Can ACCA SBL be done by self-study?

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

‘Can ACCA SBL be done by self-study?’ I usually heard students asking this question.

To decide whether you can do it by self-study, I would like to share with you what are needed for it on SBL exam.



The Purpose of SBL

Let me show you the purpose of Strategic Business Leader (SBL) exam. SBL is designed to mirror the workplace and the tasks are for you to demonstrate the right technical, ethical and professional skills in a real world.


Therefore, SBL exam –

  • Requires you to show a mix of technical and practical, professional skills;

  • Tests your ability to function in finance department;

  • Asks you to respond people requests from various departments or roles.

To pass the exam, you are not only technically strong but also giving your response in a professional way.


Different style of exam

To meet the purpose stated above, the exam is set differently from other exams in the same module. There are four major differences from other strategic professional exams –

  • An integrated case study exam with setting work-based tasks;

  • No preseen information before exam and on exam day, exhibits in different formats including analysis, report extracts or diagrams are presented;

  • Professional skills carry 20 marks while 4 marks in other strategic professional exams;

  • A four-hour exam and not 3 hours and 15 minutes in other strategic professional exams.


Most important part to you is in the exam, you play a role but this role may change from task to task in the exam.


We see September 2018 SBL exam, different roles were set in different tasks but in December 2018, only one role was set.


You need DIFFERENT style of study

Reading a textbook and past exam questions/answers alone cannot help you to pass SBL exam. You need more than just reading a textbook or listening to lectures.


As mentioned in the beginning, SBL exam is designed to mirror the workplace so that you are required to know how an organisation works in real world.


You need to discuss ideas and approaches during your study with your fellow students or co-workers. From the discussion, your professional skills and confidence can be built up which is very important in your study.


In addition, you need to practice questions from DAY ONE. You need to have feedback from others on your practice answers.


Therefore, study alone is not an approach recommended. You are suggested to have a study buddy with you which both of you can help each other. A small study group is even better.


Study buddy

Studying SBL with one or more fellow SBL students (buddy) has two advantages –

  1. Easy to swap ideas and answers with each other or within the study group;

  2. A right person to discuss with you on the exam and its real-world context that can help both of you to apply the skills and concepts learnt.


If you haven’t had a study buddy before, ACCA exam team highly recommends you to do so for SBL exam.


Don’t worry if you cannot find one near you, you can go to connect with other students through ACCA Learning Community which is free for you to join.



Ethics and Professional Skills Module

In addition to find a study buddy, what you need to prepare before starting your study journey is completing the Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM).


EPSM is designed to develop a range of skills that the job market needed. In an interactive environment, this 20-hour module supplements your technical knowledge in the following areas –

  • Ethics and professionalism

  • Personal effectiveness

  • Innovation and scepticism

  • Commercial awareness

  • Leadership and team working

  • Communication and interpersonal skills

  • Data analytics


The examples you work through in EPSM will give you a head start on the professional skills that you have to apply in SBL. It will make your studying for SBL much easier as it includes many practical examples for you to work.


Most importantly, a statistics from ACCA shows that 25% are more likely to pass Strategic Business Leader exam if you complete the module beforehand. To have higher chance to pass SBL, you are highly recommended to complete this module.



Study text and question and answer bank

Many students read the study text and practice exam style questions 1 or 2 weeks before exam date. Probably it works for other ACCA exam, it is not the same for ACCA SBL, why?


In our ACCA SBL Guides to Study & Exam, we briefly share with you on the exam format and how to handle it. It is a four-hour exam but ACCA suggests every student has to take 40 minutes to read before attempting the tasks.


It implies reading, or more specific, reading fast is very important in this exam.


But different students have different education background so their reading speed would not be the same. If your first language is English, you are in advantage as compare to students using non-English as their first language.


The way to improve reading is to practice more.


In addition, SBL is a practical exam, it is why ACCA SBL exam team suggesting students should practice question from day one.



Study plan


All preparation works are almost done except drafting your study plan. ACCA doesn’t tell you how many hours you need to prepare for any of its exam. So, how do you know how many hours to study ACCA SBL?


In ACCA SBL study support guide, it clearly shows the suggested timetable to prepare ACCA SBL exam. It suggests 12 weeks on learning the knowledge and concepts of the syllabus and 6 weeks for revision and final preparation. In other words, you need 18 weeks to prepare.


The suggested study plan is for your reference. But there are several points you need to account for when drafting your plan –

  • If you decide to complete the EPSM alongside with your SBL preparation, you have to consider the number of hours in completing EPSM on top of the studying SBL;

  • Practice mock exam to time and obtain feedback on your answers from your study buddy is vital for you to pass the exam. My advice to you is practising mock exams 3 or 4 weeks before exam date and reviewing your own answers critically.


You are also suggested to study the areas you are weak at in the final preparation.


You have the study plan, study buddy and completing EPSM, you can study SBL now!



Underpinning knowledge


During your study, the materials from Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills are relevant to SBL exam. We have an article sharing how applied knowledge and skills apply to SBL. But do you need to study those subjects in the same level of detail as taking those exams?


The good news is that they are not re-examined in the same of detail in SBL. Therefore, you do NOT –

  • Go back and re-study large parts of Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills materials in detail;

  • Spend time practicing questions from Applied Knowledge and Applied Skills exams.


What you need to do is to prepare to bring in relevant knowledge and skills from earlier exams and refresh your knowledge from those exams. Practice SBL questions will guide you through the knowledge and skills from earlier exams.



So, can ACCA SBL be done by self-study?


ACCA SBL is an exam to test your practical skills in the real world organisation environment. You need to get used to doing the tasks, not just reading about the theory and concepts.


Before your study, you need to find a study buddy, complete EPSM and draft your personal study plan.


Then, you follow your study plan. Discuss with your study buddy on any ideas from study text, let your buddy to review your answers to each task and give you feedback.


It is definitely possible to prepare ACCA SBL by self-study. The important part is finding a study buddy which both of you learns from each other in the study journey.



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