Thursday, 30 April 2015

Problems with the (new) P3 OT exam

John Costello wrote
Hi David, I am undertaking CIMA P3 and was hoping you might have some advice on how best to prepare for the OT exam. There has been a lot of negative comment from students on the chances of obtaining a pass as questions seem to be long in nature and subjective. The issue of multiple select all question also seems to be causing distress. Do you have any suggestions regarding a plan of attack. Kind regards, John

Thank you for your question, John.
Yes, I'm aware that many of you are struggling with P3. It seems to be a combination of three issues which, when you compound them, can become one big "I can't pass!" issue:
  1. Long scenarios, some requiring calculations, which take an age to read, understand and answer.
  2. 'Subjective' OT questions, where most/all of the answers 'might' be true.
  3. 'Select ALL that apply' questions, where it doesn't tell you how many.
OK. Here's my general preparation approach to study preparation, and it would be true for ANY OT exam:
  • Make sure you've read the textbook, and have good knowledge and understanding of the topics.
  • Make sure you've practiced all the OT questions you can find. There are some on CIMA's website (the practice exam), and others available through various publishers, either in their text/kit or online.
Now here's my specific 'exam technique' approach, for P3 (which would also work for other OT exams, but P3 seems to need it the most):
  1. The moment the exam starts, 'click through' ALL 60 questions, looking for ones that seem to fit into one or more of the 'issue' categories, above.
  2. Each time you find an 'issue' question, 'flag for review' (there's a button top right) and move on. Don't read the question in detail, and don't stop to try answering it. This should take you no more than 5 minutes in total.
  3.  Go back to the beginning, and do all the questions that you HAVEN'T flagged for review (i.e. the 'easier' ones). This makes best use of your 90 minutes, and ensures that you don't run out of time before attempting ALL of the 'easier' questions.
  4. Check how much time you have remaining, and divide it between the 'issue' questions that you flagged. There's a summary page at the end of the assessment, I believe? Hopefully, you'll get something like 2 minutes or more per question.
  5. Now start on the 'issue' questions, and try to spend no more than the new 'allowed time' on each.
  6. If a question has a long scenario, read the question (at the end, normally) first, so you know exactly what you're looking for in the scenario.
  7. If a question looks 'subjective', stop thinking too much. Look for what it probably says in the textbook. Try the 'simplistic' approach. It's normally the right one. If you over-analyse, you'll get more confused.
  8. If it's an 'ALL that apply' question, select the most obvious answers. It's least likely to be one or all of them, so 2/3/4 should be your 'favourites'. I've seen one question where it was 'all', but if there's only one correct answer, the writer would normally choose a multiple choice format, I think.
  9. If you find yourself using far too much time on a question, guess and get out!
  10. Try to attempt ALL the questions in the 90 minutes, even if you have to guess at a few.
I think that's what I would do, if I were sitting P3 or, indeed, ANY OT exam at the Strategic Level.
Does that make sense? Do any of you have any suggestions for improvements?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

More thoughts on OT questions

An objective test (OT) question is any question where there is one ‘right’ answer. No ‘almost’, no ‘that’s close enough’; it’s either right or wrong. Professional bodies like CIMA love OT questions, for two reasons. Firstly, they can be examined on computer, and the computer can ‘mark’ your answers. This is cheaper (as all the cost is in developing the technology, rather than paying markers) and faster (as the computer can tell you whether you passed or failed, and often give you feedback on your answers and skills straight after the exam. Secondly, each question can be short, often only one mark each, so an exam can cover most (or even all) of the learning outcomes/objectives, rather than just a selection.

Let’s have a look at a selection of OT question styles, just so you can see what I mean by ‘objective’. These questions were written for E1…


An organisation which does not have profit as its primary goal, and is not directly linked to a national government, is a .
non-profit organisation
non-governmental organisation
public sector organisation


In order to be of value for performance measurement, objectives should be expressed in a form which is ‘SMART’.
Which of the following is NOT normally included in the SMART acronym?


The concept of lean production was developed by the Japanese car manufacturer, Toyota. It is a philosophy that aims to systematically reduce waste.
Which THREE of the following are included in Toyota’s concept of ‘waste’?
Surplus staff


Henry Mintzberg suggested a totally different way of looking at organisation structure.
Drag and drop the following items into their correct places on the diagram above.
Operating core
Support staff


Stakeholders outside the organisation are sometimes classified as either ‘external’ or ‘connected’.
Drag and drop the following stakeholders into the correct category.
External stakeholders
Connected stakeholders
Finance providers
Local community
Trade unions


You can see, from the above examples, that there is a wide range of OT question styles. They all have one thing in common, however – there’s a ‘right’ answer.

Although students, and many lecturers, think that exam technique doesn’t apply to OT questions, that’s far from true. There are many ‘rules’ you can apply, to make sure that you get as many marks as possible in such an exam. Let’s have a look at the most common.
  • If you’re stuck, use a ‘process of elimination’, and rule out the options that are clearly not right. Remember Sherlock Holmes: “once you have ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer”.
  • Don’t ‘leap in’, by selecting the first ‘possible’ answer. Always look at all of the options given, as there might be a ‘better’ answer, elsewhere.
  • If it says ‘which THREE…’, don’t select fewer or more than the number specified. You’ll be wrong, and there aren’t any ‘part marks’ (i.e.2/3) available.
  • It's often possible to rule out one or more of the answers as being completely unreasonable, so just guessing from the remaining possible answers may improve your chances of earning a mark (on a purely random basis).
  • Believe it or not, it's still amazingly common for candidates to not answer some of their OT questions. You must, as there's no penalty for getting them wrong. Always, always have a guess at OT questions, even if you don't have a clue what they're about.  

Come to think of it, ‘have a go’ is quite a good bit of advice for any exam question. There are very few guarantees in exams, but one of them is – if you write nothing, you'll get no marks! I often see student answers with gaps, where the students have convinced themselves that they don't know anything, or haven't got a clue what the question means. It's always worth taking a guess, as there are no ‘negative’ (or penalty) marks in these exams.

So, to summarise, the key to avoiding the most common mistakes in OT exams is to slow down a bit. Don't be in too much of a hurry to answer, make sure that you know exactly what the question is before you do, and always ‘have a go’.