How to pass Advanced Performance Management

Prepare to succeed

Advanced Performance Management (APM) is a tough exam, but one that gives you a chance to showcase your skills as a professional accountant in a close to real life situation – or as close to real life as you can get in an exam. In the exam you are not a student, demonstrating your knowledge of theories and formulae. You are a professional, demonstrating your ability to solve business problems.

Throughout your studies you should approach your preparation with that in mind. You will need to do the Ethics and Professional Skills module before you take your APM exam, to have the right mental framework and approach to the business problems you are asked to solve in the exam. Unit 4: commercial awareness is particularly relevant.

Syllabus focus

APM builds on Performance Management (PM), so PM topics could be examined in an APM exam. When you’re studying for APM you need to focus on the APM learning materials, but if you had an exemption or only just passed PM, you can check your prior knowledge with the ACCA APM self-check test or PM past papers.

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The PM areas that may be examined but are not also specifically included in the APM syllabus are:

  • Activity-based costing

  • Budgeting and variance analysis

  • Decision making

  • Performance management

Exam preparation

  • Aim for a broad knowledge of the syllabus so that you know something about every topic, rather than trying to gain perfect knowledge of some of the topics.

  • Read business newspapers and books to understand how the topics play out in the real world.

  • Practice past papers and mock exams under timed conditions on a CBE exam platform. Don’t make the mistake of just reading past papers - you need to make an attempt at answering the questions fully.

Steps for CBE exam success

  1. Find the organisation’s mission – this will be critical in any analysis.

  2. Copy and paste the requirements into word processor answer space and calculate the time allocation for each requirement.

  3. Review the exhibits with the requirements in mind and identify the embedded requirements. This is where additional details about a requirement are included in the exhibits. They won’t be marked ‘requirements’ but will use signposting phrases such as ‘the CEO needs your advice on the following issues’. Add the embedded requirements into the answer space under the relevant topline requirement.

  4. Plan your answer in the answer space – this will save you time and produce a better structure. To get the professional marks put the report headings into your plan now.

  5. Answer the questions in the order they appear in the exam – otherwise you will waste time deciding which one to do first, and you are very likely to spend too long on your favoured questions and run out of time on the others. It is relatively easy to pick up the first few marks on a question. It’s really hard to get all of the marks. So, spend your time wisely – stick to the allocation of 1.8 minutes per mark.

Tips for answer writing

  • APM is mainly a written exam, about three quarters of the marks are allocated to the written portions, so don’t focus too much on the calculation in the exam or in your studies.

  • APM requirements will involve verbs such as ‘analyse, evaluate, assess’ – these are all requirements that need explanation and justification of your opinions. Practice using the word ‘because’ in your answers, to remind yourself to justify your response and link back to the scenario.

  • In APM you will need to prepare professional documents as if you were a paid advisor or consultant. You need to apply theories in relation to the issues facing the organisation(s) in your scenario – don’t waste your time explaining the theory.

  • Cross reference to the spreadsheet for any calculations 

Tips for using the spreadsheet

  • Use the spreadsheet for any signification calculations

  • Format as much as is needed for clarity – there are no extra marks for making it pretty

  • Practice using the spreadsheet, especially the functions, before the exam. SUM, NPV, IRR and MIRR are all essential to know.

Key Resources