ACCA Exam Structure Evolution: Five Advice that you can't miss

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

ACCA exam structure was changed significantly from September 2018.

A smart student liked you is better to know what it is and plan to have a higher chance to pass the exams when you practice past papers.

Do you know the new module title and name of paper?

Do you know how many papers to be attempted in professional module in future?

Did you get advice from ACCA on how to plan your exam?

Do you know there is a change in exam format on professional module?

Don’t worry, I will help you to understand of what are new and differences from existing exams in this article.

In addition, advices are given to you to plan for your ACCA exam.

Background of new ACCA exam structure

ACCA’s Executive Director on Strategy and Development was interviewed by one of magazines in November 2016 to talk about the background of change.

Even you haven’t read this, the key message from the director during interview was a research report done in 2014 showed “The result is strategic, forward-thinking professionals equipped with the unique blend of skills needed to hit the ground running”.

To echo the market needs, ACCA decided to have a change and the strategic professional level to be benchmarked at Master’s level on a number of education frameworks.

Read the article from PQ Magazine on the interview.

1. Module title change

Maybe you know it, but better to repeat here, effective from Sep 2018 sitting, all module titles will be changed.

Knowledge Module changed to Applied Knowledge Module

Skills Module changed to Applied Skills Module

Professional Module changed Strategic Professional Module.

Both Applied Knowledge Module and Applied Skills Module exam structure and content will not be changed significantly.

But Strategic Professional Module will be changed broadly.

2. No more exam numbers

All exam numbers will no longer be used.

Instead, exam names reflect the subject replace the codes, e.g. F9 is replaced by Financial Management.

Read ACCA article "What do the changes mean for me?"

However, I am surprised to see a change in ACCA’s attitude on it from its latest exam guideline.

In ACCA latest Strategic Business Leader materials published, it indicates the paper abbreviations for both Applied Skills Module and Strategic Professional Module.

Examples include PM (Performance Management, i.e. F5), AA (Audit and Assurance, i.e. F8), SBL (Strategic Business Leader) and AFM (Advanced Financial Management).

From remembering the word plus number, now you need to memorize those words.

However, not all published materials show the change. I will update you once if there is any news released by ACCA on it.

ACCA Exam Papers

Source: ACCA Website

3. Number of papers attempt in Strategic Professional Module

From Sep 2018, only 2 essential papers are required.

Total papers to be attempted in Strategic Professional Module are 4 now, reduced from 5 in current professional module.

However, you have to pay attention that if you are currently taking either P1 or P3, you have to pass both instead of taking new Strategic Business Leader paper.

Richard Clarke, who was a Director at BPP responsible for training all of their tutors worldwide on how to teach, in his blog said you are losing that pass if you cannot pass both before Sep 18.

Read Richard Clarke's comments

If you haven’t passed either P1 or P3 and you would like to attempt 1 essential paper in March 18 or June 18, ACCA reminds you must be very cautious in choosing which paper to attempt.

You are encouraged to check how are the changes affecting your studies on ACCA website.

Link to ACCA website to check how are the changes affecting you.

ACCA would show you any impact from new exam structure on you (picture below).

Source: ACCA Website

If you haven’t passed any P1 or P3 now, ACCA suggest you should consider taking P2 or the Options exams first.

Professional level exams can be taken in any order.

It is also my advice to you.

4. All questions are compulsory in Strategic Professional Module

From your perspective, the change to all questions are compulsory is the biggest news ever.

Except for Strategic Business Leader, all other papers in this module will have 2 sections and all questions in each section have to been answered.

ACCA Exam document shows no more choices in professional level questions.

In other words, no more choices are given to you.

Currently, you are offered choices in Section B (e.g. P4, Advanced Financial Management).

From P4 examiner’s comments, the choice of questions in Section B is uneven.

P4 Examiner said students are generally choosing advanced investment appraisal and advanced risk management in Section B.

It is not surprised students select topics that have higher chance to be in ACCA exam.

Focusing on selected areas is probably their way to increase the chance to pass.

That is why some of the students not studying the whole syllabus.

However, this tactic is no more effective while all questions are compulsory to be answered.

ACCA is now guiding you to study the whole syllabus to pass!

ACCA Strategic Professional

Sources: ACCA documents on syllabus

5. Professional Marks

Except for Strategic Business Leader, all other Strategic Professional papers questions contain 4 professional marks. It is no change from current structure.

If you plan to take Strategic Business Leader in Sep 18 or after, please note that there are 20 professional marks assigned.


Yes, I am.

With such heavy weight in professional marks, you are suggested to practice more on professional writing in order to familiarize with it.

More on Strategic Business Leader

Here is a summary for you to have a brief understanding of this paper.

  • It is a 4-hour exam. It includes reading, planning and answering of the questions.

  • You are given 1 case materials and assignments to be answered.

  • These assignments or tasks may require you to take on different roles, depending on the situation.

  • You take on various roles of organisational leaders, consultants or advisers to senior management.

In addition, the fundamental knowledge of Strategic Business Leader is widely covered from prior exams.

Read Strategic Business Leader syllabus

Source: ACCA Exam - Strategic Business Leader syllabus

Suggested study hour for Strategic Business Leader

No doubt that Strategic Business Leader is an unusual paper.

It has broader syllabus than other exams at the professional qualifying level.

Since the exam is an integrated one with substantial use of professional as well as technical skills, you need to prepare the exam longer than other exams.

To pass, you are required –

  1. To cover broader syllabus content

  2. To allow adequate practice time for cash study assessment and revision

  3. To encourage and develop the demonstration of professional skills to support the award of Professional skills marks.

Here is the extract from ACCA on the recommendations to study Strategic Business Leader –

Source: ACCA Exam - Strategic Business Leader syllabus


From Sep 18, the new ACCA exam structure will be effective.

In other words, there are only 2 sittings with current format, i.e. March 18 and June 18, remaining for you.

If you are planning to take professional module papers in next 2 sittings, you are carefully to consider how the new structure may impact on you.

If you haven’t completed either P1 or P3 before March 18, you can go to P2 or other optional papers to avoid any risk of losing any pass (if you only pass either P1 or P3 before Sep 18).

In addition, papers in Strategic Professional module will offer no choice in questions.

The tactic to focus on selected areas on current exam structure may be not applicable.

4 professional marks for all Strategic Professional papers, except Strategic Business Leader.

20 professional marks for Strategic Business Leader and a broader syllabus as compared to other papers in the same module.

ACCA suggests 50% more of studying time for Strategic Business Leader than normally required for other exams in this level.

If you have any questions on the topics discussed above, just leave your comment below and I am glad to answer you.

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