How to Become a CIMA World Prizewinner: Interview with VIVA Student Autumn Bressington

VIVA founder Thomas Newman finds out the secrets to Autumn's World No.1 result in the Nov21 CIMA SCS exam.

Autumn Bressington is a finance manager who completed her CIMA journey in November 2021. After studying for her SCS exam with VIVA, Autumn received a letter from CIMA revealing that she had placed number 1 in the world for the November 2021 SCS exam! In the following interview, Autumn shares some of the highs, lows and in-betweens of her CIMA journey.

Welcome Autumn, and thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us today. So you won the SCS world prize, right? If I remember correctly, you finished number one in the world, right!?

Yes, yes, I did… (laughs)

And it was in November (2021)?

Yes, the November case study, and I got the results in January. So it's a lovely way to start 2022, couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the year!

Absolutely! Was that your first prize in CIMA, Autumn?

It was yes. And it wasn't expected! I left the exam room and I thought, “okay, well the questions were quite kind…  I’m happy with how the exam went.” I was just happy to hopefully have a pass! So when I saw my result, it was a shock that I scored much higher than I'd expected. And then to get the news a couple of weeks later that I’d received first position in the world, it was a real shock and just an amazing way to end my CIMA journey.

So talking about your progression through the CIMA qualification, because everyone seems to have a different route. Some people get exemptions and some of us have to go through the entire thing. What was your route through the CIMA qualification?

So I started at the Operational level. I’d previously done AAT and completed level four, so that granted me an exemption for the CIMA Certificate level. I started the Operational level in November2018. I took my first exam in March 2019, which was E1.

And I thought that was a nice way to start the qualification as the E pillars tend to underpin the rest of the exams. And I was successful, so I built on that momentum, and timed my exams so that I could sit each Case Study exam in November.

November 2019 was the Operational Case Study, 2020 the Management Case Study, and 2021 the Strategic Case Study. So all in all, it took me more or less three years to complete the qualification.

But as you say, that pace worked for me, but everyone's got a completely different journey. I've spoken to someone who did all the CIMA exams in 18 months, and another person who completed it over 10 years. So it's just whatever works best for each person.

But yeah, I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could work at a pace which suited me and complete the qualification over the course of three years.

Very good. So that would have been maybe four exams per year on average: three Objective Tests and one Case Study exam, always in November?

Yeah, exactly. So every Christmas I had off, which was lovely. Waiting for the case study results in January.

And so you're the second CIMA prizewinner that we've spoken to who had a grounding in AAT first. Did you find that that stood you in good stead, having that technical bookkeeping background?

Absolutely it did, yes. But I did find it to be a big jump from AAT to CIMA. And I did find that quite a lot of times, when we were studying E1, P1 or F1, they'd refer back to the Certificate level. So it was just a case of me matching my experience of AAT with what the different BA pillars contain at the CIMA Certificate level.

I would cross-reference with my AAT studies to fill in any gaps. So I definitely did find that studying AAT first gave me a good head start because I'd had three years of studying pure accountancy and getting to know the groundwork. So when it came to CIMA, I could comfortably build on that existing knowledge.

Did you have a favourite pillar in the CIMA qualification?

I enjoyed the F pillars, but I seem to do best in the E pillars strangely enough! Yeah, I enjoyed the F pillars. I like the technical side of it. I enjoyed learning about the consolidated accounts, and I felt that it put me in really good stead for my future as an accountant.

But obviously, the E pillars are extremely important as well because like you say, they underpin the rest of the subjects. And yeah, I tended to score very highly in those. But the F pillar is my favourite.

... “fail” is such a harsh word, it's not a failure, it’s a delayed pass. So I think if you experience those, then keep the end goal in mind. Nearly everyone will experience at least an obstacle or two along the way. And once you've passed a qualification like CIMA, no one's going to ask you: “Oh, you finished! How many exams did you fail?” That's never going to be a question people ask!


And what about disappointments along the way? Did you have any bumps in the road?

Oh, absolutely (laughs). I failed P1, and P3.The P papers were definitely my weakest. And when you leave that exam room, you get your slip of paper and you see those dreaded four letters, “FAIL”. It's so easy to feel dejected. Because you've done the study and you've put in the hours, you've done the mock papers, but it just didn't go your way on the day.

