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ACCA Strategic Business Leader
Quick Guide to Study and Exam

Strategic Business Leader (SBL) was introduced in September 2018, which was a four-hour exam. 


After five years, there is a new change in the exam hours from four hours to 3 hours and 15 minutes which will be in place during September 2023.


Pre-seen information will be released two weeks before the exam sitting and students are expected to familiarise with the pre-seen information before the exam. 


The 3 hours and 15 minutes examination includes Reading, Planning and Reflection time while it is a part that every student should pay attention to before going into exam room.


3 Hours 15 Minutes

Exam Format

SBL exam features include -


  • Single case study​

  • Knowledge from previous level papers required (Business & Technology and Applied Skills exams)

  • Pre-seen materials sent to students 2 weeks before the examination

You need to go through pre-seen materials and summarise them in your mind so you could effectively answer the questions in SBL exam.


Professional Marks

In Strategic Professional exam, 20% of total marks is from professional skills.


You have to master the professional skills to help you to pass the exam. (More about professional skills are discussed below.)

Simple Background Information on SBL

ACCA undertook a research from different employers globally on skills and capabilities needed. 


The report issued in 2016 and it gave ACCA clear insights the key skills required for accountancy and finance are not exclusively at accounting and finance, taxation and audit.

SBL paper aims to encourage and equip the newly qualified accountant to take on and achieve more senior and responsible positions within the organisations which employ them.

Before Start......

There are 2 things you need to consider before enrolling SBL exam -

Do you complete Ethics and Professional skills Module before attempting SBL?

Although it is not a must to attempt SBL exam after completing Ethics and Professional skills Module, it is highly recommended you complete the Module first.

Do you complete all papers in Applied Skills module?

You must enter for outstanding Applied Skills exam before, or at the same time as your SBL exam.

It is suggested to take SBL exam after Ethics and Professional skills Module and all papers in previous level exams are completed.


There are total 9 sections in the syllabus while 8 of them are on technical contents and 1 section on professional skills.

SBL syllabus also combines main functions of organisations in the context of leadership capability, and previous level exams core content are embedded such as –

  • Governance

  • Internal audit

  • Control

  • Risk

  • Finance

  • Ethics

  • Management


















For more information about how previous level exams linked to SBL exam, an article is suggested to you "ACCA SBL : Mapping of key syllabus areas from previous level exams".

In brief, SBL syllabus is covered with leadership and governance, strategy and risk, and delivery strategy.

Leadership & Governance

These are the fundamental organisational structures, values and behaviours, providing the foundations on which to develop and deliver strategy and effectively evaluate the risks facing the organisation.

Strategy & Risk

Evaluating strategic options and making strategic choices requires the organisation’s leaders to fully understand the risks involved.

Deliver Strategy

To drive strategy through an organisation and translate it into actions, consideration must be given to Technology and Data Analytics, Organisation Control and Audit, Finance Planning and Decision-making, and Innovation, Performance Excellence and Change Management.

Even ACCA does not specific the number of study hours in SBL, it suggests both tutors and students to spend 50% more time preparing for this exam than is normally required for others at the same level.

Quick guide to you on dividing your time to study SBL is –


  • Leadership and Governance    25%

  • Strategy and Risk                     25%

  • Delivery Strategy                      50%


Incorporating professional skills, with each element, as an integral part of the learning.

How is the exam to be marked?


Technical Marks

Technical marks comprise 80 marks of the exam awarding those could correctly use and apply syllabus content.

It is similar to other ACCA strategic professional level papers that the usual question verbs will be used.


Since you are required to take on various roles of organisational leaders, consultants or advisors to senior management, you are expected to have the following requirements during exam –

  • Analyse the external environment and the organisation model;​

  • Assess position and performance of an organisation;


  • Consider the future outlook of organisation;


  • Identify strategic problems and opportunities;


  • Manage risks and identify appropriate controls;


  • Make strategic choices;


  • Evaluate strategic choices using forecasting techniques;

  • Decide on feasible solutions by appropriate technologies;

  • Implement change and innovate responsibly.

In addition to technical marks, there will be 20 marks for professional skills.


The purpose of professional marks is to award those answers presented professionally, i.e. concise, to the point, proper tone and not clumsy. 

There are five professional skills you will see in the exam.  One of the five professional skills will appear in each requirement.

ACCA Strategic Busines Leader Professional Skills

To you, as a student preparing for SBL exam, what does these five words mean?


It means you need to show your answers with the following evidence to gain professional marks –

  1. Making the most important or crucial points relating to the requirement

  2. Showing deep/clear understanding of underlying or causal issues and integrating knowledge from a number of sources to make points

  3. Only making relevant points and not including superfluous information

  4. Not repeating points already made

  5. Addressing the requirements as written is an indication of professionalism

  6. Showing an ability to prioritise and make points in a logical and progressive way

  7. Structuring and presenting answers in a professional manner

  8. Evidencing sound knowledge from previous learning (underpinning exams)

  9. Answers are clear, factual and concise


These are general principles to help markers judge how to reward you in the exam for professional marks.  You are better to read through Specimen papers to learn how to present your answers in professional way.


"ACCA SBL: Guides on Gaining Professional Marks by Specimen Papers" is published by us to guide you through how to gain professional marks in SBL.

Exam skills

ACCA claims SBL is an exam likely differ from other exams in this professional qualification. 


You are advised to master core examination skills below through practising Specimen papers or revision questions published by Approved Content Provider before you attempt the paper.


Time management

3 hours 15 minutes exam with pre-seen materials. You are suggested to familiar pre-seen materials on integrated case information and planning how to answer.

In other words, you have 195 minutes to answer all requirements and obtain 80 technical marks while 20 professional marks are gained through planning and tone setting, that is, 1 mark equal to 1.95 minutes.


Effective reading

As there is no choice of question, it is not necessary to skim through the paper.


A “Requirement-driven” approach below is advised to you and it ensures that you can identify and highlight relevant information when you read through the scenario and the exhibits.


Step 1:             Reading opening section

Step 2:             Focus next on requirement

Step 3:             Read through various exhibits


analysing requirements

You have to make sure you are clear about what is being asked, so analysing each requirement carefully.


Marks will only be awarded for answering the question set.Pay special attention to the verbs used.



5 Ps you have to remember, Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance


When you attempt SBL, some basic rule you need to know.For example, 1 valid point is equivalent to 1 mark unless specifically stated it’s not the case.


If you are given 10 marks including 2 professional marks, you know the examiner expects you can provide 8 points to answer.


writing skills

It is not an English writing test but before you write your answer, you need to stop and think about your role before writing on the question book.


This is important you “get into character” and adopt the role of the person assigned to deal with specific task.

"ACCA Strategic Business Leader (SBL): Attempt it step-by-step" shares with you on how to attempt SBL paper, step-by-step, with reference to Specimen paper that can help you.

ACCA SBL Articles

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