I have regularly lectured on ACCA Paper F8. Obviously there is considerable technical content, but I never seek to be amazed by the poor answers that many students submit to even reasonably straightforward questions.
I believe that there is much scope for the general improvement of answers if students attend properly to basic exam technique. Many of the points made here could be found in the examiner’s reports – but unfortunately I’m not sure how much attention students pay to these and the very good advice they contain.
The approach you should adopt
To maximize the marks that can be obtained by good technique, I suggest you use the mnemonic VeSTeD, where the consonants stand for:
The verbs in the requirements must be noted, especially where there are several eg:
- List….. explain
Marks are lost if the verb requirements are not addressed in the answer. I suggest that you underline the verbs to ensure that none is overlooked. I also suggest that you try changing the requirement slightly, as follows, by the use of ‘I will….’ So that requirement (a) would become:
“I will list SIX….I will explain the reason…”
This can be effective on getting you to concentrate on the verbs and it expresses your determination to address the requirements positively and properly.
Typical verbs used in the requirements are: list, explain, describe, state, discuss. These are also chosen carefully by the examiner. Broadly, what they imply is:
- List: Very basic. Simply write items in the form of a list with no need for detail or explanation.
- State: not much more than list. No need to explain.
- Outline: just the main features to be covered.
- Describe: you need to give detail to ‘paint the full picture’
- Distinguish: compare two or more things; point out what makes them different.
- Explain: this is more than a description. Write one sentence that describes, then write at least on other to explain why the ?rst sentence is so, or the consequences of the ?rst sentence. Use examples to help your explanations.
- Identify: selective description. You pick up on key points.
- Compare and contrast: How are things similar and how they are different?
- Discuss: There needs to be a dialogue between two or more points of view. Ideally a discussion should end with a conclusion. Think about: advantages/ disadvantages/ conclusion, or reasons why/reasons why not/conclusion. It is also possible to ‘discuss’ one viewpoint. For example you may be asked to ‘discuss the advantages of…’. Does this mean you have to do the disadvantages as well? No – simply go through the advantages, saying whether they apply in this situation, or whether they are each a major advantage or a relatively minor one.
- Evaluate: You have to judge the worth, importance or value of something. Think of this as a higher level discuss.
- Suggest/recommend: Telling our audience what to do. This is usually the last requirement in a question because you ?rst need to identify, explain and evaluate before you can recommend or suggest a way forward.
The scenario is very important in this question and in the 20 mark questions. The careful editorial process that ACCA uses to produce questions means that you should assume that no word gets into a question accidentally. Therefore, students should be suspicious – very suspicious – of every detail and description
For example, in a question the following details (amongst many others) could be considered potentially relevant to the answer:
|“assembles fridges, microwaves…..”.||Probably the inventory is not very prone to theft/misordering|
|“large number of suppliers”||Many supplier accounts to keep right; probably many ordering events|
|“an authorized supplier”||How do they become authorized? Are there several per inventory item?|
When a scenario is provided you will have to use the detail there. This allows the examiner to test your ability to apply auditing knowledge to specific settings. So:
“(a) List SIX audit procedures that an auditor would normally carry out on the purchases system at X Co, explaining the reason for each procedure. (12 marks)”
You are not being asked about general audit procedures: you have to think which ones are relevant to X Co and explain why you would carry out that procedure in that client.
The time for each part is indicated by the marks. 1 mark gives 1.8 minutes, therefore about 20 minutes needs to spent writing the answer to (a). Time also indicates the detail expected. You must fully use the time available and keep adding detail and explanation as necessary. Time implies the length of the answer. For 20 minutes writing you should expect at least one page of answer; two pages would be better. It is extraordinary how many answers to 10 mark questions consist of less than ½ a page of writing. You could barely award 10 marks if you gave one mark per word!
The time should show consistency with the verb(s) used in the question.
You can make more efficient use of time by considering the answer format and very often a tabular approach is useful, especially in multi-verb requirements. In part (a) two columns, one for the ‘list’ part of the requirement, the second for the ‘explaining’ part is a natural approach. Tabular approaches are used in practice too. For example, the typical management letter contains columns for weakness, effect of weakness, suggested remedy.
Finally detail. This implied by the verb and the time, but is too often superficial and not precise. Two suggestions to try to get down to the detail required:
- Pretend you are there, doing the job. Write down exactly what you would do whether in terms of audit tests, what you would do when attending inventory counts, addressing financial statement assertions.
- Pretend you are explaining in sufficient detail that a 16 year-old trainee, with no audit experience, could follow your instructions, understand your concerns or understand your explanations.
One of the great recurring grumbles from the examiner is the use of the word ‘check’, as in ‘check supplier invoices’, ‘check trial balance’, ‘check receivable balance’. Obviously, if you told a naïve 16 year old to ‘check invoices’ that assistant would not know what you meant. Which of the following do you really mean?
- Ensure they are cancelled after payment
- Look for evidence that the invoices were accepted only for goods actually received
- Re-perform the calculations
- Trace the invoice to the appropriate payables ledger account
If you don’t make the effort to say exactly what you mean, you can’t expect many marks.
So, try to make it a rule never to use the verb ‘check’. There are so many more precise words (agree, reconcile, recalculate, trace, inspect, observe, confirm, verify, test, ensure, examine and so on), and use of those inevitably forces you to add detail.
What verbs words, other than ‘check’ could describe the audit procedure you would carrying out in the following parts of an audit?
- Receivables balances and the control account agree.
- Paid invoices should be cancelled.
- Goods should be counted when received.
- Only ordered goods should be accepted.
- Cut-off for sales must be correct.
- Have management included all contingent liabilities.
- Do fixed assets exist?
- Have the depreciation calculations been correctly performed?
- Is the level of receivables reasonable?
- Was the inventory count satisfactory?