WHAT P1 IS
Hello and welcome to this presentation on ACCA Essentials paper P1, the
professional accountant. In this session I want to do a number of things.
Firstly, to remind people what the P1 paper and its study guide is about in
terms of key themes. Then I would like to go on to review a range of
issues arising from my experience of the three P1 diets so far. This will
involve briefly discussing the things that were generally done well and also
some of the things that candidates struggled with.
After that I will go on to talk about how I think tutors and candidates can
benefit from the experience of the first three diets and I have considered
this content in terms of advice for preparing for the exam and also some
thoughts on what to do in the exam itself.
Following that, I briefly look forward to changes to future diets and then I
conclude with a few essential ‘examiners’ tips’ that I hope will be helpful to
tutors and candidates as they prepare for future P1 papers.
Professionalism Internal control
Remember the key content of P1 and how this distinguishes it from other papers at the
Essentials level in the ACCA professional qualification. It is important to remind people
that although the study guide contains what appears to be a number of separate areas,
there are a number of key themes in the P1 study guide and, importantly, these are highly
The key themes are governance, internal control, risk management, professionalism and
ethics. All of these are underpinned by accountability. When I say accountability I mean
companies to investors, professionals to their values, directors to their shareholders,
business systems to their stakeholders and so forth.
You cannot be professional in one area of governance and unprofessional in another. You
can’t have good investor relations whilst having poor risk management systems and you
can’t have tight internal controls whilst having slack risk systems. This is what I mean
when I say that all parts are interconnected.
Governing an organisation well, for the benefit of key stakeholders such as shareholders,
employees, lenders and customers, requires excellence in corporate governance. This in
turn, rests upon sound systems of risk management and internal control. The ethical
assumptions of managers in these organisations and their standards of professional
behaviour, provide the ‘glue’ that makes the whole governance system work efficiently.
So I know turn to the review of past exams. Beginning in December 2007
there have now been three P1 diets.
DONE WELL IN
QUITE A LOT WAS DONE WELL
Understanding key frameworks such as
- Impact/probability (and TARA/SARA), and,
- Grey, Owen & Adams 7 ethical positions.
Essential corporate governance content such as roles of
Technical aspects of exam procedure such as time budgeting
Some consistently good centres
There have now been three P1 diets with entry numbers remaining high.
Pass rates have remained relatively stable at or near 50% which makes it
comparable to those for papers P2 and P3. I am always happy to see high
pass rates at exam centres and I hope that those with lower pass rates
can pick up a few pointers from this presentation.
A number of things have been done well by a majority of candidates. The
core of the P1 study guide comprises governance, risk, internal control and
ethics. Each one of these areas has its own set of frameworks. Candidates
can learn and memorise these frameworks, and it is always gratifying to
see evidence of understanding of these key areas. I am thinking here, for
example, about the Mendelow framework for mapping stakeholders, the
impact/probability matrix for risk assessment and Grey, Owen & Adams 7
Most well prepared candidate show evidence of understanding of the core
governance content such roles, responsibilities and so on. In addition, it is
probably also worth mentioning that most candidates have learned to time
budget their exam answers by the time they reach Essentials level exams.
Not everybody, of course, but most.
Also, three diets in, I’m getting a feel for where the good centres are.
Sadly, also where the poorer centres are. I would like to congratulate
tutors and candidates at centres with high pass rates and encourage those
with poorer pass rates to improve.
LOTS OF THINGS
Recognition of importance of verbs (esp. level 3 verbs)
Ethics content, especially higher level outcomes
Not knowing/revising the whole syllabus
Layout of some answers
This is easier to answer, of course. One of the biggest problems was a failure to recognise
the level of the verb in the question. More on this later. In the ethics content, for example,
many candidates can recall the content of the study guide (such as Kohlberg's levels) but
then fail to realise that the question is asking for an application of that content in some
way. Application to case content is a vital part of all P1 questions and this is signified by
the verb in the question.
It is obviously important to know the whole of the P1 study guide when preparing for the
P1 examination. There is evidence that less well-prepared candidates have question
spotted and hoped that some things will come up and not others. This is why many
candidates have been unsuccessful.
I've been surprised that candidates haven't made more attempt to obtain the four
professional marks in question 1. Very few candidates have been awarded all 4 marks
and yet these are marks that could, with some thought and preparation, be awarded to
most candidates. I have made this point in my examiner's report after each diet:
candidates should be aware of a range of presentation options in preparation for this part
of the question.
Finally, the ways in which some candidates layout their answers can be unhelpful. Some
candidates, for example, do not clearly label the part of the question they are attempting
or answer all parts at the same time. Candidates should always layout their answers
exactly as specified by the question and clearly identify the task they are attempting.
