ACCA SBR exam techniques help you from marginal fail to pass

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

Since the launch of new Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) exam in September 2018, its pass rates were generally less than 50%. Many students shared in forum or Facebook that they failed just 3 or 4 marks lower than the passing mark, and didn’t know why they failed.

ACCA publishes SBR retake guide to help students who failed SBR exam to pass in future attempts. It says students who get marks between 45% and 49% is considered marginal fail. The reason is not due to they are lack of technical knowledge or not well prepared, but poor exam technique does.

Exam technique is very important to many of you as it really helps you to turn from marginal fail to pass.

Three core exam techniques you must master for SBR exam

Many tutors share their views in YouTube or Facebook on what kind of exam techniques that you need to master in SBR exam.

In my opinion, the best reference is “Exam techniques for success” published by ACCA. It states three core exam techniques you have to know and apply in SBR exam to increase your chance to pass, which are –

  1. Time management

  2. Format

  3. Content

I will explain each of them in the following by referencing to relevant exam question so you could have the idea on how to do it in your exam.

Time management

You will be given 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete your SBR exam. In the exam, there are two sections, A and B, and two questions in each section.

A good news to you is the questions in SBR exam are independent with each other. It means there is no link between the questions. You can answer them in any order as you like, given you put the question number clearly.

How can you take advantage of this?

Student should answer the question which they are most confident to do first. With plenty of time, you are less stressful to complete all requirements in a question.

But before answering questions, it is wise to utilise better the time given in exam.

You are given 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete SBR exam. The first 15 minutes, what I called the planning stage, is very critical in determining pass or fail. I recommend taking the first 15 minutes in scanning through all questions, their requirements and their marks.

In addition, it is suggested to work out how many minutes spent on each requirement in the planning stage. The rule is 1.8 minutes per 1 mark. So, you should have an idea on how to split your 3 hours in answering the questions.

Therefore, you should allocate the time to each question and have idea on which are the best questions to you to answer first.

Example on how to allocate time in ACCA SBR Exam


The purpose of presenting a well signposted answer is to help marker to identify your answers in different issues easily. Once the marker is led through a clearly presented answer to a question, your reward is marker can address your answer directly and points can be given to you.

Here are some tips to you on what elements of a good answer should have –

  • Use headings in the answer to highlight issues you address;

  • Separate headings for each issue, with lines left in between each issue for ease of marking;

  • Line items in a calculation should be labelled clearly;

  • Separate workings are advised to be referenced to the main calculation;

  • Produce calculations (especially complex calculation) on one sheet and explain them on another sheet.

Last but not the least, a good written answer in SBR is not writing an essay in the answer sheet.

My rule is putting 1 point in 1 paragraph under 1 heading. A well-developed answer point is likely to include one or two sentences.

Here is an example extracted from “Exam techniques for success” –

Answer 1: John is acting unethically because he’s asking Lucy to ignore IAS 23

Answer 2: IAS 23 requires that borrowing costs are capitalized only if set criteria are met. John is acting unethically because, in order to increase profits, he’s asking Lucy to capitalize borrowing costs that IAS 23 requires to be expensed.

Both answer makes the same point. Answer 1 does not show an understanding of IAS 23 and application of the standard. Answer 2 clearly shows what is IAS 23 and how it applies in the scenario.

In order to pass SBR exam, you must write sufficient points to score at least a pass in a given requirement.


The third exam technique shared to you is content. I do believe it is the most important element as how to write your answer to get the highest possible marks is what exam technique should do.

In general, there are two types of requirements, asking for numeric or narrative answer, or both included.

Though the complex group accounting was no more in SBR syllabus, you are probably asked to come up a numeric answer with detailed calculations. In this case, a good answer shows working in full rather than simply do it in your head or on your calculator.

The reason behind is marks can be awarded even where a final answer has been miscalculated. Own Figure Rule applies. Own figure rule means that if students given a wrong answer (figure), then provided they show their workings, they are still rewarded for what is correct.

For narrative answer, I talked how to present tidy and neatly above. But it is not enough. You should write in plain English and short sentences as these are the elements for a good narrative answer in SBR. Avoid complex words and sentence construction because it easily conveyed wrong message to marker.

Writing Approach to ACCA SBR Questions

Practice and feedback

The best way to know whether you are prepared with the exam technique is to practice them by working exam-style questions.

ACCA publishes Specimen paper and past exam paper which are the good resources for you to practice before exam. However, if there is no feedback on how you answer, it is not very useful to improve your techniques.

Therefore, you are advised to find a study buddy who can help to review your answer against marking scheme and provide you the feedback.

In addition to the marking scheme, ACCA publishes two articles which are very useful to understand what are the requirements to have pass.

If you practice SBR Specimen paper Question 1 and 2, you could refer to Read the mind of an SBR marker – Part 1 to understand how a marker assesses the answers.

If you practice SBR December 2018 Question 3 and 4, you are suggested to take a look on Read the mind of an SBR marker – Part 2.

Act now

I just share to you three major exam techniques.

Time management. You need to scan through the requirements and plan how to allocate your time to each requirement in first 15 minutes. You leave 180 minutes to answer the questions.

Format. Don’t forget a neat and tidy presentation helps markers to follow your answers easily, so all of your points can be reviewed and marked.

Content. Show workings to a numeric question and use plain English in narrative answer are the key to good answer.

Are you ready to practice your exam technique?

Just go ahead to SBR Specimen paper and past papers, act now.

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