ACCA Pass Rates September 2018 Exam: Part 2 Tips (Focus on SBL, SBR, AFM, APM & AAA)

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

ACCA published September 2018 exam pass rates for each paper.

It is great to have 3,668 students are becoming ACCA affiliates after ACCA September 2018 exam.

Congratulations to all of them.

Link to announcement:

September 2018 exam unveils the new chapter of ACCA professional exam qualification. It consists of 3 major changes in Strategic Professional –

  • A new paper, Strategic Business Leader, introduced to replace two former professional module papers, P1 Governance, Risk and Ethics and P3 Business Analysis;

  • A new paper, Strategic Business Reporting, replaced P2 Corporate Reporting while the question design and requirements are changed even the syllabus doesn’t do;

  • All questions in all strategic professional papers are compulsory.

September 2018 pass rates for Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills module exam, the performance is similar to those papers in the past.

But for Strategic Professional exam, it is not very encouraging as we find the pass rates are a bit lower than the papers at similar content before (such as P2, P4 and P7).

ACCA Pass Rates September 2018

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 December 2018 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

ACCA Pass Rates September 2018 (SBL, SBR, AFM, APM, ATX, AAA)

The new professional module pass rates send two messages to me that I would like to share:

  • Strategic Business Leader (SBL) pass rate is even at the lower range as compared to previous P1 and P3, it is still better than expected and optional paper;

  • Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) syllabus is more or less the same as P2 (Corporate Reporting) but the change in exam format caused a drop in pass rate and you need to pay extra care of knowing what is required;

  • All questions in all strategic professional papers are compulsory that time management in each paper is improved but not many students enjoy as pass rates drop.

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 to read case study materials including all exhibits and make sufficient reference to them in your answer;

  • Planning how to answer is important because it ensures important points are produced logically, the reading and planning time is suggested to be 40 minutes;

  • 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.

There are two parts in question 1.

Part a requires analysis based on financial and non-financial issues. Part b asks for a discussion difficulties in fulfilling the criteria relating to a contract laid down by government.

Part a is well answered in both technical, e.g. ratios, and professional skills, e.g. SAF (suitable, acceptable, feasible) framework.

Part b is not done very well in which not many recognized conflicts between criteria and long-term environmental impact.

Question 2 asks on evaluation of contents and summary of operational issues in a project initiation document in memo format.

Key issue here is some students show no knowledge of what a project initiation document was or what it should contain.

In addition, the failure to address the memo to junior staff member is found in many students’ works.

Question 3 is divided into two parts. Part a is about ethical and reputational concerns and part b is to assess control weaknesses. Part c asks the advantages of establishing a separate risk committee. Part a and b are well answered but Part c is poorly done.

The key problem in Part c is many answers didn’t address the benefits of a risk committee and only answering what is a risk committee.

Question 4 requires a discussion of benefits and costs of investing in big data analytics and evaluating the opportunity. The format asked in this question is slides and supporting notes.

Many answers only talked about big data in generic terms but not specific to the scenario. In addition, presenting slides that were overlong or too detailed limited their professional marks.

Last but not the least, examiner found that the pass rate for candidates who took the Ethics and Professional Skills module before sitting the exam in September 2018 was 73%.

You are strongly advised to do the Ethics and Professional Skills module before taking SBL exam to increase your chance to pass.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA SBR – Pass rate lower than 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 September 2018 pass rate is 47%. It is at the lower end of P2 pass rate history. Since its exam requirement and format changed, examiner reminds all candidates that:

“Candidates cannot rely on a single textbook or revision course to pass this examination because the required skills are not developed through rote learning but rather through a deeper understanding and application of knowledge and understanding to the scenario provided”

Question 1 is divided into 3 parts. Part a is well answered on three separate issues such as goodwill calculation, equity accounting for investment and gain or loss on disposal.

Part b is not done well. Many candidates cannot provide detailed discussion on accounting treatment of an investment as a financial asset acquisition with reference to IASB’s exposure draft.

Part c performance is acceptable while a number of students can answer a bond sold with favorable repurchase rights should be derecognized under IFRS 9.

2 parts in Question 2 while both parts were well answered. The question is about proper accounting treatment and ethical issues. The only problem here is some answers are not well structured with poor lay out.

Question 3 asks about (Part a) stakes in and sales of a development project and (Part b) disclosures on intangible assets. Part b is well attempted but Part a is weak.

The major issues in Part a are:

  • Overlooked the requirement under IAS 38 on the importance of probable future benefits and the assumption;

  • Missed the discussion over Exposure Draft;

  • Impairment review under IAS 36 is needed if there were doubts over recoverability;

  • Only outlined IFRS 15 list which is not applicable to the scenario.

Part a of Question 4 is well answered but Part b is not. Part b requires preparation of an adjusted statement of net cash generated from operating activities, reconciliation from net cash generated by operating activities to operating free cash flow and explanation of the adjustments made.

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 highest among all optional papers in Strategic Professional module. However, it drops from 40% in P4 June 2018 to 35% in September.

There is no significant change in syllabus but from this attempt, all questions are compulsory. It finds the change in questions format enabled students to maximize their time more efficiently in answering.

