The ACA Management Information exam had a pass rate of 84.0% in the most recent sitting. Despite the high pass rate, this exam can be challenging, particularly for candidates who don’t have a numerical background.
To pass the ICAEW ACA Management Information exam, candidates must become comfortable with the numerically focused questions through repetitive question practice. The key to success on this exam is strong performance on the scenario-based question and being disciplined with exam timings.
As a fully qualified ACA Accountant myself, I look back at the Management Information module fondly given it was the exam I achieved the highest score on across the whole syllabus. This exam really lends itself to numerically inclined candidates given the majority of the questions will ask candidates to perform calculations to at least some extent.
I have created the below guide which should help anyone studying for the Management Information exam to devise a solid revision plan, a smart exam strategy and ultimately to pass this exam.
Please note, some sections of the below guide have been duplicated from my guides on other exam modules where the advice is applicable across both exams.
How to pass the ACA Management Information exam
The Management Information exam will involve candidates getting to grips with difficult calculation-style questions and preparing for a long-form question which can be on one of four different topics, meaning candidates will have to learn all four.
As with any exam, passing will be down to a combination of pre-exam preparation and exam day performance.
Strong exam day performance will involve devising and sticking to an exam day strategy focused on achieving a score above the 55% pass mark, prioritising the long-form question and sticking to pre-determined timings.
Students will be very familiar with the ACA exam process by the time they sit the Management Information exam and so should be starting to manage exam nerves better. Despite this, candidates will need to ensure they are sufficiently well-rested to give their best performance.
Whilst understanding the course content during the learning phase will be crucial, the key to passing this exam will be the same as with many of the others certificate exams – repetitive question practice. As always, disciplined question practice isn’t a particularly exciting prospect but unfortunately, this is the number one most important action candidates can take to be successful.
This is especially true for the Management Information exam which, according to recent candidates, is an exam that closely mirrors the questions in the question bank. This presents students with a distinct advantage as with sufficient practice, they will be able to predict the common questions that appear and know exactly how to tackle them.
Whilst there are no guarantees when it comes to passing the ACA exams, by doing the question bank front-to-back twice and by doing a few full-length mocks, candidates can put themselves in a great position to pass.
ACA Management Information exam – key information
All of the key information regarding the ACA Management Information exam is summarised below:
|Exam length||1.5 hours|
|Pass-rate||84.0%||At the most recent sitting, 84.0% of candidates passed the exam first time.|
|Level||Certificate||The exams are in 3 levels; Certificate, Professional or Advanced. See the image below.|
|Structure||1 long question (20%)|
32 multiple choice questions (80%)
|The long question covers one of the four areas of the syllabus. Candidates will not know which until they see the exam paper.|
|Location||Any ICAEW-approved test centre|
|CPL||Yes||It is possible to get a ‘Credit for Prior Learning’ (exemption) for this exam.|
|Open book?||No||You can’t take notes into this exam. You can take an approved calculator & blank paper / a whiteboard depending on if taking the exam in-centre or at home.|
|Precursor to:||Yes||This exam is a precursor to the Financial Management professional level exam.|
How the exam is structured
The ACA Management Information exam falls within the certificate level as shown below.
The exam is made up of 32 multiple-choice / multiple-response / multi-part multiple-choice / numeric entry style questions worth a total of 80% of the exam.
The remaining 20% of the exam is comprised of a single long-form question. This long-form question will cover one of the following topics: costing & pricing, budgeting & forecasting, performance management or management decision-making.
As the exam is 90 minutes long, this suggests you have 18 minutes (90 minutes * 20%) to cover the long-form question which I suggest is left until the end (more on why later).
The remaining 72 minutes (90 minutes * 80%) will therefore be spent on the 32 multiple-choice style questions. This leaves 2.25 minutes or 2 minutes, 15 seconds per question.
To simplify, candidates should give themselves 2 minutes per multiple-choice question. In total, this would take up 64 minutes (2 minutes * 32 questions) which would leave 26 minutes spare at the end of the exam to cover the long question and review answers to the previously answered questions.
This is an important point – if any single question is taking you longer than two minutes to answer, move on! Most people who fail this exam will do so because they mess up their timings.
An advisable exam technique is to scan over a question and immediately assess whether you can answer it within two minutes. If not, mark it and come back to the question at the end.
As with all certificate level exams, the pass mark is 55%. This means if candidates perform well on the long questions worth 20% and achieve close to full marks, only 14 out of the 32 multiple-choice questions would have to be answered correctly in order to reach the 55% pass mark.
