CIMA Objective Tests and Case Study Exams

This is from “Accounting Makes Cents” podcast episode #2 released on Monday, 13 December 2021.

In this episode, we’re going to discuss the difference between objective tests exams and case study exams, which you’ll both encounter if you’re studying CIMA. Make sure to stay till the end to hear the reason behind the case study exams to understand it, so that you can better prepare for it.

Jump to show notes.

So I’d like to start off with a brief overview of the CIMA professional qualification. This is for the benefit of those who are just starting out or are still trying to manoeuvre the ins and outs of CIMA.  On the professional qualification, there are three levels – the operational, management and strategic levels. Normally, in each level, you’d be facing 4 exams, an objective test for each of the 3 pillars and then 1 case study to wrap that level up. Now, I know everybody’s going to be on a different trajectory. Some students get exemptions, etc. so it might not be the same. But for most, it will follow the flow of the 3 OTs and 1 case study.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at the differences.

Difference #1 – Focus

Number 1 difference between an OT and case study is the focus. For the objective tests exams, or the OTs, as it is called, these are very specific and tailored for each of the pillars. By the way, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the pillars yet. The three pillars are Enterprise pillar, Financial pillar and Performance pillar. Or sometimes they are just referred to as E, F, or P. You’ll find students will talk about E2, which means it’s the Enterprise pillar on the management level. And we’ll take F3 as an example, that is the Financial pillar on the strategic level. And so on. You get the picture.

Anyways, as mentioned, we get the OTs, which are focused on particular pillars. I think OTs do ease you in to the way things are with CIMA. To study for the OT is very similar to elementary school studying, so you are reverted to the way you know how to do things, where you memorise information, drone it into your head to remember and recall when you need them. 

The technical topics covered by the OT exams are varied, and the difficulty notches up as you go along each level. Now I’m going to touch on the pillars. We have the Enterprise pillar which covers enterprise operations and processes, policies with regards to HR, marketing, strategies. Then we have the Financial pillar, which covers the financial statements, calculations, policies and strategies, accounting standards. The third pillar, which is Performance, looks at performance measurements and management, as well as business risks and strategies and policies surrounding that.

Now for case studies, you become eligible to take the case study exam for that level after you’ve done the 3 OTs. Where the focus of the OTs is on specific subject matters, the main material for case studies is around the preseen materials. CIMA releases one preseen material for each of the level. And students are given the chance to immerse themselves in the preseen world to be able to tackle the exam questions from the eyes of someone who works for the preseen company.

However, while the focus is different, what you’ve learnt from the OTs with regards to your technical topics will still be relevant for your case study preparation. I know there are differing opinions about this, but I’m a proponent that case studies are a lot harder to pass without that technical knowledge behind you. What throws a lot of students off is how to use the technical knowledge in a case study exam. The information you gained from studying for OT is used differently in an OT exam and is used differently in a case study. Think about it. It’s a different kind of exam, so the studying for case studies tends to be different from OTs.

Difference #2 – Timing

Number 2 difference is the timing of the exams. 

The beauty of studying for OT is that you can take each pillar one at a time. If you decide that you are going for F1 for example, then you’d be spending the next couple of weeks studying about financial information, rules, and standards. And then you take that exam. You will then move on to E1, so you’ll focus your energies on looking at HR processes, marketing strategies, etc. for that exam so that you’re able to take it. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be one at a time. You can do 2 or the 3 OT exams simultaneously, but it can get overwhelming especially if you haven’t quite gotten your study groove yet.

Now for case study, there are 4 intake sessions in a year – Feb, May, Aug, Nov. 2 sessions share 1 preseen. This is true as at the time of this episode going live, which is 2021/2022. There is 1 preseen for Nov/Feb and 1 preseen for May/Aug. If you are on the first session just after a new preseen material is released, you have around 6-7 weeks to prepare before the exam week. If you are on the second session, then you have more time to prepare, I suppose, because the preseen would’ve been out at least 3 months before you take you case study exams.

So as for timing, you are able to take an OT exam anytime, you just need to book it, whereas in a case study you are locked within a session. So, if you need to take a case study exam, you will need to do it either Feb, May, Aug or Nov.

Difference #3 – Format

Number 3 difference is the exam format.

The OT exams are set out in a way that you get short questions, well it’s a set of questions, but the questions are built where there are correct and incorrect answers. There are different formats for the questions, some would be in multiple choice, multiple responses, fill in the blanks, and so on. The marking I feel is a bit inflexible and harsh to be honest, since if you have a multiple responses question, and there are 3 out of 4 correct answers on the question and you only pick 2 out of 4, then you don’t get the mark.

Now with case study exams, the questions are set as scenarios. CIMA calls them triggers. Remember that you are given the preseen to set the scene for you. The triggers normally will describe something happening to the company, a new opportunity being presented, a new risk that the company needs to face, and you are then asked how to address it in a variety of way. The type of answers on the case study are long format essays. It’s all about writing and getting your points across.

So, why the case study then?

In this parting segment, I just want to talk briefly about why the need for case study. Why? CIMA developed the case study in essence to allow future CIMA accountants to demonstrate their understanding of the topics they’ve just learnt. It’s good and well that you know about the Balanced Scorecard, but how does it work, really? This is why the case study was created. It’s to test the development of students from having purely theoretical knowledge to being able to apply this knowledge in a practical business setting.

So how does one start preparing for the case study? Well, for that information, I think I’ll segue that into a new episode.

End note

I will end off here. I hope you enjoyed this episode learning more about CIMA, the OTs and the case studies. As always, thank you for listening till the end. I am your host, MJ the tutor. And you were just listening to Accounting Makes Cents.

If you’re keen to connect to be updated with the arrival of the next episodes of this podcast or find CIMA resources online, please head on over to my website, You can also hit subscribe on whichever platform you are using to listen to this podcast. If you want to connect with me on social media, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under the name, mjthetutor. And that’s it. I’ll see you on the next episodes. Ciao for now.

Show notes simplified

In this episode, MJ the tutor talks about the CIMA professional qualification. She touches on the differences between the objective tests exams versus the case study exams. In the end, she imparts the importance of case study exams so that students can understand and better prepare for it.

“Ding Ding Small Bell” ( by JohnsonBrandEditing ( licensed under CC0 Licence.

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