Working through your CIMA Case Study Course

In this article, VIVA Co-founder Hugo Newman offers a step by step guide to getting the most out of your Case Study resources.

Independent online learning can be a disorientating experience. You spend hours trawling through the Google search results for “CIMA online courses” and “CIMA study materials”; you weigh up the different options; you search for testimonials; you finally settle on a course, make the purchase, and then you find yourself with a bunch of materials without any clear idea of where to begin or how to proceed…

If this has been your experience, then this article is for you. We’re going to tell you exactly how you should proceed through your case study course in order to get the most bang for your buck. Not only that: we’re going to explain to you exactly why this approach is the optimal one, citing the latest scientific research on effective learning. This research forms the basis of VIVA’s pedagogical approach. Knowing these fundamental principles of learning will in turn help you to maximise your learning efficiency... Speaking of efficiency, let’s get started!

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Here you have a visual representation of VIVA’s scientifically grounded “ASC” pedagogy. Below we explain in detail how to apply this approach to your pre-seen study materials to get maximal results.

The Case Study Materials

We’ll begin with a quick overview of what you get with your VIVA Case Study Pack. We’ll use these materials as the reference point for explaining the optimal route through the case study preparation process. The Smarter Study Pack contains the fundamentals:

- 3-4 hours of HD Pre-seen Analysis Video lectures – our Pre-seen Tutors have guided over 6,000 CIMA students through their case study preparations and researched and analysed 30 pre-seens. He has also given a number of presentations for CIMA on the keys to case study success. Here he takes you through each page of the pre-seen document in thorough detail, highlighting likely exam topics, applying relevant insights from prior pre-seens and principles from the three pillars – Enterprise, Financial and Performance.

- HD Industry Analysis Video lecture – our Industry Specialist and VIVA’s co-founder, Hugo Newman (PhD), has over 4 years of university research expertise in the domain of political economy and ethics, and continues to contribute to some of the most important political and economic journals in the world. He analyses the industry in-depth, before distilling it into its key components. This ensures that you focus only on the most relevant and important features of the real-world industry.

- The Applied Series - perhaps the most popular component of our Case Study courses, where our CIMA experts identify the most relevant Objective Theory topics/models/principles from the 2019, and apply them to the specifics of the pre-seen documenting - modelling how to answer realistic case study exam-style questions and scenarios.

- Key Issues Video lecture – here both of our Case Study tutors integrate some of the most important insights from both the pre-seen analysis and industry analysis, identifying the topics most likely to come up on exam day

- 3-5 Professional Mock Exams - Professionally designed Mock Exams based on the current case study, weighted in accordance with official CIMA marking criteria. The mocks include professionally prepared Model Answers for each of the mock exams. Exams should be practiced under real exam conditions with our online CIMA Exam Simulator.

- Annotated Financial Calculations and Ratios – a document in which the key numbers from the pre-seen financial statements are analysed, including annotations explaining the relevance of the calculations

- Annotated Pre-seen Document – the accompanying pre-seen document with all the annotations corresponding to the pre-seen analysis video lesson

There’s a lot in there, and really that contains the essentials of what you need to prepare yourself for the Case Study Exam. But the question is: how should I use these materials? What’s the logical sequence? Where should I begin? And where should I end?

Step 1: Ascend, or get closer to the deep-end…

Perhaps not surprisingly, the best place to start is with the Pre-seen Analysis Videos, proceeding through each video in sequence. However, many students mistakenly believe that the best place to start is in fact with a comprehensive revision of all the theory they learned in preparation for their CIMA Objective Tests, before they even look at the pre-seen document. The reason why this is sub-optimal is because the latest science shows that the best way to learn is through generating what are known as “desirable difficulties”.  Various studies suggest that the most effective way to improve long-term retention and understanding of abstract concepts is to do the mental equivalent of learning to swim nearer the “deep end” of the swimming pool. Putting yourself in a position where you might not have all the knowledge immediately available to you forces your brain to “work” for the solution, to rely on its own resources and deep knowledge base to approach the solutions. This is what the renowned psychologist Jean Piaget called the “Zone of Proximal Development”. Research confirms that generating answers and solutions in this manner enhances the ability to recall and apply that learning later on.