My suggestion is to tackle the multiple-choice style questions in this exam first, covering as many as possible until 64 minutes of the exam have passed. At this point, regardless of progress, candidates should move onto the long-form question to give themselves sufficient time to score well.
With the multiple-choice questions, candidates should move through answering any individual questions they are confident on or look to be possible within two minutes. Any questions that look like they may take longer than this should be skipped and revisited either at the end of the exam or before the initial 64 minute period has elapsed.
The key here is to make sure to get the “low-hanging fruit” marks and to avoid feeling time-pressured. A common mistake on this exam is to do the long scenario-based question first, spend too long on this question and leave too little time for the remainder of the exam.
The Management Information syllabus covers:
- Costing, pricing and ethics (25%)
- Budgeting and forecasting (25%)
- Performance management and management information operations (25%)
- Management decision making (25%)
What is the difference between multiple choice and multiple response questions?
Within the ACA Management Information exam, the questions will fall into four similar but different structures.
- Multiple-choice – candidates will be asked a question and have to select one answer out of a list of possible answers.
- Multiple-response – candidates will be asked a question and have to select a number of correct answers from the list.
- Multi-part multiple-choice – candidates will be asked a series of interrelated multiple-choice style questions wrapped up into one exam question.
- Numeric entry – candidates will be asked a question that involves inputting a number into the answer box. This will usually involve performing a calculation.
Multiple-choice questions are fairly self-explanatory and are the easiest of the three question types laid out above.
Multiple-response questions are slightly more difficult in that there is a bit more variability. Rather than one correct answer, there could be three correct answers so as well as knowing the information, candidates will have to correctly state how many of the listed answers are correct.
Multi-part multiple-choice questions are the most difficult of the question types as they will involve correctly answering two separate parts of a question on a common topic. The risk here is that a candidate may correctly answer the first part of the question but get the second part incorrect. Despite having the knowledge, there are no half marks so the candidate would score 0 for that particular question.
The good news with this type of question is that the two sub-parts tend to be linked. Therefore, if a student knows the answer to the first part, there is a good chance they will also know the second part.
By their nature, multi-part questions will take longer to complete than the other two question types as there is more to read and more to think about. Candidates may consider skipping these questions on the first pass through and first taking care of the easier multiple-choice and multiple response style questions.
On this exam, both the long-question and around 70% of the multiple-choice questions are numerically focused. Performing these calculations often takes a bit longer than the typical multiple-choice questions which is why there are fewer multiple-choice questions in this exam (32) compared to the Principles of Tax exam (40) – despite it being worth the same proportion of the exam in both.
ACA Management Information exam – revision strategy
With the exception of self-taught students, most of your revision time will be determined by your tuition provider.
As alluded to above, the vast majority of revision time for this module should be spent drilling questions. It really can’t be stated strongly enough how important question practice is for all certificate level exams.
Whilst practising a lot of questions is important, students should make sure they are making this time as useful as possible by consciously learning from their mistakes, spotting frequently asked about topics and developing methods for answering questions quickly and accurately.
My technique for question practice was to open the question bank and work through each chapter in turn. At the end of each chapter, I would mark my answers and note my percentage score in an Excel document. Make sure you circle questions in the question bank in pencil on this first run through so you can erase them and do them for a second time later.
Once I had completed the entire question bank, I would review my scores and look for any topics I was scoring less than 60% on (giving myself a 5% buffer for lucky answers). On these topics, I would return to the course notes to refresh my understanding and answer the end of chapter questions.
Once this process was complete, I would start again but this time do each chapter under timed conditions. For example, if there was a chapter of 20 questions, I would give myself 40 minutes assuming two minutes per question as discussed above. This is great practice for exam conditions and will help to train candidates to answer questions accurately in a timely manner.
As you go through this process, many of the sections will begin to feel much more comfortable. For those with recurring issues, it’s critical that you are effective at learning from your mistakes. See the next chapter on the ‘notepad method’ for more.
Although this is less of an issue in Management Information, some students suggest that the tuition provider (BPP, Kaplan etc) question banks are not always representative of the types of questions actually asked by ICAEW. For this reason, candidates should include full-length timed mock exams as part of their preparation spread across the revision period. Over time, you should see your scores begin to increase.
It is a good idea to practice these full length mocks in conditions as close to the final exam itself as possible. Remove all distractions, start the exam at the same time as the real exam will begin and even consider wearing the same clothes as you plan to on exam day.
This may sound like overkill, but if you do all of this in a mock and pass, you’re conditioning your brain with the knowledge that you’ve already overcome the obstacle infront of you which is great for confidence and managing exam day nerves.
