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page 46
student accountant
JUNe/JULY 2008
Prepare to pass
As with any assessment, the golden rule forsuccess is to prepare thoroughly. Examiners’reports regularly note that too many candidatesattempt exams for which their preparation hasbeen inadequate. Clear evidence of inadequatepreparation is an attempt to ‘question spot’, asis the reliance on a small number of ‘pet’ topics.These approaches to preparation are extremelyrisky and are always strongly discouraged byexaminers – for good reason.By considering why MCQs are used in anexam, the risk attached to these approachesbecomes clear. Like any other approach toassessment, there are a number of advantages tousing MCQs as an assessment method. Becauseeach MCQ relates to a specific issue within thesyllabus, the exam can achieve broad coverage ofthe syllabus. This means that to maximise yourchances of success you must have studied thewhole syllabus.You may be lucky enough to find an MCQon a topic which was part of your most recentstudies, but the chances of finding a largenumber of questions on one topic in any paperare very low.As well as studying topics right across thesyllabus, it is important to attempt past examsand exam-standard questions. Past paper-basedMCQs can be found for CAT Papers 3 and 4,along with
Pilot Papers
for all exams on ACCA’swebsite. Go to
www.accaglobal.com/students/ study_exams/exams/cbe/demo
for practicecomputer-based exams for all subjects. Threequestions for each of Papers F1, F2, and F3are also published after each exam session,with commentaries from the examiners, onthe student channel of the ACCA website.It is also recommended that you practiselong-form questions, to give a better depth ofunderstanding of issues relating to the subjects. Itis essential that such questions are used carefullyand thoughtfully.Candidates preparing for exams often fail tofollow-up on questions which they have answered.Whether a question was answered correctly orincorrectly during exam preparation, it providesan opportunity to enhance your understandingof the topic. By reflecting on why a specificoption is the correct answer, you can improveyour understanding, just as reflecting on why theother options are wrong can help to overcomemisunderstanding and eliminate confusion. Whenattempting questions as part of your preparation,it is useful to remember that a key purpose of theexercise is to enhance your understanding – notjust to get the question right.When reviewing each option, it is importantto ensure that you understand exactly what theunderlying point is – and to make sure that youreflect on this to enhance your learning.
Read the question
The amount of time, effort, and discussion thatis put into each question before it appears in anexam is likely to surprise most candidates. Everyquestion is subjected to a number of rigorousreviews as it progresses from an idea in thewriter’s mind to the exam paper. These reviewsmean that candidates need to read the questionextremely carefully, as the wording has beenchosen with care. This care is intended to ensurethat the question is unambiguous and does notmislead candidates.An example of the need to read the questioncarefully might be the way in which a questioncommunicates cost information. It is not unusualfor a question to relate to a production period of,say, three months, but for fixed costs to be statedas an annual figure. To get the correct answer,candidates must have recognised this fact. This isnot an attempt to confuse candidates, but ratheran attempt to ensure that candidates can apply thetechnique in a real-life situation, where informationmust be clearly understood and is frequentlycommunicated in this way.A further aspect of the care taken when draftingquestions is that the answer should be based on thedata included in the question. For example, in orderto ensure that questions are not too long, the datamay have been simplified. To some candidates,this may seem to be unrealistic when comparedto a real-life situation. A particular example of thisis the way in which the labour cost is described inmany questions. More often than not, direct labouris described as a variable cost, with no reference tothe cost of laying off staff. For a candidate who hasexperience of staff rationalisation, this assumptionwill be totally unrealistic. While a longer questionmay provide the opportunity to critically examinethe underlying assumptions, this is not possible inan MCQ and the question should be answered onthe basis of the data provided.It is imperative that the prompt is readcarefully. For example, a question may giveinformation on receivables, irrecoverable debts,and required allowances for receivables. Theprompt is often assumed by candidates, butmay be any of the movement on the allowance,the closing allowance, the charge to the incomestatement, or closing receivables, among others. 
The paper-based and computer-based exams for Papers 1 to 4 of the CAT Scheme, and PapersF1 to F3 of the ACCA Qualification, include multiple-choice questions (MCQs). A candidate’s abilityto use good exam technique when answering such questions will strongly influence their marks inthese papers. This article provides some practical guidance on how to maximise marks, by settingout some golden rules and emphasising some points that, while not unique to ACCA exams, are keyto understanding how ACCA has decided to use MCQs.
page 47
It is a common fallacy that MCQs are easy. Thisis based on the fact that one of the options isthe correct answer. Therefore, the argumentgoes, all the candidate has to do is make thecorrect selection. While it is fair to say that somequestions may be easy, this is usually because thecandidate already knows the answer – becausethey have prepared thoroughly. As noted above,this may happen in some questions, but it ismore likely that the answer will not be obvious.A question from the
Pilot Paper 
for Paper F1illustrates this:
Which one of the following is consistent with a government’s policy objective to expand the levelof economic activity?
 An increase in taxation
 An increase in interest rates
 An increase in personal savings
 An increase in public expenditure
All of the options refer to matters that may bepart of a government policy to influence economicactivity, so the question is testing candidates’ability to determine how each of the matters willimpact on economic activity. Selecting the correctanswer depends on clear thinking.If direct taxation is increased, consumerswill have less disposable income, while ifindirect taxation is increased, prices will rise.Either of these will have the effect of reducingconsumer demand, and will lead to a contractionof economic activity. Therefore A is incorrect.When interest rates rise, borrowing becomesmore expensive. As the majority of businessesand consumers are borrowers, this will (just asan increase in taxation) lead to a reduction indisposable income, and in turn to a contraction ofeconomic activity. Therefore B is incorrect. If thegovernment encourages an increase in personalsavings, then consumers will (once again) haveless disposable income. Therefore C is incorrect.Therefore option D must be correct, and it iscorrect because an increase in public expenditurewill increase demand within the economy, leadingto an increase in economic activity.It is essential that, having read the questioncarefully, you think about your response, and thatyour answer is the result of a considered choice.This is because of the way in which the incorrectoptions have been constructed.In ACCA exams, MCQs have one correctoption and two or three incorrect options. Theincorrect options are referred to as ‘distracters’.This term is used because in writing the question,the examiner attempts to identify the mostcommon mistakes made by candidates and usesthese as a basis for the incorrect options. Thiscan be illustrated by a question taken from the
Pilot Paper 
for Paper F2.
linked performance objectives
performaNce obJectives 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, aNd 14 are reLevaNt topapers f1, f2, aNd f3.

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