ACCA Pass Rates March 2019 Exam: Part 2 Tips (Focus on SBL, SBR, AFM, APM & AAA)

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

ACCA March 19 attempt results are just released.

First of all, congratulate to 3,600 ACCA students passed their final exam and become ACCA affiliates.

Few observations from this attempt that I would like to highlight –

  • So far 3 attempts on the brand new SBL and SBR, none of any attempt pass rate exceeds 50%;

  • Two audit papers (AA and AAA) are the hardest to pass.

Link to announcement:

In addition, there is rumors saying ACCA will launch Strategic Professional CBE in 2020. We find ACCA wrote a lot about digital skills and knowledge in March 19 pass rate announcement.

Please pay attention on ACCA announcement about Strategic Professional CBE which will reshape the exam.

It is always important to review examiner comments as they are highly regarded as the exam tips directly from the authority. No matter you will attempt June 2019 or any future exam, they are the ‘tips’ to you.

Let’s start the sharing of what examiners tell you need to pay attention in next exam!

Strategic Professional Module Pass Rates

SBR pass rate is gradually improved from exams in September and December but still slightly below the old P2.

Based on our observations, SBL pass rate is lower than P1 or P3 by about 7 percentage points.

APM is no more the hardest one to pass in Strategic Professional Level, AAA is the most challenging one.

ACCA SBL – Reading and Planning is the key to pass

It is a 4-hour exam with a single compulsory section.

The marking scheme included 80 technical marks for the correct use and application of technical knowledge.

In addition, 20 marks are for professional skills and competencies.

Generally, you need to take note of the following in order to do well in SBL:

  • Spend sufficient time reading and assimilating the case study material before even contemplating answering the questions;

  • Spend sufficient time planning their answers to ensure they are structured logically, covering most important points, balanced in terms of depth and breadth of discussions, not padded out with superfluous waffle and avoiding unnecessary overlap and duplication;

  • It is recommended to answer the requirements in order especially examiner considers future exams may follow a timeline or have question requirements that progress in other ways.

Professional skills tested in this attempt include analysis, commercial acumen, scepticism, evaluation and communication.

General comments on this session SBL exam are –

  • The quality of some candidate’s answers tailed off towards the end of the exam with indications that they either mismanaged their time or had run out of stamina;

  • Mostly answered the questions in sequence although some of students leaving one question to answer at last. Students whose answers were not in the numerical order of the examination tended not to appreciate the implicit sequencing of events in which their answer were more theoretical than professional.

There are two parts in question 1.

Part a requires discussion of the mission, business models and strategic goals of SmartWear. Part b asks for an identification of several or more of the key risks and offer sensible solutions to the target company, SmartWear.

Good answer in Part a included applying PESTEL model, or Porter’s Five Forces or SWOT in the discussion.

Part b was answered fairly well but some produced very similar answer as part a.

Question 2 is divided into two parts. Part a asks for the success factors of SmartWear based on Porter’s Diamond model and Part b requires an assessment of stop the ongoing losses from stores to be closed and identification the ethical issues of job being lost.

Both parts were answered fairly well. Key problems from minority students are producing lengthy detailed essays, answers not relevant to requirements and repetition of information.

Question 3 asked for issues identified and recommendations. It was well answered by many students. It is worth to note that those answers with good marks are following this approach: Issue > Outcome > Recommendation.

Question 4 is divided into two parts. Part a asked the benefits of having a project while the discussions should be about trends analysis, targeted marketing, cost saving and data accuracy. Many good attempts are found in this part.

Part b asked about a project cost of capital and net present value (NPV) while the knowledge from FM (was F9) should be brought to apply in this question. This question performance wa mixed and lack of basic financial management knowledge or the answers are too generic and not specific to the question.

Similar to previous diets, the last question performance is the worst.

Question 5 contained two parts on integrated thinking and Integrated Reporting Capitals.

Part a asked students to prepare a presentation slide with accompanying notes. Part b was about how sustainable long-term value can be created by linking it to Integrated Reporting Capitals.

Poor prepared slides and incorrectly focused on integrated reporting are two common mistakes for part a. Part b discussion is too brief, lack of depth, repetition of points and running out time in their answers.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA SBR – It is a new paper and NOT P2

The purpose of SBR is to assess your professional competences within the corporate reporting environment.

Its syllabus is not significantly different to the P2 syllabus but it requires more written answers rather than numerical ones.

The exam contains two sections, A and B. Section A includes 2 questions which totaled 50 marks while Section B has 2 questions and 25 marks each.