I always sat the exams in the morning. I found that really helped me, otherwise, I'd be worrying all morning, and not going into the exam room in the right state of mind. So after the exam, if I did fail, I'd allow myself the rest of the day to sulk (laughs). And then I'd get back on the horse the very next day, open my books, and start reading through areas where I thought maybe I'd been weaker until the scaled scores were released.

Then when I would see the scaled scores, I'd see where exactly it was that I was weakest, and really focus my attention there. But also be careful not to neglect those areas where I was stronger because obviously, your memory can start to deteriorate even on those areas as well.

That's really solid advice I think Autumn, because it's normal to be disappointed after a fail. And it happens to almost every student that they failed at least an exam or two along the way. And the temptation is to kind of park it for a while. And to not want to get back at it straight away. But you're saying the very next day you were back at it! Focusing on your weak areas, and not forgetting the strong areas. That's really solid advice.

And how soon then typically would you resit the exam after you'd fail?

So I tried to book it in as soon as I possibly could. Usually about a week afterwards. Because then what I've learned isn't starting to deteriorate and float away. And most of the time you are ready for the exam, it is just the fact that maybe nerves got to you, or it just happened to be the weaker questions which came up on that day. So I definitely recommend resitting the exam as close to the initial exam date as you can – about a week.

When I failed P1 and P3, I sat them both a week after. And I passed them both second time around. I think if you experience a delayed pass - because “fail” is such a harsh word, it's not a failure, it’s a delayed pass. So I think if you experience those, then keep the end goal in mind.

Like you say, nearly everyone will experience at least an obstacle or two along the way. And once you've passed a qualification, no one's going to ask you: “Oh, you finished! How many exams did you fail?” That's never going to be a question people ask! So it's just so important to keep that end goal in mind. And take it all in your stride. And then next time, you'll get it.

Absolutely. That's great advice. So thinking then about the Objective Tests – and later we'll talk about the Case Study little bit more. Did you have a particular method that you used to work through those Objective subjects? Maybe your method evolved over time, e.g. you started out one way and ended up doing something else?

Yeah, I think mock papers were definitely the best way to revise. Because you can learn how CIMA will ask questions. Obviously, when you learn the syllabus, you might learn it in a certain way. But then there are certain key phrases or keywords that CIMA will typically use, and they'll be after a very specific answer. So it's so important that you look through the mocks and understand exactly how the questions will be asked,so you know what to expect and are not tripped up on exam day.

Also doing timed mocks, because the exams are so time-pressured, some more than others. So it's so important that you practice to gain an understanding of the way CIMA asks the questions, that you understand the syllabus well, as these will both help you answer the questions in the allotted time. So I think mock papers are definitely the best way to go.

It’s also important to be really mindful of the type of learner you are. So I'm very much a visual and kinaesthetic learner. I like to have diagrams everywhere. And I learn very much by doing. So I like doing the mock papers. I like bringing the theory to life, in a way.

So it's just finding the best way which works for you. I've tried listening to videos while I'm doing the washing, for example, and that doesn't work for me. But if you're an audio learner, then that could be the best thing for you to do. So it's all about finding the way in which you study best. And that can change over time, and that's fine. But it's finding the best way for you.

If I'd experienced something during my studies, and I had no idea how that would happen in real life, my manager would take me through how it would happen in the workplace, and how we would tackle that particular issue... it's so important to underpin that theory with the real life examples and application.

So what about your use of textbooks, for example? Did you rely a lot on textbooks?

I did. So, I studied live online with Kaplan. I’d read the chapter before the live lesson, so I knew what we were going to learn, have the lesson, and then watch any recap videos afterwards – just to try and really solidify that knowledge and cement what I'm learning.

And I was also quite lucky to be in a situation where I had a really supportive manager. If I'd experienced something during my studies, and I had no idea how that would happen in real life, my manager would take me through how it would happen in the workplace, and how we would tackle that particular issue. So it really put it in perspective.

It’s almost like when you do your driving test, you do your theory test, and then your practical, and they're very often completely different things! So it's so important to underpin that theory with the real life examples and application. I find that made a lot more sense to me. My brain works quite logically. So when it comes to just abstract theory, I can struggle a little bit. So I find that by bringing in real world examples, that helped a lot.