To maximise productivity whilst studying consider implementing the Pomodoro technique (which is explained briefly in this Youtube video). This will help avoid burn-out when it comes to the long nights with the question bank. This can be adapted for the ACA by doing one chapter of the question bank before taking a short break and then moving on.
When I did my ACA exams, I was in a study group of three people despite previously thinking I studied best alone. The benefits a study group can bring in terms of helping each other with topics you may not be comfortable on and with sticking to a pre-agreed timetable shouldn’t be understated.
How to learn from your mistakes effectively
To make the most of your revision sessions, you need to be diligent in learning from your mistakes and making sure you don’t make the same errors repeatedly.
I’ve found using the ‘notepad method‘ to be the best way of doing this.
Here’s how it works – buy a fancy new notepad and write ‘ACA Management Information exam – mistakes’ on the front cover. Any time you make an error in mock exams, the question bank or the end of chapter questions within the course notes, write a note in your notepad explaining what the error was, why you made it, what the correct answer should be and a reminder to yourself about how this error can be avoided in the future.
This may seem time-consuming and annoying at first but this is actually a good thing. Not only are you forcing yourself to be more conscious of your repeated errors and what the correct answer is, but you’re also tapping into the power of negative reinforcement.
At the start of each revision session, read through this notepad of mistakes and you’ll gradually stop making the same errors as you become more conscious of them.
ACA Management Information exam – timing and strategy
As well as having a revision strategy, candidates should think about an exam strategy to maximize their chances of success. This strategy should be based on a few core themes: answering easy questions first, being careful not to take too much time on any single question, doing the long question at the end and and ‘playing the game’ to get over 55%.
Working out how long to spend on each question and being disciplined in sticking to these timings is the single most important thing to do in this exam to increase your chances of success.
As a reminder, there are 90 minutes available to answer 32 short questions and 1 long question. This works out at just over two minutes per multiple-choice question. Skip any question that looks like it will take longer than this and pick up the easy marks first.
On your first pass-through of the exam, answer any questions that look like they are comfortably manageable within two minutes and skip any difficult or multi-part questions for now.
Have a go or at least an educated guess at the very difficult questions left at the end.
Remember, once 64 minutes have passed, you should be moving onto the long-form question. Don’t let time management be what ruins your chances in this exam.
As with all the certificate level exams, the goal here should be to pass the exam by getting a score above 55% not by going for 100%.
Whilst a great score is impressive, it’s ultimately not important. From my direct experience, I can say with confidence that nobody is really interested in what score you get as long as you pass.
How to tackle concepts you keep getting wrong
As with any exam, a certain proportion of the content will be challenging. It may even feel at times like you can’t understand a particular item no matter how much you read the course notes and practice questions.
If you find yourself in this situation and are beginning to get overwhelmed, here are my suggestions:
- Consider ignoring it. This will only work if it’s not a central concept which is slightly more difficult in the Management Information exam due to the interrelated nature of all of the content. However, if for whatever reason, you just can’t seem to get your head around a minor concept or fact, don’t spend hours trying to memorise it. Chances are, it will be worth no more than one multiple choice question in the exam. Get as much out of every minute of studying as you can and move onto topics that will genuinely move the needle.
- If the topic can’t be ignored – ask either your tutor or a classmate who does understand it for help. In my experience, both tutors and classmates are more than willing to explain a concept and sometimes a new perspective can help you understand something that was previously incomprehensible.
- Consider google-ing the topic. A lot of very specific questions are explained online on blogs, forums or Youtube videos which may help unlock your understanding.
Common difficult concepts in the ACA Management Information exams
For students with a background in maths or economics, most of the topics within this exam should be straightforward and the content can be mastered through question practice without too much difficulty.
For those students who aren’t as comfortable with numbers and prefer the less numeric exams like Assurance and Business Finance certain topics within the Management Information syllabus may cause difficulty.
For some students, net present value and internal rate of return calculations can be difficult. It is well worth getting your head around these topics at this stage as these topics appear again during the Financial Management exam and become much more difficult at this stage.
When I studied Management Information, I found absorption and marginal cost pricing particularly difficult during revision. There isn’t a shortcut to improve, this simply comes down to repeated question practice, reviewing the course notes or asking the tutor/colleagues for advice.
Tips for exam day
Please note the below tips are duplicated from my post on ‘How to pass the ICAEW ACA Accounting exam‘ – if you’ve already read that post, you may still read the below as a reminder. These tips do work if embraced.
I often use the metaphor of a boxer preparing for a fight for how candidates should prepare for the ACA exams. Both the pre-fight preparation and the fight-day itself are equally important. If you don’t prepare properly, you won’t be successful. Similarly, if you prepare well, but perform poorly on the day, you won’t be successful.
