The part (b) requirement of the T4 exam, which carries ten marks, assesses your communication skills. The T4 case writer offers some vital advice.
The aim of this article is to help you to understand:
What is meant by a communication document and what types you may be expected to prepare.
The importance of the content and who the document is being prepared for and why.
How to lay out your answer.
This ten mark communication document will require a separate answer which will cover one, or more, of the issues that you will have already analysed in your report in part (a).
Within your main report in part (a) you will have analysed the issues in the case and prepared relevant supporting calculations, and also prepared recommendations on them. Part (b) is not a repeat of what you have already done in your main report, although you will be expected to draw upon your analysis and any relevant supporting calculations that you may have prepared for the particular issues in part (b).
The T4 case study can be time pressured, but you should ensure that you allow enough time to prepare part (b). See below for tips on time management.
What is meant by a communication document and what types will I have to prepare?
The aim of part (b) is to test your ability to communicate effectively in a different format from a simple business report. It reflects the importance of the skills that CIMA accountants need in order to communicate effectively with both financial and non financial managers and the need to be sensitive to the end users of the communication document.
The types of communication documents that you may be expected to prepare are:
- a presentation in bullet point format
- an email
- a letter
- a presentation with a graph or chart attached
- an email with a graph or chart attached.
Who is the document for and why?
A communication document should:
- convey all of the relevant points (including relevant financial analysis and your recommendation) succinctly to the recipient of the document
- be in a suitable tone for the purpose it is meant for and sensitive to the needs of the audience it is aimed at.
To gain high marks in part (b) you need to be able to extract the relevant points from your report in part (a) (which will be most important to the reader of the communication document), and to present them in an appropriate manner and tone suitable to the audience the document is aimed at.
For example, the part (b) communication document in the November 2010 exam for the VYP TV production company case was an email, ‘to persuade VYP’s programme producers of the need for improved IT systems in order to achieve better control of direct programme making costs.’
This document was aimed at a range of senior employees who were not accountants, to try to persuade them about the need for improved cost control and new IT systems. It needed to be persuasive and positive and to
highlight the benefits a new IT system would generate for their departments.
It also needed to try to overcome any possible hostility to new IT systems by explaining that the current lack of cost control could not continue if the company is to survive in its competitive market.
Some tips on what to include within your answer for part (b) are:
- Ensure that your answer addresses the specific requirement of this ten mark question, such as a presentation, an email or a graphical presentation.
- An analysis of the issue including any relevant financial analysis.
- A clear recommendation of what action should be taken on the specific issue(s) in part (b).
Laying out your answer
You need to consider the depth and format of your answer. Some advice is:
- if a presentation is required, then what is needed is a list of the ten most important and relevant aspects of the issue shown in bullet point format
- if an email is required, then ten short sentences are needed (the exam paper will even state that ‘your email should contain no more than ten short sentences’).
Therefore if part (b) requires a presentation, answers containing long rambling statements are not appropriate and will achieve few marks. Similarly, if an email is required and you prepare short bullet points, you will only gain low marks as this is not what has been requested.
If a graph or chart is required as part of a presentation or an email, then you need to prepare around five bullet points (if it is a presentation) or five sentences (if it is an email) in addition to a graph. Don’t just prepare a graph and forget about the rest of the requirement.
Plan and manage your time carefully. Part (b) carries ten marks and you should plan to spend around 15 minutes (a maximum of 20) on this requirement.
If you are sitting the T4 exam on PC, make sure you are familiar with preparing simple graphs in Excel. If you do not know how to do this, then learn and practice! A simple graph with a heading, labels on each axis, and data labels (showing the value for each point or column on the graph) should only take a few minutes.
If you are sitting the paper based T4 exam and a graph is required, you can either use graph paper (which will be provided) or you can draw a graph within your exam answer booklet.
Practice identifying the key factors relating to typical business issues that occur in T4 exams by reading and working through past T4 exam papers. You can also practice preparing each of the five different formats shown above.
CIMA has also prepared a student support guide (PDF 84KB) on the part (b) requirement. It includes an example of each of the above five types of documents, all based on the May 2010 T4 case study on the CeeCee retail fashion case.
Finally, remember to consider the audience for the communication document and ensure that you include relevant financial information and a clear, justified recommendation for the issues.