ACCA Pass Rates March 18 Exam: What exam tips do examiners tell you?

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

This artile is about March 2018 ACCA exam pass rates and examiners’ comments. If you would like to read the latest ACCA attempt examiners’ comments and guidance, please click HERE for details.

ACCA pass rates and results on March 18 exam are released.

My sincere congratulations to 3,430 ACCA students who pass their final exam and become ACCA affiliates. It is really a great milestone in the life!

Before telling you what are my analysis and comments on the March 18 exam pass rates, here I would like to share with you what ACCA says about it.

The headline used in ACCA announcement on March 18 exam is “Strong CBE Pass Rates in ACCA’s First Exam Session For 2018”.


My first impression is, “Wow! So great!”

In addition, ACCA executive director strategy and development said, “We’re delighted with the pass rates in the March 2018 sitting. Results were notably strong for computer-based exams (CBE) in Skills exams (F5 to F9) demonstrating how well the learning support we have in place is working.”

It pushes up my expectation to all F5-F9 papers pass rates to be much higher than historic average.

However, when I read the pass rates for each paper, I am disappointed!

I find F5-F9 papers pass rates in March 18 are all lower than in December 17.

ACCA Pass Rates March 2018

ACCA March 18 One Pager

For ACCA Pass Rates on December 17, please click here to read in details.

On professional module papers, P1 and P3 pass rates show more than half of candidates passing the exam. It remains above historic average which is encouraging.

For other professional papers, we see P4 hits 41% which has not been seen since December 2013.

But P7 drops to only 30% and P5 pass rate is still the lowest among all papers in ACCA exam, stay at 29% which is same as December 2017.

CBE is the focus in March 2018

The reason why ACCA, students and tutors focus on March 2018 F5-F9 paper exam results because it is the first session for 9 markets withdrawing fully from paper exams.

Everyone wants to know how students’ performances are. It helps all of tutors and students to prepare upcoming exam.

However, ACCA doesn’t publish paper exams and CBE pass rates separately. It is hard for students and tutors to know the root cause on falling pass rates as published.

We can only review each paper examiner’s comments to understand why.

Skills Module Pass Rates Drop

Unfortunately, March 18 pass rates across all papers between F5 and F9 drop against those in December 17.

ACCA Pass Rates F5, F6, F7, F8, F9

ACCA Skill Module Papers (F5-F9) Pass Rate Trend

F6, F7 and F9 pass rates are still at the historic average.

Pay attention to newly published accounting standards for ACCA F7

Students are generally performing well in F7 exam. However, examiner finds the following areas are weak –

  • Events after reporting period;

  • Leases;

  • Revenue from construction contracts

  • Revenue from contracts that offer both the supply of goods at a specific point in time.

It is surprise to see students are lack of knowledge on IFRS 16 Leases and IFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers, given they are issued by IASB recently.

You better read through all latest published articles about accounting standards update as the chance to see them in exam is high.

Practice discursive questions and understand the answers thoroughly

F9 pass rate is 46%, slightly lower than 48% in December 2017.

As usual, students perform better in calculating NPV or WACC, but less well performed in others especially discussing knowledge and explaining terms and concepts in Section C.

It is found three common errors were done by many students in ACCA F9 March 18 exam –

  • Requiring students to discuss superiority of DCF versus non-DCF investment appraisals methods but answers are in comparing NPV and IRR or not discussing non-DCF methods;

  • Students are unable to apply joint probability table in investment appraisal;

  • Lack of understanding on capital structure theories and practical considerations.

Learning those mistakes are made by March sitters, you better avoid to have the same in next sitting.

Since we find discursive questions contribute half of total marks in Section C, you are suggested to prepare well on those topics by practicing relevant past paper questions.

F8 (Audit & Assurance) pass rate has no improvement

F8 March 2018 pass rate is 39%.

F8 pass rate is now a concern to both tutors and students.

It has been between 37% and 40% for a while.

