ACCA SBL: Guides on Gaining Professional Marks by Specimen Papers

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

ACCA SBL Specimen Papers are published. They are very useful for you to prepare exam. In this article, I share with you how to gain professional marks by referencing with Specimen Papers. If you would like to know SBL's syllabus and exam format, you can click HERE to get it.

Brief Introduction

A change of Professional Level of ACCA qualification is effective from September 2018.

It means 1 new paper, Strategic Business Leader (SBL), will replace two existing papers, P1, Governance, Risk and Ethics and P3, Business Analysis.

There are 9 areas covered in ACCA SBL syllabus –

A. Leadership

B. Governance

C. Strategy

D. Risk

E. Technology and data analytics

F. Organisational control and audit

G. Finance in planning and decision making

H. Innovation, performance excellence and change management

I. Professional Skills

In our article “ACCA SBL: Mapping of Key Syllabus Areas from Previous Level Exams”, we shared with you how do Fundamental and Skills level exam papers link to ACCA SBL syllabus from area A to area H.

Now, we focus on area I, Professional Skills.

An important note to you in ACCA SBL is 20% of this paper marks are in professional skills asked in the questions.

It is significantly higher than other strategic professional level papers which only include 4 marks in professional skills.

Where are the professional marks from?

In ACCA SBL syllabus, it states clearly the exam is assessed 100% of an integrated case study with pages of information provided.

In addition to the technical capabilities, which share 80% of total marks, the exam assesses your 5 professional skills (20% of total marks):

1. Communications –

  • Inform

  • Persuade

  • Clarify

It means you can express yourselves in a clear and convincing way through proper medium by paying attention to your audience.

2. Commercial acumen –

  • Demonstrate awareness

  • Use judgement

  • Show insight

It means you need to show awareness of organisational and external factors affecting business, applying your sound judgement and commercial insight to suggest solutions on issues.

3. Analysis –

  • Investigate

  • Enquire

  • Consider

It means you have to thoroughly research and study information from different sources (i.e. exhibits) and consider to propose proper actions after logically process the information and data.

4. Scepticism –

  • Probe

  • Question

  • Challenge

It means you are asked to probe, question and challenge information and views provided to you, to understand the business issues and ethical values with facts identified.

5. Evaluation –

  • Assess

  • Estimate

  • Appraise

It means you have to adopt a balanced approach to assess organisational issues, proposals and arguments, to estimate future trends and forecast outcomes after opinions and findings are appraised.


An article “Strategic Business Leader – Professional Skills marking guide” published by ACCA provides us the hints how examiners set exam requirements on SBL exam.

In addition to technical skills, the exam requirements is set to “help discriminate between candidates on the basis of their overall “professionalism” in writing their exam answers”.

There are 9 evidences to support whether the answers provided can complement technical skills with “professionalism” –

  1. Making the most important or crucial points relating to the requirement;

  2. Showing deep or clear understanding of underlying or causal issues and integrating knowledge from a number of sources to make points;

  3. Only making relevant points and not including superfluous information;

  4. Not repeating points already made;

  5. Addressing the requirements as written;

  6. Showing an ability to prioritise and make points in logical and progressive way;

  7. Structuring and presenting answers in a professional manner through faithfully simulating the task as would be expected of the person being asked to carry it out;

  8. Evidencing sound knowledge from previous learning (e.g. F1/AB, F5/PM, F8/AA, F9/FM);

  9. In addition to being clear, factual and concise, students should express themselves convincingly, persuasively and show credibility in what they say.

Note: 9 evidences are extracted from “Strategic Business Leader – Professional Skills marking guide”

To sum up, “professionalism” is writing to the points related to requirements, deep understanding of the issues and ability to prioritise arguments in logical way.

Invalid points or repeating same arguments in the discussion should be avoided as they show you are lack of professionalism and cannot gain full professional marks.

Communication in different “formats”

Based on all published materials by ACCA on SBL exam, communication is the most important professional skills as it can be found in a lot of questions in 2 issued Specimen exams.

As mentioned, communication is the ability to inform, persuade and clarify as requested.

So, how does the examiner set requirements in question to test you?

In each requirement, specific format in presenting your answers in SBL exam is asked.

But remember, no matter what the format is required, addressing your role and your audience role is the most important task before you draft your answer.

Since it helps you to set the tone in the answer, the first step showing your professionalism.

From 2 published Specimen exams, we come up with 7 types of format that you have to know.

I explain to you with example one by one.

1. Letters, emails and memos

Letters, emails and memos should not be new to most of you.

However, it is easy to forget the correct tone in your answer.

In general, your role in ACCA SBL exam is most probably a senior management or advisor or consultant and your audience is the chairman or board of directors.

The tone should be rather formal instead of informal, so you should avoid shortened words or phrases.

However, you should keep your sentences and answers concise, to the point and well organized.

A letter sample is from Question 2b, Specimen 2 is presented in next Section below.

2. Reports