How to pass Strategic Business Leader

Prepare to succeed

Strategic Business Leader is a challenging exam, but it is also a very practical exam that really allows you to show off your business skills. SBL is essentially a role play where you demonstrate your skills as a business leader to solve problems. As in the real world, you won’t be told which tools to use, you select the models and theories yourself, to apply to solve the problem.

SBL is a 4 hour exam, so it is longer than the other Strategic Professional exams, but timing is one of the main reasons people fail, the other being not answering the question asked – either from misreading/not fully reading the question or seeing what you want to see. Both of these issues can be addressed by doing plenty of timed question practice.

There is one scenario in the SBL exam, and there’s a lot of information to read, usually over 12 pages worth of information across the different exhibits. The questions are referred to as ‘tasks’ and the number of these will vary in each exam.

You should do the Ethics and Professional Skills module before you take your SBL exam, to have the right mental framework and approach to the business problems you are asked to solve in the exam.

Syllabus focus

In addition to technical content, the SBL syllabus also refers to professional skills and 20% of the marks in the exam are for demonstrating the profession skills of:

  • Communication

  • Commercial acumen

  • Analysis

  • Scepticism

  • Evaluation

You don’t have to write any extra words to demonstrate these skills, and it will be hard to gain technical marks without demonstrating professional skills, so make sure you consider these skills in planning and writing your answers, as it will provide a guide to how you should approach the response.

Exam preparation

  • Do your exam practice in the format that you will be sitting the exam – so don’t practice on paper if you’re going to take a CBE exam.

  • Remember that your goal is to get 50% or over on exam day – making your mistakes in your practice and mock exams is fine – as long as you learn from those mistakes, so review your mock exams carefully and think about what you will do differently next time.

  • 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. Answer the tasks in order

  3. Plan your answer in the answer space as you read the exhibits – this will save you time and produce a better structure.

  4. When you answer a task, think about:

    • Your role - You have a role in the scenario, which might vary in each task, so it is important that you pay attention and ensure your responses are appropriate for your role.

    • Response format - SBL answers are in the format of a written business communication, so in addition to the word processor and spreadsheet response areas there is also a ‘slides’ response area. Select the most appropriate response option and.


    • Audience – who is the intended reader of your communication?

    • Task requirement verb - 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.

    • Overall marks and time allocation

    • Professional skills - To get the professional skills marks make sure you consider how you are demonstrating the skill. Focussing on the skills required will also help you to get the right approach to the question.

  5. Write your answer thinking about the writing style and how you are adding value, not just repeating points from the scenario or theoretical knowledge. 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. Application is vital in SBL.

  6. Use simple formatting such as underlining or bold for headings, so that the structure of your response is clear. This will help you to find relevant sections later in case you think of something to add, and also help gain communication marks.


Tips for using the spreadsheet

  • Use the spreadsheet for any signification calculations

  • Cross reference to the word processor response for any narrative – don’t type lots of narrative in the spreadsheet

  • 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.


The ACCA website has a lot of resources, past papers on a CBE practice platform, examiner’s reports, examiners articles to name a few.

Spreadsheet - Step by step guide for spreadsheet techniques – if you didn’t take the Applied skills CBEs you may find this guide helpful.

CBE overall guidance: CBE Guide (SBL)

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