It sounds like you were coming at the material from a number of different angles. So you've got the text, you've got your diagrams, you're bringing the theory to life by talking it through with someone. And I think that's the hallmark of what you might call active study,of an active learner. So rather than just  passively consuming stuff – and I think we can all fall into that trap where we think we're learning, we think we're studying because we're putting in the hours, but we're not really that engaged mentally – it sounds like you were a very engaged learner.

Absolutely. And I was always very driven, I knew that I wanted to achieve the qualification. And I knew that I wanted to be a finance manager, and then a financial controller in the future. And I know that to get there and to be an effective manager and effective accountant, it's not just a case of passing the exams. It's a case of really understanding the information which has been brought to you.

And even now in my work, we're introducing more metrics for working capital. And my manager said to me, “Oh, I've not touched on working capital for a long time. Could you help out?” So I've been going through my notes and bringing what I've learned at CIMA to the real world. And that's been really rewarding, because I didn't just pass the exams, I really wanted to learn all those accounting principles, and even IFRS!

So that's really helped me in my career. Because I can bring what I've learned directly into the real world.

VIVA was so pivotal... What I really liked was the material. It was really, really relevant, you could tell that a lot of thought had been put into it. And also, the tutors were just so knowledgeable. I didn't find that with other CIMA tuition providers. Other providers, you could tell they sort of did what they needed to do just to get the material out. But with you guys, it was definitely evident and obvious that VIVA really care about the students, and you care about us passing.


That's great! So thinking about the Case Study, what kind of approach did you have there? Again, was it a lot of mock practice?

A lot of mock practice, yeah. And I'd go through past papers as well. So for the previous case studies, what I would do is create a “word cloud”. I'd look at the key themes which have come up frequently in past papers, and make a word cloud. So the more often themes come up, the bigger the corresponding word is. And that was a really good way for me to start identifying themes or topics which often came up.

Because when you start studying for the case study, it's so daunting that anything from the past three [Objective Test] exams can come up! And so I found that looking at the previous themes and looking at the CIMA blueprint gave me a really good head start on where to begin my studies, and it gave me focus. So it's no longer “oh my gosh, where do I start!?” You've got your schedule, you've got your plan in place, and you can build the revision around that plan.

What problems did you encounter in your CIMA journey that you wish you had known about before you started?

I think moving from AAT to CIMA was a huge jump, and even moving from Operational level to Management to Strategic. And so the biggest challenge was finding the way to revise which really worked for me at each stage. As you say, I tried a range of different approaches. And you know, for Case Studies one method of studying worked, and for OTs another method would work.

And it's crucial to find a method that works best for you at each stage. And being really mindful that just because something worked previously, it might not be optimal now; you might need to adjust how you revise, and that's fine too. And it's just playing around with different methods and doing whatever is making that information stick.

Also I studied live online. So I studied with Kaplan, and then for my Case Studies, VIVA were absolutely pivotal. The downside is that studying online can feel quite isolating, because you've got this big challenge and you're just opening the computer screen on your own, the lesson ends, and then you're like, “oh!” So I find that joining CIMA forums and the VIVA online study groups are really good. Because you can see really easily that you're not on your own, there's a lot of people in the same boat as you.

And people do tend to share their experiences. So people say in that more private online environment, “I sat this exam, and I failed it”. And that's as important as people telling you about their passes and successes! Because it's really easy to celebrate people's passes. But people don't tend to show it publicly when they failed!

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So if you're in an isolated situation, and you fail, you wonder to yourself: “Has any other CIMA student ever failed this in the way I did?” So I find having a private online community around you, can make a world of difference just for that mindset.

And I guess also I wish I had known more about the PER process before I began (which I understand is going through a refresh now). But all through my studies, it was never really mentioned. And it was only because of those online groups where people started talking about it, that I thought: “Oh, maybe I should take a look at this!” So I'd recommend looking at the requirements as soon as you possibly can, so you can submit it as early as you can. I'm not sure if it's going to be the same with the refreshed version, but when I submitted mine, you could submit it as soon as you'd done all your OT exams.