A lot of students cannot complete their skills module because they cannot pass F8 which is the last one in this module.

F8 exam structure is different from other papers in the same module, such as F5, F7 and F9.

70% of the marks are from constructed response questions which means students are required to write the answers in their own words.

In CBE, some students’ answers were difficult to understand caused by misspelt words.

You are reminded that no spell check function provided in word processing tool.

You need to check all spellings by yourself to make sure markers can understand your answers.


In addition to the writing, examiner tells us three areas that many students cannot do well –

Internal controls

Many candidates failed to score many marks in knowledge or factual requirement;

Audit evidence

Overall performance is very disappointing on describing relevant audit procedures for a particular class of transactions or event;

Review and reporting

Many candidates are unable to describe the number of substantive procedures or the procedures are vague.

If you plan to attempt F8 or AA (Audit & Assurance) in future, you are better to ensure you go through those areas above and read examiner’s report in details.

F5 is most difficult paper to pass in Skills Module

If we just base on pass rates from 2015, F5 is the most difficult paper to pass.

In the latest attempt, F5 pass rate stays at 39%.

Not good!


So, which areas did many students perform badly? There were three –

  • Many students are lack of full understanding of learning curves;

  • Very few students understand transfer pricing theory;

  • A lot of students didn’t discuss in depth on performance management and CVP analysis questions.

Without earning marks in these areas, students are very difficult to pass F5.

Learning curve formula is one of few formulae provided in the formulae sheet in F5 exam.

However, it is found a lot of students are weak in fundamental knowledge such as the learning curve calculations are based on cumulative, i.e. total production.

Transfer price is typically a difficult areas to students but you cannot skip this as it is always in the exam.

Although many students can pick up easy marks, e.g. showing divisional profits under stated transfer pricing arrangement, very few of them can suggest profit maximization strategy based on transfer pricing.

Another issue finding in Examiner’s Report is students are not answering questions with relevant arguments.

An example is the question asking you to comment on the performance and the answer is simply the performance is good.

There is no further explanation or commentaries followed.

You are required to expand your answer by telling the marker why your answer is good (or bad) performance, based on the case materials.

A big change is coming for Professional Module

As you know, professional module structure will be in revolution from September 2018.

P1 and P3 will be removed and SBL (Strategic Business Leader) paper is introduced.

For SBL, please read the link below –

P2 is replaced by SBR (Strategic Business Reporting).

SBL and SBR are the essential papers in professional module.

For optional papers in professional module, they remain the same but all questions are become compulsory.

Some exam techniques will be no longer valid.

Essential papers March 2018 pass rates are stable

ACCA Pass Rates P1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7

ACCA Professional Module Papers (P1 - P7) Pass Rates

P1, P2 and P3 performance are quite stable which pass rates are also the similar in recent sittings.

June attempt is the last chance for students who would like to exempt from taking SBL by passing both P1 and P3 papers together.

In March attempt, P1 examiner tells us tips how to pass in its last exam –

  • Students who focus on Section A first used the additional 15 minutes more productively, overall marks achieved appears to be better than attempting the questions in other sequence;

  • Most successful students adopted an effective but concise answer approach;

  • Leverage ACCA website resources, especially for recently added articles.

Passing optional papers are not only knowledge but also exam technique

P4, P5, P6 and P7 are optional papers while you have to pass 2 of them in order to become ACCA Affiliate or Member, given you pass all other essential papers.

From my conversations with students, I find a number of them would choose P5.

However, P5 pass rate has never been good since December 2016, honestly.

P5 March 2018 pass rate is 29%, the same as December 2017.

PQ Magazine, a popular magazine for part qualified accountants, did a survey with students taken P5 in March 2018. One P5 March sitter said, “The likelihood is most of us will have failed.”

Sadly, more than two-thirds of sitters fail.


P4 pass rate is high because March sitters are smart?

In P4 examiner’s report, it is claimed that the good performance in this diet because students wisely chose optional questions to answer.


1 of optional questions is least popular and very few students answered well.