Interleaving – the proven method

Of course, you don’t want to “drown” in the deep end, or not know in which direction you should be swimming! And that’s where VIVA’s tutors and video tools come in. What VIVA’s tutors do is to nudge you in the right direction as you proceed through the pre-seen materials – to suggest certain theoretical principles that might be relevant here and there, prompting you to recall those theories and consider how they might best be applied in this particular scenario. This is combined with VIVA’s new interactive video tools, with challenging questions and prompts occurring during the video lessons to make sure that not only are you paying attention, but that you are working for your learning.

The key here is the kinds of questions that are asked. VIVA employs the scientifically supported principle of “interleaving”. This is the method of testing you on theories or information that is not simply what you have just been reading or studying. Rather, VIVA’s interactive video lessons challenge you on data and theories which you will have encountered in previous lessons, or which you might not even have come across yet. This “mixing” of different course categories has been shown to improve long-term recall and deepen understanding of the theories. Most students intuitively believe that proceeding in a strictly chronological manner is the most effective way to learn. However, the research is rock-solid, and interleaving of varied tasks is certainly the best approach.

You can apply this insight yourself in your own time while revising and testing your knowledge. VIVA’s materials give you that template. But there’s one very important thing you should remember: it has been conclusively shown that an enjoyable learning experience is not necessarily the most effective one. And here’s the rub: when the same students have been surveyed on which approach they prefer – the chronological approach or interleaving – students overwhelmingly choose the chronological approach! And this is even after they have been shown conclusive evidence that the interleaving approach is more effective! So, bear that in mind. You might be tempted to work through things step-by-step as intuition dictates. But the evidence is in: putting yourself out of your comfort zone is the way forward! You will notice, for example, that we will often ask questions in our video analysis that refer to a later point in an upcoming video or a video that you watched previously, rather than focusing only on the contents of the current video. This is intentional and keeps the student alert and thinking. Our aim is not to have you breeze through our course in a half-hearted way. Our aim is to ensure you’re prepared and that requires asking more of our students so that they are prompted to be mentally-agile.

Our recommendation therefore is that you begin by watching through all the pre-seen videos once, making use of the interleaved questions and prompts as you move through. Don’t begin by revising all your Objective Theory and then put it to one side – that is something you should be doing instead on an ongoing basis as you move through VIVA’s online course, when you discover that there is a hole in your knowledge that your memory simply cannot fill in. Furthermore, when you do go back to review key objective theories, make sure you apply the theories to the current pre-seen. The case study exam is a practical exam, not a theoretical exam. Students too often make the mistake of reviewing theory in isolation from the pre-seen (e.g. reading back over Porter’s Five Forces). Instead, you need to take the theory and think how it applies to the pre-seen e.g. what are the competitive forces in this industry like and how would I classify them (low? medium? high?).

Low-stakes testing

Once you have completed the first run through of the Pre-seen Analysis video course, we recommend that you practice ONE mock exam. Now, again, many students will find this counterintuitive. “Shouldn’t I study all of the videos and other CIMA study materials before I start to practice mock exams!?” While this may seem like the common sense approach, again, this is not what the best scientific research shows to be the optimal strategy. This comes back to the idea of generating desirable difficulties for yourself. By practising a mock exam at this early stage, you will have obtained some good knowledge and insights. But by putting yourself in an exam setting, you are again pushing yourself into that Zone of Proximal Development. The mock exams will also force you to work for your learning – they will require you to recall certain points that were raised in the pre-seen analysis, and prompt you to rely on your own mental resources to fill in any blanks you still have. This encourages you to “dig deep” and bring up knowledge that you may not even realise you already had from your time studying for the Objective Tests! Testing yourself at this early stage also exposes any serious deficiencies you have in your knowledge base. This allows you to identify your weak points at an early stage, and gives you the opportunity to work on them before you attempt the next mock exam.

Step 2: Survey, OR practice and review… before you’re “ready”!