In general, students score higher marks in numeric questions but relatively low marks in discursive questions.

Question 1 is a 50-mark compulsory question. Four parts are required as follows:

  • Discuss why organizations may benefit from investing overseas;

  • Contrast between two kinds of option contracts;

  • Evaluate a potential international investment project;

  • The role of treasury function.

Option contracts and evaluation of international investment project are two areas not well performed.

A number of students mixed up exchange traded with over-the-counter options or compared options with futures/forwards.

Many students cannot apply purchasing power parity (PPP) to forecast spot exchange rate in future.

In the evaluation of international investment project, students are asked to discuss about the important implications behind their hedging choice and extra funding required, but many of them did not do well.

Question 2 is divided into two parts. Part a asks assessing of organizational performance using financial analysis while the overall performance is reasonably well.

Part b requires students to discuss the impact of behavioral factors on share prices which is very well. Many of them failed to focus on behavioral factors but focus on discussing rational reasons as to why the share price had increased.

Question 3 asks students to evaluate the value created from an acquisition strategy and discuss how a cash bid for an acquisition might be financed.

Two issues are found. First, many students cannot estimate the share of the gain from acquisition while no standard valuation models to apply. Next, when the question asks “to evaluate synergies” but some students only explain and describe what are synergies received very limited or no marks.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA APM (was P5) – Overall performance has increased slightly

In September 2018 attempt, Advanced Performance Management (APM) pass rate maintains at 33% which is similar to P5 before.

Overall performance is slightly better than before and many candidates can score well in professional marks.

Examiner shares that knowledge of any technique is essentially taken for granted.

However, it is address 1 issue noted in September 2018 APM exam. A lack of basic knowledge was demonstrated by many candidates at this diet. It will be explained below.

Question 1 required candidates to assess and calculate KPIs and ROCE, non-financial performance indicators, management styles and setting targets and using them in an appraisal system.

Surprisingly, there are not many students could calculate ROCE and operational gearing correctly. In addition, many of them simply did not appear to understand what a KPI is and simply stated the KPI without justification behind it.

Question 2 focused on corporate failure while the K Score model of corporate failure was introduced. Students are generally doing well in discussing the usefulness of the model for predicting corporate failure and calculate the K score and assess if the company is a risk of corporate failure.

However, examiner is very surprised that most students did not know to calculate operational gearing.

You are expected to calculate KPIs, financial ratios and interpret the answers in APM.

Question 3 required implementing a business process re-engineering (BPR) proposal to reduce costs. Overall performance of this question is good. Weak answers should be avoided such as explaining the concept of BPR but without reference to the scenario on discussing advantages and disadvantages.

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:

ACCA AAA (was P7) – Change of format with revised syllabus

ACCA AAA September 2018 pass rate is 30%, a bit lower than prior sitting in June 2018 P7 which was 34%.

In addition to SBL and SBR, I consider AAA is another newly designed strategic professional exam while some of students are not aware of.

The format differed from previous sessions with the change of format being introduced with the revised syllabus.

Examiner comments that many students seemed to produce answers to past questions in the examination rather than address the scenario presented.

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 consisting of 4 requirements, as follows:

  1. Produce an analysis of audit risks using analytical review of financials and other information provided on specific issues;

  2. Provide audit procedures on the goodwill figure at acquisition for the subsidiary;

  3. Review and evaluate specific parts of the component auditor’s strategy;

  4. Client’s request for auditor to be involved in choosing KPIs for inclusion in it’s integrated report.

Common mistakes are candidates spent a lot of time discussing one topic which worth no marks, calculating ratios without referring to them in discussion, not explain specifically how they would arise a conclusion or what an implication should be.

Audit risk is a common topic in exam and examiner suggests candidates should refer to September 2018 examination, the specimen exam, the March/June 2018 and the September/December 2016 published sample questions and answers.

Question 2 is a 25-mark question consisting 2 parts. Part a asks for matters to discuss with management and the impact on the audit opinion should management fail to adjust the errors. Part b requires students to describe how threats arose with two ethical issues.

Common mistakes are found that:

  • Students usually assume that every issue in a reporting question will lead to a qualified opinion while materiality must be considered.

  • It is not sufficient to say the opinion would be modified as this could mean any of four possibilities.

  • Using out-of-date accounting standards to produce an answer.

Question 3 is a 25-mark question divided into 3 parts. Part a asks for the considerations for an audit firm when deciding whether it could provide assurance on prospective financial information. Part b asks to describe procedures to be performed on the profit forecast. Part c for INT candidates is about describing quality control failings.

The weaknesses in this question are identified:

  • Candidates did not give detail on the ethical threats arising (Part a)

  • Focusing on post-acceptance issues rather than pre-acceptance decision issues (Part a)

  • Not adequate time to complete (Part c)

Detailed examiner’s report can be found:


September 2018 session is a new chapter in 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, I am glad to see the pass rate of SBL above my initial expectation, given it’s totally new with the longest syllabus among all ACCA papers.

However, I also worry SBR and other optional papers on their new format, especially all questions are compulsory to be answered.

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.

Our relational diagram helps you a lot in planning your steps to be qualified as ACCA member/affiliate.

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

Follow us on our Facebook Page to have update: