Exam tips: how to tackle your November Operational Case Study exam

17th Oct 2019

Exam tips: how to tackle your November Operational Case Study exam

We asked one of our Operational Case Study experts for thoughts on the upcoming Case Study exam. This is the final chance for CIMA Case Study students to write on the 2015 syllabus. They had some interesting insight on the pre-seen and great tips on how to tackle the Case Study exam. This is what they had to say.

Tips and insight on the pre-seen

So as Forest Gump said, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you going to get”. Is that really the case? (pun-intended)

CIMA’s latest industry focus for the Operational Case Study November 2019 sitting, makes us salivate as we learn about the leading premium Chocolatier “Chocolate Box.”

I must admit the first time I read this case study, I searched for some chocolates. If chocolates incentivise you to read this case study a few times, then that’s a start.

It is key to read this pre-seen a few times, once a day if you need to. This leads me to exam success factor number one:

Familiarisation with the case is crucial for success in this exam.

The best approach to case study preparation centres around a lot of question practice. I frequently find that students are hesitant to delve into practicing for the case study as many of them have exemptions for certain pillars, others have had a long gap and in other cases struggle to shift from objective test questioning style to case study thinking. Instead they spend a lot of time revising the material from the three pillars. This brings me to exam success factor number two.

You have to start practicing from the get-go

This will help identify your knowledge gaps. Yes, you need to cover the material, but the approach bridging knowledge gaps differs with the case study.

Practice getting your word count correct

A tip I often share with my students from day one is to practice getting their word count in place. How does one know if they have addressed the question with the enough depth required by the examiner and developed an answer that covers the competency framework? At this level you must be very mindful of the competency framework. 64% of the questioning is focused on testing core technicality.

Good sentence construction consists of making a point, explaining it and applying where possible to case information.

Those are my top three tips and just a reminder that you can indeed prepare well so that there are not too many surprises when you receive your unseen material on the day of the exam. Also trust in the business knowledge you have, whether your strengths are in P1, E1 or F1 (or all!). You will find that this exam is indeed very practical. If you learn the technique well at Ops Level, you are well on your way to tackling the MCS and SCS very well.

General overview of Chocolate Box:

  • Chokolate Box is a leading premium chocolatier manufacturing innovative and accessibly priced luxury chocolate. Revenue growth of 10,5% y-o-y.
  • The case bears striking resemblance to real life company
  • The company is extremely vertically-integrated (it is a manufacturer and retailer), also owning its own cocoa plantation in Teeland, West Africa.

Key Issues:

1. Corporate Social Responsibility

This is likely to be very topical. Ethics and Sustainability – there is a whole page talking to this in the case. What unseen can be introduced that may conflict with what the company purports in its commitment to CSR?

2.Supplier Relations

Some of cocoa is brought in from Caribbean and Africa. The quality is sub-par in comparison to its own plantations in West Africa. What can be done to improve this? Supplier Audit? Development?

Leading from this what are some of the implications of poor-quality raw materials?

  • Variances
  • Also look at this from the perspective of a cost of quality report as well. Internal and External Costs of failure.


The company uses incremental budgeting. Do you know the key features of this technique? What are alternatives? The cocoa plantation managers do not have budgetary responsibility. Bottom up vs. Top down, Controllable vs. Uncontrollable factors to think about. Extend your use of the theory here to the people aspect of the competency framework. What are the people aspects related to budget setting?


Case study talks to industry growth forecasts being affected by health concerns and a social move toward healthier living. Lead to new product decisions. Short term decision making. Relevant costs. Know the criteria to qualify as relevant cost.

Students are encouraged to go revise the following material.

1. P1 - Traditional Absorption Costing vs. Marginal Costing vs. ABC Costing. Know your costing methods.

2. P1 - Variance Analysis – Understand this well. I can’t stress this enough. At this level you can’t be figuring out what the formula is for a labour efficiency variance. In most cases you are going to need to explain how this has arisen.

3. F1 – Working capital management. This is very topical. Make sure you understand why working capital management is so important from a business perspective.

4. E1 – Marketing Mix – It is easy to remember what constitutes the marketing mix, but for case study purposes it needs to be explained with good understanding and application.

5. E1 – Porters Value chain – do you know the purpose of this model? Once again listing the primary and supporting activities will not be enough.

6. E1 - HR – Recruitment, Selection, Motivation

Good luck, the above is not intended to be used for spotting. The key is cover as much of the syllabus material through question practice.

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