I’ve Got the Pre-seen, Now What?

This is from the “Accounting Makes Cents” podcast episode #13 released on Monday, 16 May 2022.

In today’s episode, we are going to talk about the all-important document, the pre-seen material. This is a document that CIMA releases at specific times during the year as background information for the different case study exams. Each level – operational, management and strategic, has their own pre-seen material. So in each session, there will always be 3 different ones. Depending on what level you are, you then get hold of the pre-seen material for your level.

Jump to show notes.

What is in the pre-seen material?

So if you are not quite sure what a pre-seen material contains, the pre-seen material always revolves around a specific company and industry. It’s always a different company for each pre-seen. The company is fictitious though, but behaves and operates like real-life ones. In general, whatever level you are on, pre-seen materials provide various information about the company and the industry. It has details about its history, sometimes about its operations. If it produces goods, you may be able to learn about how it creates its products. It normally has financial information and details about the Board of Directors as well. It is up to you how you are going to use this information to help you at the exams.

So what do we actually do with this 20-pager material? Here are four steps you could perform to help start you off with your pre-seen.

Read the pre-seen

First things first, you won’t get very far if you don’t read through the material, so you do need to go through it. Regardless of whether you find it interesting or not, there is no easy way about it. If you can’t read it in one sitting, you can take it in chunks. What I’d like to say here is that reading it once is not enough. Students read the pre-seen material quite a few times, and by the time they get to the exam room, most know the information almost to heart. This is not to say that students need to memorise the pre-seen. That’s not it. It’s just a natural progression from reading the pre-seen multiple times is that you start retaining information. 

Active reading

And one other thing when you are reading the material, this is not a mechanical activity. I specifically like to call this part “active reading”. And I talk about active reading as reading with digestion and understanding of what the material is telling you aside from just the written word. Sometimes it is not just what it is saying but what is between the lines as well. Okay, so here’s the example, you get a sentence which tells you that “Company X is a mature, established brand.” In just one sentence, in just that sentence, it actually already tells you a lot. The word “mature” tells you that this company has been around for a while, has gone through quite a bit and has come out successful. The word “established” tells you that this company is stable or at least stable now and will likely continue so. See how active reading works?

SWOT it out

An exploration of accountants duties and responsibilities is that it encompasses way more than just the numbers and results of the company. It also involves managing and implementing processes to ensure the company runs smoothly and correctly. It also involves managing a team which ultimately works toward the goals of the company. And there are many ways that you use your skills. You don’t need to be in the company doing accountant things. You could be working in recruiting sectors, some are in the education space like myself, and others are in auditing, in forensic, in municipalities, etc. etc. and so on and so forth. The list just goes on.

Work those numbers

The third step would be to take your financials, included in your pre-seen materials, and start calculating the ratios and margins on the results. Now, just to be clear, the case study exams are not calculation exams. There are numbers and there are some basic or simple calculations involved, but nothing too complicated or strenuous. Having said this, seeing that it’s not a calculation exam, you may wonder how important are the numbers then? I’d say that being an accountant, you probably already know the answer. The numbers provided on the pre-seen materials are not just to show you a profit and loss statement or a balance sheet. The movements of these numbers convey more than an increase or a decrease in margins, a decrease in margins might not just mean that profits are under pressure, but that may also mean that the company is operating in a much less efficient way than ideal.

Look up the industry

One more step to take when it comes to pre-seen material will actually take you out of the pre-seen. The pre-seen company and its industry is always fascinating. While it may be debatable whether it’s gripping when you read it, but when it comes to being interesting and fascinating, it never disappoints. It’s almost like the same kind of enjoyment that you get when you watch or read a fictional movie or book. The pre-seen immerses you into its world. Once CIMA releases it, you are part of the story. One of the things that does hinder a student from embracing this fiction is the fact that sometimes you may feel that you do not know enough about the company or industry to act familiar with it. The remedy is to undertake research. Now, I’m not talking about overly complicated and deep-rooted research. All you need here is to identify the industry that the pre-seen company is in, read up on some of the players in this industry and take your cue from there. A little bit of research can help you understand the industry a whole lot better, what real companies have been doing, where their focuses are, what risks they are facing. Again, this need not be extensive, but enough to make you feel somewhat connected.


I also wanted to add that these steps are a few of many. There are other steps that you could take to get more out of the pre-seen. Aside from the SWOT, you could also perform a PESTEL analysis or a Five Forces analysis, even a stakeholders mapping. These tools can help you paint a better picture of the pre-seen in your mind, and can help you digest the information faster.

Now that you’ve got some idea on what to do with that material, why don’t you whip out your pre-seen material and let the preparations begin? The quicker you start, the sooner you’ll start reaping the benefits of being immersed in the pre-seen world.

Show notes simplified

The pre-seen material is a very important document when it comes to the case study exams. Not only does it give you background, it provides context for the exams. In this episode, MJ the tutor talks about what students can do to get the most out of the pre-seen material to help better prepare for the case study exams.

“Ding Ding Small Bell” (https://freesound.org/s/173932/) by JohnsonBrandEditing (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1RImxnsbfngagfXd_GWCDQ) licensed under CC0 Licence.

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