So as soon as I finished my last OT, I submitted my PER, and it was approved before I'd sat my Strategic Case Study. So I knew that going into my Case Study, this is all I've got left, there's nothing else hanging over me! So when I saw that pass in January, I could celebrate guilt free. I didn't have that extra paperwork hanging over me. And it was a really nice feeling that I could sort of box it off.

Wonderful! Okay, so I’m going to pick at a couple of themes that are emerging here. A lot of students, I think they think they can do it all on their own when they start a qualification like CIMA. We see that it's very common for people who are self-studying, they kind of hit a wall, and then they start doing courses, and they move much more quickly through the qualification. It also tends to be more enjoyable. But you were doing online courses pretty much from day one, right? So did you find that they gave you structure, that they made it more enjoyable? Do you feel that you progressed more quickly than you otherwise would have?

I definitely think so. I didn't have the option to do in-classroom study just because of the way my work situation was, because I worked full-time. So I chose live online study more or less two evenings a week instead. And I definitely find that having those regular live online sessions as you would a classroom session, it makes you stick to that routine.

It can be so easy to say, “oh, you know what, I had a really tough day at work, I'm not gonna do any study tonight.” But because you've got the sessions scheduled in, it keeps that momentum, it keeps that pace going, you've got something to work towards.

And also booking the exam as soon as you start that module, you've got that target in mind. Because again, if you don't book your exam, it can be easy to finish the course and then think to yourself, “oh, I'm not completely ready yet.” And then it can be months before you take your exam. And you start to lose that knowledge that you've built from the course in the meantime.

So for me, I find I work very, very well with schedules and routine. And I find having the live online sessions scheduled, it definitely worked for me to keep me on track. And having that online community when you're doing these sessions really helps. If I've read the chapter beforehand and I get to a section where I'm like, “oh my gosh, I've got no idea what this means!”, you can speak to people in the session, type in the chat box, and get that sort of support from other people as well, even if that support is other people saying, “I've got no idea either!”

I think it'd be really tough to do it by yourself. And I think definitely that having that community around you helps because it is such a commitment, isn't it? CIMA can take up so much of your time, that just having that community around you of people who understand that it takes a lot of time, it can be really rewarding.


I would look at the exam question, and on my whiteboard, I'd write key themes. So I'd pull out exactly what the question is asking me. So I'd say, "right, my feeling is this, that's what the unseen is telling me." And always make sure that you're relating the question back to the unseen as well as the pre-seen! The unseen is there for a reason. It's there for you to draw on when you're writing your answer.

Absolutely. You know, VIVA has been an online tuition provider since day one. We started five years ago, and we emphasised to start with a lot of the on-demand materials. So we have recordings, lots of practice questions, etc. And we realised that that's all well and good, but it only takes you so far as a student. And what we're doing more now is we're actually putting together live courses so that students have a schedule, a timetable, as you say, which is important.

And in recent months,we've launched our own online community for students, and we see that students respond well to that. They're talking to tutors, but they're also talking amongst themselves and that's probably even more important. Because you can fool yourself into thinking that you know or understand something that maybe you don't.

And when you get into a community like that, you talk through a topic together, then you really discover if you understand it, or maybe that you lack a full understanding, and someone else has a different point of view that clarifies things. And you can learn from them, right?

Yeah, absolutely.

So lots of great tips so far! The mock practice, talking through topics/theories with your manager at work, lots and lots of diagrams, things like that. Any other useful study tips that you could pass on to CIMA students?

Okay, I think having a schedule definitely helps. As I said, it's so easy to make excuses for why you can't study tonight. But even if you have an hour scheduled in the evening, and you just do half an hour of reading a short section - doing less is better than doing nothing!

And it also allows you to have that work-study life balance. If you know that on a Wednesday evening and on a Sunday, you're gonna have no study, it sort of gives you a structure and motivation. So you know you’ll get your study done, but you're also allowing time for family or some downtime as well, because that's so important.

Another important tip is, look at the bigger picture. The exams can feel so daunting and overwhelming. And I can remember when I did my first exam and I was like, “oof! Eleven more to go!” It can feel like it's going to take forever, but just look at that bigger picture and celebrate those incremental wins along the way!

Every exam you pass is such a celebration, the exams aren't designed to be easy! The fact you've passed is absolutely incredible. And don't move on too quickly from that – give yourself the credit you deserve!