It’s crucial that once you attempt your mock exam, that you review your responses and compare them to the model answers provided by VIVA (check out our great free article on how to write a model case study exam answer here). If you do not reflect on where you went wrong and what you did right, the mock exercise is largely a waste of time. The best way to maximise the insight you gain from the mock exam exercise is to have an experienced tutor correct your answers (see note below). But if you do not have access to that service, then self-assessment and reflection-through-comparison are the next best thing.

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All of VIVA's Mock Exams can be practised online on our authentic CIMA exam simulator (above), replicating timed exam conditions to allow you to hone your exam writing technique.

NOTE: Don’t forget, you also have the option of submitting your mock exam answers for correction by VIVA’s professional case study tutors. If you have the Genius Study Pack, or if you have purchased the Professional Marking Service separately, you can email your answers into That way, you have the assurance of knowing for certain where you still need to improve, and what exactly you should be focusing on before you attempt your next mock.

After you have performed this “low-stakes test and review” phase, you should return to the completion of the remaining course materials. This means working through the remaining video lessons – the Industry Analysis and the Key Issues videos – as well as studying the annotated financial calculations and ratios. What these lessons and resources do is to supplement and synthesise what you have learned in the Pre-seen Analysis video lessons. As there will be some thematic overlap between the pre-seen videos and the Industry and Key Issues video lessons, watching these supplementary videos will prompt you to actively recall certain problems or theoretical applications that were raised in the pre-seen videos, instead of simply passively re-watching those segments. As stated above, effortful recall improves long-term retention and understanding.

Step 3: Calibrate and conquer: synthesise your study and refine your exam technique

Once you have completed these remaining video lessons and complementary materials, we recommend that you return to attempt a second mock exam. The stakes are raised as you move on to each subsequent mock exam, as the more you have done, the fewer opportunities you have to practice and correct for errors thereafter. This incremental raising of the stakes eases you into the higher-pressure scenario of the real-life CIMA exam.

After the second mock exam has been completed, we recommend that you then revisit the Pre-seen Analysis Videos for a second time. This is a chance for you to do a “deep-dive” on the subject matter. It is at this point we suggest that you make conscious note of any potential weak points or holes in the theoretical knowledge that you accrued during your Objective studies. If you find at this point that there are certain theories, models or formulae that you just cannot recall or make sense of on your own, then it’s time to revisit those areas.

It is only after this second, slower run-through that you should approach the final mock exam(s) (of course, if you have purchased the Expert Pack or Genius Pack, you will have added the benefit of 2 extra mock exams, with a total of 5 mock exams in each of those Packs). Now the stakes will be higher, and you will get to test your recall and knowledge base under the strain of both VIVA’s timed simulator, and the knowledge that you are approaching your final mocks.

Having completed your final mocks, all that’s left for you to do is reflect on the remaining holes and gaps that have been exposed in the course of your studies. Again you can revisit the Objective theory that you will have covered prior to your case study preparation. We also recommend at this point that you make use of VIVA’s Short Pre-seen Quiz. These will help you to develop an “inside-out” knowledge of the key facts and figures for the pre-seen company, so that when it comes to exam day, you are not wasting time on opening up the pre-seen document and double-checking that what you are writing is accurate. This allows you to focus on the substance of your answers on exam day.

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VIVA’s ASC Method: the scientific formula for Case Study success

The approach outlined above is based on careful research into how adult students learn most effectively. This is reflected in VIVA’s “ASC” method – Ascend, Survey, Calibrate & Conquer. All of the points and recommendations above are grounded in that method. The beauty of this method is that it offers our students structure, without being limiting or requiring them to do certain things on specific times and dates. It gives our students a clear route through the materials, while affording the flexibility that we know many of our students (many of whom are juggling a job and family life) will value. If you follow this method and work through each of the elements in VIVA’s case study courses, we assure you that you will be optimally prepared come exam day. And remember – the best learning methods aren’t always the ones you enjoy the most. But that’s what makes VIVA different: we ask more of our students, so that they're battle-ready when the big day comes!

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