5 differences between paper exam and CBE you can't miss

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

In March 2018, ACCA F9 (also F5, F6(UK), F7 & F8)* is changed to new session Computer-Based Exam (CBE) in UK (and the following markets: China, Dubai, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Pakistan, Slovakia, Sri Lanka).

*From September 2018, they change to PM(F5), TX(F6), FR(F7), AA(F8) and FM(F9).

Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia follow the same in June 2018.

We firstly brief five things you need to know about CBE. In addition, we try to solve some of your concern on seeded questions, which will be explained later.

1. Section A (Objective Test Questions)

In paper exams, only Multiple Choice (MC) question types are used. But in CBE, there are a mix of different Objective Test (OT) question types which candidates have to handle.

OT question types include:

Multiple choice – It is the same as paper based exam in which you only need to choose 1 answer from a number of options;

Multiple response – It is a kind of multiple choice questions. However, you need to choose more than 1 answer from a number of options. The question states clear that how many answers you need to choose from.

They system doesn’t stop you to choose more or less the required number of answers, but no marks (or no partial marks as well) will be given;

Fill in the blank – You need to type your answer in the box. It is mainly a numerical answer;

Drag and drop – You need to drag an answer and drop it into a place. Match the correct answer or select multiple answers for a question are the major requirements;

Drop down list – You are required to select an answer from a drop down list;

Hot spot – You need to select an answer and put it in the appropriate box in an image;

Hot area – It is similar to Hot Spot but you need to select answer from the image directly. We see the question format is selecting correct or incorrect on a particular statement.

2. Section B (Objective Test Case Questions)

There are THREE cases in Section B. Each case contains FIVE questions and TWO marks for each question.

The questions are independent with each other. In other words, you don’t need to worry an incorrect answer in each question will affect other question.

It is same as Section A, the question has different format. Only correct answer gives two marks and no partial marks.

3. Section C (Constructed Response Questions)

There is no change in question style between paper based exam and session CBE.

If you are good at spreadsheet and word processing tools and skills, you are in advantage as those tools are used in answering questions in CBE.

Manual calculation and drawing can be done in the paper provided, however, they are not graded in CBE.

Therefore, you are better to learn those tools in order to take the advantage.

Regarding to the formulae used in spreadsheet, ACCA stresses only selected formulae will be provided. Here are the commonly formulae put in your CBE spreadsheet –

  • Sum

  • Average

  • Square Root

  • Power

  • Count

  • Round

  • Log

*Extracted from ACCA published document "Your Guide to ACCA CBEs"

4. Number of timeslots in each exam session

Under session CBE, students can choose either morning or afternoon sitting subject to availability at the selected center. This flexibility is good to students for their exam scheduling.

5. Exam Duration

You are given 3 hours 20 minutes to finish session CBE.

Time allowed for paper based exam is 3 hours 15 minutes.

Probably you are happy to see there is 5 minutes more in session CBE than paper exam to complete.

However, there is no free lunch in the world!

In session CBE, it contains 110 marks of exam content in which 100 marks contributing to the student result and 10 marks of seeded questions which do not contribute towards student’s result.

The 10 marks of seeded content will either be randomly distributed within Section A or Section B of the exam. More of seeded question will be discussed in the following.

6. ACCA Seeded Questions

Recently, a lot of students are asking about the seeded questions in ACCA session CBE exams.

I receive some of you telling me if the paper is difficult, then, those seeded questions will be counted so that you can have 110 marks in total and only need to get 50 marks for a pass.

However, it is not true.

Probably it is good to explain how it works and what the impacts on your result are.

“Seeding questions” are those questions put in the exam but not counted in student’s final results.

It is one of security measures to assure exam quality, be fair to all students.

But why does ACCA introduce seeding questions in CBE but not in paper based exams?

It is because CBEs are offered at multiple time slots and venues so that it is important to assure the exam quality to be consistent for every exam offered.

In CBE, seeded questions are probably seen either in 5 questions in Section A or 1 case in Section B.

The level of difficulty for seeded questions is the same as other questions.

You are not told which questions are seeded questions.

In addition, the system randomly distributes seeded within the exam.

So, you are not be able to determine which questions are the seeded questions.

The golden rule for ACCA Applied Skills level exam is 1 mark equivalent to 1.8 minutes. Therefore, you should be given 180 minutes or 3 hours to complete a paper.

Now, you are given 20 minutes more to complete 10 more marks in an exam. In principle, you are not at disadvantage in the exam.

Updated on 1 February 2019

ACCA just announced there will no more seeded questions from June 2019 CBE because it is able to offer the same level of exam scheduling flexibility, fairness and results reliability all without the need to include unmarked seeded content.

From June 2019, Applied Skills session CBEs duration will change from 3 hours 20 mins to 3 hours.

Words to you

When I talked to students about CBE, they don’t have a lot of questions relevant to the question format but many questions about the seeded questions or what formulae will be provided in spreadsheet.

As explained, you are given adequate time to finish all questions, including seeded questions. You don’t need to worry about it.

Another challenge in CBE as compared to paper based exam is about “computer”. It means whether you are good at using computer in exam environment.

Some students are worrying about how to apply the formulae in spreadsheet.

For example, they ask how to take the “power” or “square root” in spreadsheet since it is very popular to use these formulae in discounted cash flow questions.

My advice is to practice CBE specimen exam earlier enough to understand how to apply those formulae in spreadsheet, which I highlighted above.

One of important keys to pass CBE is you must familiarize exam environment.

One good news to you about CBE is time saving against paper based exam. In principle, you could manage the time easier than paper based exam.

Leverage this advantage and good luck to your CBE!


Your Guide to ACCA CBEs


Seeded content FAQs


Session CBE exam format


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