Get the SCS learning experience that helped Autumn become a prizewinner. Unlock VIVA's SCS Course now by clicking here

Excellent points. So for you, was it a case of doing a little often – that consistency – rather than waiting for the weekend and trying to cram five or six hours of study into one day?

Yes, I would do evenings. And sometimes I would get to work an hour early and study. So by the time you finish work,you've already done some study that day, and you've done your day of work, so you can just do another hour or two in the evening and then go home. And then home for me was like a sanctuary, you could switch off, you've done all your revision,you've done all your work, and that's your downtime.

So one of the things I struggled with in the pandemic was I was working from home, I'd be in this one room for 16 hours a day where I was both working and studying. And that can feel really overwhelming. So you know, even if you can just move around the house, move about where you live, study in different places, study outside, take your books or laptop into the park. I find that definitely helped as well.

So yeah, I think definitely change that environment if you can. So you're allowing yourself a change of mindset. And then when you get home, or when you get to a different room, you can relax and your brain can switch off from study for a little bit.

That's very solid advice. And I think studies have been done on that, the importance of a change of scenery. So you have a separate place where you go to study – otherwise all the different sources of information from your day just bleed into each other. And it's just this mush of information in your head, right?

Also, I really liked your advice about celebrating the wins. And taking a little bit of time off and not just bludgeoning your way through the qualification. And that's another thing I think we're gaining from the science of learning.

The old glorification of working six, seven days a week and putting your head down 80 hours a week is not the correct approach. If you look at elite athletes, they all emphasise the importance of rest, they're not just training eight hours a day, six days a week. They're building in that structured rest and recovery time. And it results in much better performance over the long term.

Absolutely. And just looking after your own mental health, because that's obviously been a big focus recently as well. It's so important to look after your own mental health and listen to yourself. If things are getting overwhelming, listen to what you need to do. I definitely experienced that as well.

During lockdown, when I'd be in this room for 16 hours a day, it's not good for your mental health. And it is all about listening to yourself and figuring out what you need. So if you need that break, take that break. If you need to go outside and go for that walk, definitely do that. Make time to make sure you're getting that downtime that you need.

Yes, that’s very important. Okay, so I'm conscious of not keeping you here talking all day long! I think we could probably talk the entire day about the CIMA journey. How about your career path? You mentioned that you want to be a financial controller, right? That’s your goal. So what are you currently doing? And how soon would you like to become a financial controller?

So just a little bit of background. I started as a finance assistant in 2013 when I was still at university. When I started my career, I didn't know what I wanted to do! I didn't know if I wanted to work in finance, I had no idea because when you're 17, picking what university course you want to do, it's a big task! To know what you want to do for the rest of your life! I decided to do a Business Studies course, because I thought, ”well, that would put me in good stead, I can get to know different aspects of business, different aspects of how businesses operate, and see what works for me.”

So I went into it thinking that maybe I'll work in marketing. But I started to do really, really well in accountancy courses and accountancy modules. So I thought, “oh! Maybe there's something here.” So instead of doing a sandwich course, I worked at the company I'm still with at the moment. I worked with them over the summer, in the finance department, getting to know what it is they do on a day to day basis. And whether it would be something that I would want to do in the future.

So I started there in the summer of 2013, and just never left. I completed my course at university and started doing AAT. I was a finance assistant up until January 2020, when I became a senior finance assistant. I took on the mentoring of more junior and newer members ofthe team. And then, alongside me completing CIMA, I became a finance manager.

So I'm now managing two people. And it's amazing, because when I look back at my appraisals over the past few years, it was, “I want to be a finance manager, I want to do this and that…” I've always had quite strong aspirations of where I want to go. And now I've achieved it! And it's not that I will now immediately insist on being a financial controller! It's more about recognising: “the Autumn of three years ago would be really proud of where you are today”, because I've gotten where I wanted to be. And celebrating the fact that when I dedicated myself to the course, to my job, it paid off.

But yes, my next goal is financial controller, but that'll take a little bit of time. I imagine it'd be sort of in 5 to 10 years’ time. I'm very happy where I am. And I'm still learning, you know, still learning how things work in practice rather than just the theory behind it. So very much enjoying the experience.