SBR March 2019 pass rate is 49%, slightly higher than December 2018 which was 47%.

General approaches to SBR examination are –

  • Students are examined on how they apply concepts and principles to life-like scenarios that reliance on a single textbook or revision course will not be sufficient to pass. Their readings are expected to expand beyond textbook including articles from IASB, the profession and ACCA.

  • Students are expected to synthesise and evaluate material, the key focus is on the application of knowledge.

  • The SBR exam also includes ethical aspects requiring students to show their understanding of the professional and moral judgments.

Question 1 is divided into several parts. They ask 1) explanation of an entity’s presentation and functional currency; 2) goodwill calculation relating to an overseas subsidiary acquired and the disposal (after impairment); 3) explanation of goodwill calculation and the treatment of exchange differences in consolidated financial statements.

The answers provided are fairly good but please be reminded that it is easier for markers to mark your answers by breaking the answers into different parts as stated. Some candidates insist on answering as if it is one question are not appreciated to do so.

3 parts in Question 2 while all parts were answered in acceptable quality. The first part asks curtailment of a defined benefit scheme and how to account for other restructuring costs; it is followed by asking the recognition of deferred tax asset from unused trading losses; the final part asks students to discuss ethical issues.

Question 3 was poorly attempted by many students. It is divided into three parts. The first part asks the treatment of an investment in which 45% of the voting shares were owned but the company held half of the board’s nominations. Second part asks the treatment of a contract to purchase a non-financial item denominated in foreign currency. The final part is about a discussion on how IFRS 16 would impact accounting ratios.

Answers to the first and second part are relatively weak while many answers on the last part are fairly well.

Question 4 is divided into two parts and focus on accounting principles. Often, answers to this type of question are weak. Part a requires a discussion and contrast the recognition of assets and liabilities in financial statements as set out in the current Conceptual Framework and Exposure Draft on Conceptual Framework. Part b requires a discussion of the principles of IFRS 15 and students are required to apply those principles to the scenario.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA AFM (was P4) – Highest pass rate among optional papers

Advanced Financial Management (AFM) pass rate is the best among all optional papers in Strategic Professional module. Even it drops from 41% in December 2018 attempt to 35% in March 2019 attempt, it is still the highest among all optional papers.

This exam is in two sections. Section A consisted of a 50-mark compulsory question. Section B consisted of two compulsory questions of 25 marks each. All three questions in this examination contained a mixture of computational and discursive elements.

The main reasons for less well performance are –

  • Lack of detailed knowledge

  • Poor time management

  • Restating the materials in question

  • Failing to respond fully to the requirements

  • Poorly structured computational answers

  • Not adopting balanced approach in answering questions

Question 1 is a 50-mark compulsory question on impact of financing on investment decisions. Three parts are required as follows:

  • Discussion of the factors to consider when raising debt finance instead of equity finance;

  • Ask for a report that estimates a new project’s specific cost of capital when the company diversifies into a different business activity, and to discuss why the adjusted present value (APV) method might be a better technique compared to the net present value (NPV) method in appraising investment decisions;

  • Discuss whether securitizing lease income generated from projects could provide an appropriate financing source for future projects.

Not many students answered well in questions about specific cost of capital, APV vs NPV and securitization.

Question 2 is about financial derivatives and divided into three parts. Part a is about recommendation on the specific hedging choices against interest rate risk while students performed well. Part b asks to discuss the view that interest rate risk should not be hedged or should be hedged using smoothing and marks were disappointingly low. Part c requires students to define delta and gamma and explain their importance in the context of delta hedging. Candidates were generally able to define delta and gamma but only few of them were able to explain how they relate to delta hedging.

Question 3 asks students to evaluate possible takeover target companies, calculating the value created from a takeover and the feasibility of selected defence strategies.

Part a requires an analysis the suitability of two possible takeover targets which were well answered.

Part b asks a calculation of the minimum price of targeted company based on free cash flow to equity valuation and the answers were generally disappointing.

Part c is to discuss how feasible and effective the suggested defence strategies are to fight a takeover bid which was well answered by many students.

Part d required a description of due diligence review of particular operational areas that the company in question will undertake before acquiring a target company. Some candidates missed this question. Even for those who attempted, the answers were generally poor.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA APM (was P5) – Overall performance is stable

In March 2019 attempt, Advanced Performance Management (APM) pass rate maintains at 32% which is the similar as in December 2018 session.

Since September attempt, there have been no choice of questions in APM and the examiner found a number of students may have been caught out by this, having not prepared to answer questions across the whole syllabus.

