How TPS exam questions are written

Man writing a document
Mark Allison By Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education

10 August 2016

Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education looks at how the TPS examinations are created and what this means for candidates sitting them.

During your ICAS studies, the CA syllabus is often mentioned. The syllabus is the high-level document setting out the overall outcomes of each of the CA qualification levels and also the detailed outcomes of each subject. As you go through each of the modules in a TPS subject, there will be objectives stated which ultimately link back to the syllabus.

Emphasising the importance of the syllabus is essential to an understanding of the process of writing the examination questions for TPS. The examination team start their planning of the questions you will sit at the forthcoming diet by receiving the approved syllabus. This happens between 12 and 18 months before the actual diet of examinations.

Each of the subjects at TPS has syllabus outcomes set at the higher, and in some cases, highest levels. The use of verbs such as advise, evaluate, plan and recommend are an indication of tasks which can only be undertaken with a broad knowledge and set of skills from the individual TPS subject and the building blocks from Test of Competence and/or university which come before it.

  • Key point – even if questions in the course pack require you to state, explain, or calculate, this is a level beneath the expectation of recommend, advise, or plan.

Question planning

The examination team in each subject, comprising the moderator, external examiner and internal examiner, meet to plan coverage of all of the syllabus learning outcomes and an analysis of the coverage of all of the course modules for a complete academic cycle. What this means in practice is that across the three diets in an academic year, there will be coverage of each of the learning outcomes and of each of the modules.

The examining teams plan the outline of questions by setting background and specific technical problems that they wish a question author to construct. It is a matter of judgement for the examination teams how to achieve this but they must be able to show to the Examination Panel the syllabus coverage and module coverage of every question in every diet.

  • Key point – you cannot question spot as the whole course is examinable.  

The writing

The first draft of the question must be accompanied by a solution and a marking guide and will be submitted by the author to the examination team for review. The questions are brought together into one paper and are time tested by an experienced member of the CA Education staff. This can be the internal examiner or another experienced lecturer. There are time-testing guidelines for each question and for each paper and where an initial time test is outside these ranges then the question will be redrafted.

Each question is subject to a technical review by an individual who is independent of the writing team and each question is also subject to a quality control review to check for layout and matters of clarity and grammar.

All examination questions are brought to the TPS Examination Panel for an overall review at least six months before the diet. The Examination Panel will generally review two papers in a subject at one time. This allows the Panel to have a comparison of the standard from one paper to the next. It also allows for the moving of questions and for consideration of overall syllabus and module coverage.

The structure of the paper has been the subject of much review over recent years and we now have a question in part two of each diet where short-answer questions provide an opportunity to cover more of the syllabus and modules in each diet.

ICAS very rarely changes an examination paper already signed off as a consequence of performance by students in the most recent diet. The Examination Panel believe that each question paper will stand in its own right and represents a sufficient coverage of the syllabus and modules to be a fair test.

Returning to the syllabus

The TPS examination questions are set at a masters level. We expect students to be able to evaluate and synthesise information to provide solutions, judgements and recommendations which would benefit the recipient of the advice for analysis. If you find that your answer is a repetition of knowledge, or is a calculation without any interpretation or summary then it is very likely you are answering that question at too low a level.

Full marks are possible in each question and have been achieved in recent exams. The average student answer (and the average student will, in general, pass) is very good at explaining and applying but tends to be weak in recommending and evaluating.

  • Key point – read the initial instruction carefully and ensure that where required higher level advice, recommendations and conclusions are provided in your answers.

Best of luck in the forthcoming examinations.

Mark Allison


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