THINGS TO FOCUS ON
Understanding the main underlying themes of P1:
governance, accountability, responsibility
Verbs, verbs, verbs (used in questions)
Get ALL of the professional marks
Relating answers to the case
What is the core theme being examined in a question?
I think the first thing that candidates need to be aware of is what paper P1 is all about. The big themes in the
study guide and exam are governance, accountability, responsibility and ethics. It is quite different from a
standard accounting paper and some of the arguments and issues raised in questions might call for candidates
to adopt a different thinking approach. They might, for example, be asked to argue in favour of an argument
that they are personally against or to explore social or environmental issues that, before studying P1, they had
not previously thought about. So it is partly about learning to think about some of the bigger issues associated
with accounting and accountability.
With regard to the exam itself, there are a few issues which I will raise here but come back to later in this
presentation [talk]. Candidates that have been unsuccessful in previous diets have generally struggled with one
or all of the following issues: understanding how to apply the verb used n the question, the 4 professional
marks in question 1, in relating answers to the case study and, in some instances, misunderstanding what the
question is actually about.
Coming to that last point first, it is crucial that candidates read and study the case and the requirement in full. I
suspect that in haste, some candidates see a key word, like ‘stakeholder’ in a question and then launch into a
discussion without understanding the nuance of what the question is actually asking for.
The other points will, I suspect, apply to candidates attempting all of the three core papers at Essentials level.
Recognising and responding to the verbs used in the questions are crucial in gaining marks, and relating
answers to the case is a key part of almost all requirements on a P1 paper. ‘Assess’ does not mean ‘describe’
and ‘criticise’ does not mean ‘explain’, to name just two frequent misunderstandings. Marking guides are tightly
written to reward only at the level of the verb in the question and this is very important.
On the professional marks, I think it is worth tutors’ time explaining to candidates what the key types of
communication are as might be asked for to obtain those 4 marks. I have been frustrated, in marking P1
scripts, that so many professional marks have been un-awarded because of candidates’ apparent
misunderstanding of communication formats. I am thinking here of formal business letters, briefing notes,
memos, presentatatons, press releases, narratives in annual reports and the like.
Example of wrong verb response:
P1 Dec 08, Q3 (a) (i)
Describe FIVE general objectives of internal
I’ve got two examples from the most recent P1 exam paper.
There were two or three parts of questions for five or six marks and each
of these began with a ‘level 2’ verb. Question 3 asked candidates to
describe five general objectives of internal control, a subject dealt with well
by both approved study texts.
The five objectives of internal control are
safeguarding the assets, timely preparation of
financial information, prevention and detection of
fraud, accuracy and completeness of accounting
records and the orderly and timely conduct of the
Some candidates used bullet lists to answer this or a paragraph like this
The five objectives of internal control are safeguarding the assets, timely
preparation of financial information, prevention and detection of fraud,
accuracy and completeness of accounting records and the orderly and
timely conduct of the business.
The point to make here is that this is an identification of the objectives and
not a description. Markers were instructed to give a half mark for each
point correctly identified so the above would have attracted 2.5 marks
when, with a little extra attention to the answer, the candidate could have
gained all five marks. Over the course of a whole exam paper, these verb-
linked marks could easily make the difference between a pass and a fail.
Failure to get professional marks.
P1 Dec 08, Q1(c)
Draft a statement to be included in the next
corporate annual report.
Similarly, it was frustrating to see that some candidates weren’t able to
write their answer to part (c) of question 1 in the style of an annual report
disclosure. The question clearly asked for a statement that contained
persuasive content and read like a management commentary in an annual
I’ve been asked to write to you about...
Some answers were in the form of a memo, a report or in no special form
at all. Other candidates defaulted to a letter format, addressed to
shareholders and signed ‘yours sincerely’ or similar. I would encourage
future P1 candidates and their tutors to gain a sound familiarity with the
main communication formats that might be used.
I would like to address this question in two ways. I would like to say
something about how to improve in preparing for the P1 exam and then
how to improve doing the exam itself.
IMPROVING PERFORMANCE IN
Know ALL of the study guide and don’t question-spot
Work though previous exams and questions in approved
study text publishers
Learn about and expect the common P1 verbs: assess,
evaluate, analyse, criticise
Use business events and cases and study the P1 issues that
arise in them as preparation for the exam cases
The first thing to flag, and I know it sounds obvious, is that candidates should ensure that
they have studied and revised the whole of the P1 study guide. Guessing what might and
might not come up on an exam is a very dangerous thing to do. Just because an area has
recently appeared on the exam doesn’t mean it will necessarily be absent from the one a
candidate is about to sit.
