• Kieran Doe

How to pass the ACCA Strategic Business Reporting (SBR) exam


This article explains why so many students fail SBR and offers advice on how students should prepare for the exam. Written by an exam prize winner and SBR tutor who has a 95% student pass rate, this is a must-read for any student about to start preparing for the SBR exam.

How to pass the SBR exam

Of the compulsory ACCA exams, SBR is the paper students find most challenging and pass rates reflect this by frequently being below 50%. I coach up to 10 students for every SBR exam sitting and by developing their technical knowledge and exam technique skills, I have maintained a 95% student pass rate (i.e. nearly all students who have attended all their scheduled classes and completed homework tasks have passed SBR). As the vast majority of my students have failed SBR on a previous attempt with other tuition providers, I have been able to identify the skills they lacked during their previous attempts. There are several reasons for poor performance in SBR, but the most overwhelming reason is that students do not know the SBR technical content is sufficient depth to be able to answer the challenging, yet very predictable, SBR exam questions.

A recurring weakness is that too many students do not have adequate Financial Reporting (FR) knowledge. FR is a pre-requisite to SBR as both exams test your financial accounting and reporting skills. The impact of a lack of FR knowledge is twofold. Firstly, students will lose easy marks when material covered at FR comes up in the SBR exam e.g. PPE, Revenue and Provisions. Secondly, they lack the foundation knowledge on which to build the advanced SBR content. In order to circumvent this, I provide all my SBR students with full access to my FR course.

Even when students are completely up to speed with the assumed FR knowledge, there is still a long way to go before they are at the standard required to pass this advanced exam. In terms of the SBR content, it is absolutely crucial that students are competent in application of group accounting concepts. A question on group accounting is guaranteed to be the first question in the exam so inadequate preparation here is going to make it impossible to pass the exam. Students need to be comfortable in dealing with complex group scenarios when preparing consolidated financial statements (including the cash flow statement). Common exam scenarios include an explanation of how to account for step-acquisitions / disposals, foreign subsidiaries, NCI movements, associates, joint ventures and goodwill adjustments. In addition, the examiner is also looking to test the other areas of the SBR syllabus which were not already examined at Financial Reporting, notably share based payments, pensions and deferred tax. I ensure that my students have a deep understanding of all these topics so that they can react to whatever the examiner throws at them on exam day. Having a conceptual awareness of these advanced topics is far better preparation then the ‘this is how to do it if it comes up’ proforma approach taught by some large classroom tuition providers.

Once students have deep conceptual understanding of the technical content, attention then needs to be paid to developing exam technique. SBR is a highly time pressured exam and ensuring that you don’t run out of time will enable you to pick up the 'easy' and 'medium' marks across all 4 questions. I coach my students in an exam technique which allows them to answer each style of question as time efficiently as possible whilst still picking up close to full marks. This is the same technique which resulted in me scoring 88% in the ACA equivalent of SBR (the ICAEW awarded me a prize for this performance).

In summary, the three main reasons why students fail SBR are:

- weakness in brought forward FR knowledge

- inadequate understanding of the new SBR content

- inefficient exam technique

In order to combat this, your first port of call is to get up to speed with the Financial Reporting content. I suggest that you then watch my SBR exam masterclass webinars which teach you the key technical content and the optimal exam technique for each type of exam question. One of the classes can be viewed for free here.

Kieran Doe

About the author

Kieran Doe is a Senior ACCA tutor. Kieran won multiple prizes for the ACA exams including Financial Accounting and Reporting, Tax, Financial Management, Audit, Business Strategy and Case Study. Kieran has been tutoring his specialist ACA and ACCA subjects for several years and his student pass rate is considerably higher than other tutors. Kieran’s tuition is based around the learning techniques and exam strategies which enabled him to win prizes for all the exams he teaches.