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How do you find the management side of things?

So I was sort of mentoring more junior members of the team anyway, and one of my reports has just started CIMA, and I can really relate to where she is because I'm like, “Oh, I was just there!” And I feel like I could be a really good support for her because I know what I needed when I was starting CIMA. And I can give her that combination of space and support, in line with what she needs.

I enjoy the people management side of things, definitely. When I was just starting out in finance, there were a lot of men in the finance profession. But the finance director was a woman. And she was my inspiration. And I'm hoping that being a woman in finance, I can be an inspiration for other women starting in the profession as well. So that's important to me.

Absolutely, and an SCS prize winner!

So in my own case, the thing I really liked about CIMA myself was they had not just the technical stuff, but the Case Studies. They were exams that I quite enjoyed. I think people who do well on the Case Studies and who have strong technical competency – like yourself – the sky's the limit in terms of career. When we're talking about those more senior positions in a company, it's not going to be enough to have technical knowledge alone. You need those communication skills, that business sensibility, and the softer skills, let's say, that are emphasised in a qualification like CIMA. And you absolutely have those.

Make sure that you know where the exam centre is! If you're doing the exam in a centre, make sure that you know how long it takes to get there, what the parking is like; or if you're getting the bus, which buses to get, which trains to get. Because that's just a stress that you can easily avoid on exam day, figuring out how to get there and giving yourself enough time.

I also really enjoyed the Case Studies! I like how the company was sort of imposed on you, because you could really immerse yourself in a completely different world. So my first year was the Chocolate Box case. So learning about the cocoa and the sugar taxes and things like that.

And then the second year, it was Prybloxx, which was sort of based on LEGO. And learning about the toy industry, that was really interesting.

And then the third year was Pixlwizz, which was all about video game development. And these were all industries which I've never worked in, absolutely no experience in! So I really enjoyed immersing myself in these worlds - I find the case study is quite fun!

Yes, yeah, they certainly can be! And what about your approach on the day of the Case Study exam?

So definitely the first step is: Make sure that you know where the exam centre is! If you're doing it in a centre, make sure that you know how long it takes to get there, what the parking is like; or if you're getting the bus, which buses to get, which trains to get. Because that's just a stress that you can easily avoid on exam day, figuring out how to get there and giving yourself enough time.

Also, if possible, I'd book off the day before the exam from work. I wouldn't want to fill my head with unnecessary stresses or distractions. The thing is, I wouldn't be working very effectively anyway if I’m thinking about the exam the day before. So I took off the day before to do a bit of light reading. I wouldn't actually do exam questions at that point, because I wouldn't want to flood my mind. I'd go through my revision cards and sort of take it a bit easy for that day.

Also, I prepare everything I need for exam day. So my two forms of ID, and my calculator, make sure I know where everything is. So again, on exam day, you're not rushing around wondering “where's my passport!?” You know exactly where everything is.

I also booked my exam as early as I could in the morning, that's just how I work best. I'm definitely more of a morning person. That's when my brain’s at its sharpest. So I'd lean into that. And if my exam were in the afternoon, I'd spend the morning worrying, which again,wouldn't put me in the right mindset for the exam. So I find that on exam day, if you can get a morning slot – if that works for you – then definitely try that.

And then outside the exam centre, I'd get there nice and early. I'd do a little bit of reading through my notes, and then put them away and just do some deep breathing. And when you get to that point, you've done the course, you've done the revision, you know your stuff. All you can do is try your best. And you know, if you get a delayed pass this time, it's fine. You know you're putting your all into it. And that's all anyone can ask for. So just try to do your best.

Okay, what about when you actually got the questions? What was your approach – were you spending a lot of time reading or planning?

In the Case Study exam, I'd always take the full 15 minutes beforehand, where you have to “pick where Australia is” and do your calculations – I’d take that time to do some deep breathing, and get myself in the right mindset. I wouldn't want to start the exam too soon when I'm all frazzled. I just take that time, make myself aware of my environment, get myself comfortable, and then start the exam.

So what I would do then is I would look at the exam question. And on my whiteboard, I'd write key themes. So I'd pull out exactly what the question is asking me. Then when I look at the unseen on the day, I know what I'm looking for. So I'd say "right, my feeling is this, that's what the unseen is telling me."