Candidates should have worked through all of the previous P1 papers, of which there are
now three plus the pilot paper and also those in each of ACCA’s recognised study text
publishers. The examiner personally reviews the two approved study texts and so
candidates can have some confidence that the things they encounter in those texts are
helpful in preparing for the exam itself.
I hope tutors and candidates will now have started to get a feel for the way that the P1
paper is written. My aim is to make each one ‘look and feel’ similar to previous ones even
although the cases and questions will obviously be different. One facet of this is the use of
similar verbs in each paper and candidates would do well to understand clearly what is
required when they see verbs like assess, evaluate, critically evaluate, analyse and
criticise. Again, working through past exam papers will help with this.
Candidates and tutors will also have noticed, if they have studied previous exams, that
cases based on real events are sometimes used in P1 case scenarios. I say this to
encourage candidates to study, in addition to material in their study texts, real life
business events and cases, perhaps as class activities. When doing so, they might
consider some of the ‘P1’ issues that arise from them such as stakeholder impacts,
ethical issues, investor relations (agency) issues or internal control failures.
IMPROVING PERFORMANCE IN
Plan answers according to the verbs used.
Expect to have to think in the exam about how to address a
particular requirement. It may not be as expected.
You don’t have to fill multiple exam booklets to do well – fewer
‘right’ words are better than lots of wrong ones.
My comments about improvements in the exam itself are more general
and probably apply to every ACCA exam that a candidate will do. I have
been a university lecturer since 1992 and involved in ACCA marking in
different capacities, since 1994. Over that time I have got a feel for the
most frequent issues in exam performance.
The most obvious and simplest to address is time budgeting. It is very
frustrating, as a marker, to find candidates answering the first two
questions well and then turning over a page to find that the candidate has
run out of time on the third. So that’s my first point.
Second, as mentioned earlier in this talk, use the verb in the requirement
as the basis for the answer.
Third, study and scrutinise the requirement in a question to establish what
it is really asking and not what a candidates would like it to be asking.
Finally, whilst a candidates can have as many additional ACCA answer
booklets as he or she wants, it is often better to, having planned an answer
carefully, to write enough to get the marks rather than launching into a
lengthy discussion of related issues for which no marks are awarded.
Again, question scrutiny and planning will help with this.
CHANGES TO P1
No material additions or excisions to study guide this year
Expect occasional articles in Student Accountant to address
areas of interest
I am not making any material additions or subtractions to the P1 study
guide this year.
I have written several articles for Student Accountant to support P1 tutors
and candidates, and will continue to do this. I hope that they are useful.
P1 subject to less change than some technical papers
New regulations and CG codes may have an effect.
Feedback from ERB has meant some slight adjustments to
style of exam and this will continue
In one sense, the main themes covered in P1 are enduring and not subject
to change in the short term. The importance of governance, risk, internal
control and ethics underpin economic and social systems and are not
subject to radical change except to ensure they are more and more
That said, changes can take place at national and supranational level that
may involve adjusting some aspects of the P1 study guide, such as with
IFAC advice, changes in OECD advice or at other national regulator level.
These will not be large, however, and if they do occur, I will clearly flag
them as changes.
ACCA’s Examinations Review Board (ERB) provides feedback to the
examiner after each P1 exam paper and I have made a small number of
changes to the exam in response to the ERB’s very helpful advice. Similar
such minor changes may occur in future.
KEY INSIGHTS WITH 90,000 P1
SCRIPTS PROCESSED SO FAR
Learn and revise the whole syllabus
Study the questions carefully. Answer the question set – not
the one you wish was set
Count the number of tasks – rule of ‘And’
Obey the verb
Have a go rather than leave an uncertain answer blank
I thought it might be worth adding a brief comment about what I would like
to emphasise as the main points to emerge from this
presentation/conversation. After three diets and having processed nearly
90,000 P1 scripts, there are a number of frequent errors to flag.
Firstly, and I know it’s obvious to say, but candidates must know and
revise the whole study guide at any professional level paper. ‘Question-
spotters’ are adopting a very risky strategy indeed.
Second, study each question carefully and decide what it is really asking
and not what you wish it might be asking.
Third, and linked to the last point, deconstruct each question and decide
how many tasks are in each question. If you see an ‘and’, it is likely that
there are at last two tasks.
Fourth, always obey the verb. If it says, ‘criticise’ or ‘evaluate’, then make
that your answer and not a lower level cognitive response.
Finally, and I know it sounds obvious, but try not to leave a question blank.
Leave it and come back to it at the end. Something might occur to you
than could gain a few marks – and that could be all you need to pass.