriate in this example!)

This is all knowledge for the moment…just to get you started. You need to see how much is in your memory, and then refer to your revision notes if you need to for some inspiration. Don’t be tempted to go back and just re-read the whole study text chapter however – that is not an efficient use of your time. If you are really struggling, look at the summary page at the end of the course notes chapter or similar.

Then comes the important bit – you need to see if you can make it specific to the question rather than just being facts (so coming to a conclusion and maybe using the numbers / dates in the question).

What type of NCA do they have? When would it go in the accounts? What number would be in the accounts on initial recognition? Then what depreciation/amortisation would they charge (if relevant)? What number would be in the accounts at the year end?

Chances are there will be something in the scenario that you have NO idea what to do with – don’t panic! Note down that you have no idea, then you can review it as part of the answer (when you look at it…)

Then you can look at the answer J

When reviewing the answer, you want to look for the key themes – did you pick the right topic – if not why not? (you didn’t read the question properly, you didn’t break the question down into pieces)

Did you get all the different time points – e.g. initial recognition and year end – in your answer?

Did you miss the really technical / specific bit? – don’t worry! If you got the other stuff you’re on the right track.

To begin with it will feel like you don’t know anything (or very little) and I know this can be frustrating. But you need to not look at question practice as always being a test of what you know at the moment, it is also a learning experience. If you can learn one thing from each question, because you are doing lots of questions, by the exam you will be in a really strong position!

As you do more you will be able to put more facts down in the planning bit – and more quickly – so you can then spend more time on the application bit and practice writing things out in full.

But keep going, you will get there!

For a free exam question video debrief, or an overview of the past exam for any of the ACCA papers, you can register for BPP’s free ACCA Exam Surgery

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