And always make sure that you're relating the question back to the unseen as well as the pre-seen. The unseen is there for a reason! It's there for you to draw on when you're writing your answer. So definitely make sure that you spend time understanding the unseen and exactly what the question is asking you.

And beforehand, just make sure you understand the case itself, back to front. It's so, so important! I can't stress it enough how important it is to know. Even when it says the CEO, the marketing director, the finance director - know their names! Because in the exam question, often it will say, “X has said…” so you need to know who the author is.

And then the more you know the case, the less time you spend flicking backwards and forwards trying to find that sentence or that information on exam day. So during my studies I print the pre-seen document, I annotate it myself. I look paragraph by paragraph and, you know, note that this is E3, this is P3 etc.

And I'd look at what the case is telling me, but also what it's not telling me. So if it says the employees are compensated really well, for example, but it says nothing else about other benefits, I’d start thinking about what recommendations I could bring to the company before I even go into the exam. So when it comes to exam day, if you see that question, you've got things in the back of your mind, which you can draw on immediately.

That's great. Okay, so we've gone way over time! There's so much good advice here for students. Really, there is. Let's talk about one more thing: the VIVA courses! One of the last things we will talk about. So you did the Case Study courses with VIVA: What did you like, what did you not like? Was it helpful, etc?

VIVA was so pivotal. I was only made aware of VIVA when I was doing my MCS exam. And that's because I was part of the Facebook group, the CIMA Facebook group, and VIVA did a free introduction to the Case Study. And I thought, “oh, okay, I'll sign up for that and see what it’s about”. And the session was just so useful that I ended up purchasing the seven Pre-seen lectures and the Applied sessions. And that was just phenomenal. It was brilliant. So when it came to the SCS, I knew the first thing I needed to do was sign up again to VIVA!

So what I really liked was the material. It was really, really relevant, you could tell that a lot of thought had been put into it. When it came to the industry knowledge, VIVA really put a lot of thought into what will be actually relevant for the Case Study.

And also, the tutors were just so, so knowledgeable. That first session was with Hugh [Martin], and he was saying how he was a former CIMA prizewinner and I was thinking, “oh, gosh, I'll never be that! I’ll just be happy with the pass!” So it was nice that he'd been through the journey himself, he knew exactly what we were going to experience. That was really comforting. He could tailor his lecture towards what we needed.

And then Laura [Winkworth] was just fantastic as well. You could tell again that she'd taken the time to get to know the case when she was talking through the lectures. She really knew her stuff. And the fact that she had taken that time and the team had taken the time to understand the case and really try and help us achieve our best... It was second to none, it was just amazing.

And I didn't find that with other CIMA tuition providers. Other providers, you could tell they read through the case but didn't didn't put a lot of time into it, they sort of did what they needed to do just to get the material out. But with you guys, it was definitely evident and obvious that VIVA really care about the students, and you care about us passing. So it was really, really appreciated. And also, the website is really easy to navigate as well. So that's really good.

That's wonderful to hear! The website is undergoing a little bit of a transformation, we've got a few ideas for how to improve it! But it's definitely stable. It's becoming more aesthetically well-presented too. I think ease of use is that is the key thing, right?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if I clicked on my account, I could easily access all my slides. And I liked how the live sessions were recorded. So I could draw back on those sessions if I missed, like, a sentence or a phrase or something. I could circle back on it and see the full session, which I really enjoyed.

Okay, Autumn, I think we'll leave it there! That's absolutely loads of great advice. I have no doubt that students will find this useful. It sounds like you're a model CIMA student, just such a common sense approach to the whole thing. Balanced, you know? For example, your explanation of getting to the exam centre on time, removing that simple stress, that's just so sensible. And it's the kind of thing that students probably overlook – they're thinking more “okay, what theory do I need to know?” But there's a game before the game commences, right? And it sounds like you completely understood that.

Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, it's just so important to know your end goal. And stick to it and celebrate the wins along the way. Definitely.

Well, congratulations again Autumn on placing number 1 in the world for the CIMA SCS Nov21 exam – an amazing achievement!

Thank you, and thanks for putting the time in, I've really appreciated it!

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