Extending the metaphor further, the pre-fight preparation involves a solid understanding of the content through question practice, honing weak areas through rereading the source material and preparing mentally for exam day.
On fight day itself, it’s all about managing your nerves, sticking to the strategy your coach laid out and making sure you are physically ready to perform through good sleep and arriving on time.
With this in mind, I’ve laid out a few tips to help optimise your exam day performance that worked consistently for me during my exam days.
Needless to say, mastery of the content is the single most important thing. It doesn’t matter how well you sleep the night before the exam or how dialled in your pre-exam ritual is if you don’t know the content. There is nothing that will help calm exam nerves to the extent that being over-prepared will.
Being well prepared goes beyond mastering the material. You need to be well prepared on exam day to avoid unnecessary stress. Murphy’s law tells us that “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and that’s particularly true for exams. Your train will be late, you will go to the wrong building, your software will glitch – all of these things can and do happen.
Do whatever you can to avoid them – leave early, confirm with a colleague the location and time, ask before the exam what happens in the event of an IT issue.
Let’s talk about sleep. High quality sleep in preparation for an exam is often overlooked as a luxury rather than a necessity. However, presuming candidates have put the effort in to learn the material, good sleep is crucial to success.
The research on sleep is very clear that consistently achieving 7-9 hours of sleep a night is hugely important for memory retention. Poor sleep, even for a few nights days before the exam, has a significant impact on cognition.
Remember, getting one good night of sleep does not make up for a week of poor sleep directly preceding it. For the week before the exam, do everything in your power to get 8 full hours a night even if it means cutting those late-night revision sessions short.
Finally, a quick point on when is the right time to stop revising. My advice is to stop revising a few hours before you sleep on the night before the exam and relax for a few hours. Trying to cram material late on the night before the exam will probably not help and almost certainly make it more difficult to sleep.
In my previous guides, I wrote about how effective an exam day routine is. These two exams will have given candidates some time to work out the best routine for them but by Management Information, this routine should be nailed down.
This way, when exam day comes around, your brain is not busied with questions of what time should I leave? what should I wear? where do I sign in? Where can I go to relax before the exam starts?
Instead, you can calmly pass through the motions of your exam day routine allowing yourself to relax and keep the key dates locked away in your memory.
Exam day nerves will impact some people more than others and it’s each person’s own responsibility to deal with this. However, my experience may reassure you – I was very nervous at the start and by the time I got around to doing the 10th, 11th, 12th exams, I had very few nerves at all.
As with all things in life, things are only intimidating when they are new. As you get used to exams, the negative impacts of exam day nerves will gradually decrease but you’ll retain that helpful boost of adrenaline needed for optimum performance.
This is one of the great benefits the ACA provides. A few years after doing most of my ACA exams, I did the CFA level 1 exam. Despite spending hundreds of pounds on learning materials and spending hundreds of hours practising, I was nerve-free come exam day due to my acclimation to exams during the ACA and I passed the exam comfortably.
Should you take your ACA exam exemption?
Some students will be exempt from certain exams due to the credit for prior learning (CPL) system. For students who have studied Accounting at university or have done similar qualifications in the past, certain ICAEW ACA modules will be a duplication of content. Rather than repeating an exam already passed, students can apply for a credit for prior learning and become exempt from the exam.
More information on ACA exam exemptions can be found here.
Whether students apply for and take exam exemptions is up to them but it’s worth noting the below advantage and disadvantage of doing so.
The big advantage is clear – students can save themselves significant study time and exam stress by taking an exemption and use that saved time for other exams they are not exempt from taking.
However, the disadvantage is that the ACA qualification is structured in tiers as discussed above. For example, students will take ‘Accounting’ at the certificate level, ‘Financial, Accounting and Reporting’ at the professional level and ‘Corporate Reporting’ at the advanced level with the knowledge and skills being built upon and compounded throughout.
This means if a student were to take an exemption from the Accounting exam for example – when it comes to taking the difficult Financial Accounting and Reporting exam, the underlying content will not be fresh in mind which may become a difficult obstacle to overcome.
As always, please remember I am an Accountant, but not your Accountant. In this post (and all of my others) I share information and oftentimes give anecdotes about what has worked well for me. However, I do not know your personal financial situation and so do not offer individual financial advice. If you are unsure of a particular financial subject, please hire a qualified financial advisor to guide you.
This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my ‘About‘ page for more information. To verify my ACA credentials – please search for my name at the ICAEW member finder. To get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts, please comment below or contact me here.