In addition, some students showed MA or PM approach in attempting APM while they can only get very limited scores that cannot pass it.

There are three APM exam tips suggested by examiner, which are –

  1. Grasp all basic knowledge;

  2. Good and professional answer will go beyond the mere repetition of how a technique works and focus on specific environment;

  3. Capable of analyzing and evaluating the situation in the scenario using required technical knowledge.

Question 1 required candidates to consider issues of performance reporting and stakeholder management at a family-owned, national retailer. Overall, this question is fairly well done.

The parts are done well by many students are –

  • Evaluation of performance report of the company;

  • Calculation of economic-value added and discussion of the result.

The question about Mendelow analysis to justify approaches in performance management is only on average.

The weakest part in Question 1 is assessing how the metrics in the strategic report can be used to address the requirements of integrated reporting focusing on three of the capitals.

Question 2 dealt with issues around the introduction of activity based management (ABM) at a manufacturer of windows and related products. This was the most poorly answered question of the three at this exam.

Many candidates showed no idea of what is ABM and only very brief answers provided without any details.

Question 3 examined the issues around the value for money (VFM) provision of education and then, the production of league tables for schools across a country.

This question was not well answered by many students. The problems identified by exam team are: 1) Most candidates could not provide the definitions of 3Es (i.e. economy, efficiency and effectiveness) showing they did’t go through the whole syllabus before attempting the exam; 2) Many students can identify the issues but no details provided especially in calculating the ranking in league table.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA AAA (was P7) – Lowest pass rate in all Strategic Professional papers

ACCA AAA March 2019 pass rate is 30%, very closed to December 2018 attempt, which is the lowest one in Strategic Professional module.

The exam is in two sections; Section A consisted of a 50-mark question, and Section B which consisted of two questions of 25-marks each. All questions are compulsory.

In general, Question 1 is about evaluating risk at the planning stage of the audit alongside audit procedures. Question 2 focuses on completion and reporting. Question 3 covers acceptance of other assignments, ethics and procedures to be performed.

I always consider AAA is the most challenging paper in ACCA professional exam. The knowledge demanded is from Audit & Assurance (AA) to Strategic Business Reporting (SBR).

The majority of marks derive from the application and understanding of that knowledge rather than the knowledge itself.

In other words, you are required to answer the questions by addressing the scenario presented to pass.

To better prepare for the exam, you are not only studying text books and past exams but also need to read through a series of technical and exam articles on ACCA website.

Question 1 is a 50-mark question on the planning phase of the audit of a family owned business which consists 3 requirements as follows:

  1. Evaluate the risks of material misstatement (RoMM) arising from the scenario in planning the audit;

  2. Design principal audit procedures for risk identified;

  3. Discuss considerations for the use of an auditor’s expert, the audit implications and actions to be taken, regarding professional and ethical issues

Surprisingly, quite a lot of students are weak on internally generated brand recognition in financial statements. In addition, it is found that answers to ethics requirements continue to be weak.

Question 2 is a 25-mark question consisting 2 parts which are 1) Discussion of the evidence expected to be found on the audit file and the impact on the auditor’s report relating to specific matters detailed in the scenario; 2) To critique an extract of a draft auditor’s report. The majority of candidate answers were extremely disappointing.

Common problems are:

  1. Lack of knowledge of the type of opinions to be issued by auditors in specific circumstances;

  2. Answers were either long but without any clarity or were vague and incorrect;

  3. The critique of the extract of the auditor’s report was not relevant to the requirement.

Question 3 is a 25-mark question on acceptance of other non-assurance assignments, for example, due diligence review. Considerations include ethics in auditor’s work and procedures to be performed should be discussed. Overall, the quality of answers for this question was generally good.

Many students score good marks in the requirements regarding the considerations prior to accepting the due diligence review but not many of them can score high marks in discussions relating to ethics.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:


March 2019 session is the third exam on new ACCA professional qualification exam, especially in strategic professional module.

In Applied Skills Module, ACCA PM (Performance Management) and AA (Audit & Assurance) are still two challenging papers for pass.

It is suggested to have an understanding of the relation between each papers so that you can prepare better in your next exam. For example, what are the required basic knowledge assumed before taking ACCA PM?

In Strategic Professional Module, both SBL and SBR performance is stable and AAA is still the most difficult paper to pass.

Given the focus in Strategic Professional Module is to apply your knowledge (both in this module or the basic knowledge from Applied Skills Module), you are suggested to better plan your schedule to take exam right after what you did in prior module.

It helps to improve your chance to pass.

If you have any questions or comments, just send me email at and I will answer you shortly.

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