And which P4 optional question is least popular in March 2018?

The question on option pricing model, delta hedging, gamma, put or call option.

Delta, gamma means a nightmare to ACCA students, therefore, this question is least popular in optional questions.

P4 examiner friendly reminds students who will attempt in September 2018 onwards that all questions are compulsory.

It will not be possible to avoid questions that appear unappealing.

If you haven’t decided which optional paper to take from September 2018, I suggest you to check your tutors or peers to have advice on the full P4 syllabus to ensure you know whether you can handle it.

P7 pass rate drops to only 30%

ACCA P7 is usually considered a difficult paper in professional module because students are required to be strong for both auditing and financial reporting knowledge.

That’s why it is suggested to students taking P7 right after passing P2.


In this diet, examiner lists out the following areas for any of you to prepare on upcoming P7 exams –

  • Materiality is badly dealt with, especially the calculation is not relevant to scenario;

  • Unable to apply accounting standards or International Standards on Auditing in the scenario;

  • Using vague phrases or did not prepare in sufficient depth in answer.

To pass P7, you need to -

  • Refresh your knowledge on latest accounting and auditing standards;

  • When you study P7, you are advised to link auditing to other topics and subjects;

  • Reinforce your knowledge in all auditing basics, e.g. independence, ethics, audit risks and so on.

P5 is still the most challenging paper

If I say P5 is the most difficult paper in ACCA professional exam, I think more than 90% of you agree with me.

Low pass rate, unclear study approach, not organized articles……

I heard a lot of words from different students on P5.

But the conclusion is it is really hard to pass!

It is no exception in March 2018 attempt to see P5 has the lowest pass rate (only 29%) among all papers.

In December 2017 pass rate analysis, I shared the way to study P5.


Now, I would like to quote from P5 Examiner on what are essential to pass it.

It is found that a lot of students attempting P5 are adopting similar approach to F2 or F5.

It means they try to memorize all key terms and concepts and put them on the answer book.

Perhaps this approach can help you to pass F2 and F5, but it is really difficult in P5.


But at the same time, it is also found many students are lack of some basic knowledge such as –

  • Key performance indicators;

  • Zero-based budgeting;

  • Value-based management.

So, what are the steps to study in order to increase the chance to pass P5? Here is my 8-step approach -

  1. Grasp all basic knowledge by studying textbook or lecture notes;

  2. Select 1 set of past paper and try to write down on writing notepad what you know or understand;

  3. Read the suggested answer to compare with yours;

  4. Highlight what are incorrect or missed;

  5. Focus on those areas;

  6. Repeat step 2 above until 5 (minimum is 5) more sets of paper completed;

  7. Read the latest published articles relevant to P5;

  8. Read again your writing notepad and those past papers attempted to ensure you understand all of them.

One of the problems many students in preparing P5 exam is they are not writing enough on notepad or paper.

It is an essential part in your study since you must familiarize the exam environment before going into the exam room.


In March 2018, 4 difficult papers I would like to highlight here to help you to pass –

F5 – Learning curve, transfer pricing, performance management and CVP analysis are key concepts in F5.

You need to be sure you can expand your answers to discuss relevant to the scenarios in these topics beyond calculation.

F8 - As 70% of marks are come from constructed response questions, you are reminded to check your spelling in the exam.

Misspelt words or uncompleted sentences cause difficulty to be understood which should be avoided.

In addition, internal control, audit evidence and review and reporting are areas that a lot of students in March failed to do well. Are you sure you are not one of them?

P7 – Tips to P7 are relatively simple. My advices are

1) Check your F8 knowledge are still with you;

2) Refresh your knowledge in accounting and auditing standards;

3) Practice past papers and check you can apply your knowledge.

P5 – Grasp basic knowledge and then practice 1 full set of past paper, check your answers against suggested solutions.

Read published articles.

When you have your own notes after following the 8-step approach, you no need to have textbook and your own notes are even better!

Good luck to your ACCA journey!

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