Exam Technique: Maximise your Marks in BUSS3
BUSS3 is a tough exam and a significant step up in challenge for many A Level Business students compared with the BUSS1 & BUSS2 exams at AS level. To do well at BUSS3 you need to combine good subject knowledge and understanding with excellent exam technique. Here is some guidance which you might find helpful.
KNOW THE BASICS
No excuses for not knowing what to expect in terms of the paper format:
• Marks available: 80
• Duration: 105 minutes
• Four questions; no choice
• Exam based on an unseen case study comprising descriptive text and appendices.
• Three questions focusing on 3 of the 4 main functional areas (HRM, Finance, Marketing, Operations); although all three answers need to make connections between the functional areas and also refer to corporate / functional objectives
• Functional questions: one analytical question (worth 10 marks); two evaluative questions (typically 16-18 marks each)
• Final question: 34-36 marks focusing on evaluation of the strategic options/choices for the business
Where Do the Marks Come from?
There are 80 marks up for grabs in BUSS3 typically split as follows:
Note that Q4 has up to 10 marks available for evaluation. That's as many marks as are available for the whole of Q1. So make sure you leave enough time to do justice to the final element of evaluation in Q4.
In total there are up to 20 marks (or 25%) available for evaluation.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS SET - NOT THE TOPICS YOU WANT TO WRITE ABOUT
There is no point producing answers that you've pre-prepared. You simply MUST address the specific requirements of the question.
Do not produce theoretical answers that are straight out of the textbook! The examiner is not interested in reading all you know about workforce planning or lean production. He wants to see how you can APPLY your knowledge to the case study firm and industry.
Some tips to help:
- Briefly read the questions that have been set before you start to read the case study. This will help you put the case study evidence into context.
- Actively look for evidence that will help answer the specific questions set. Highlight the key words in the question – these will help you identify relevant case study material
- Always refer back to the question in your answer – before you start writing and whilst you write too.
- Check the question one last time before writing a final paragraph
THE CASE STUDY IS YOUR FRIEND - YOUR SOURCE OF APPLICATION
The case study contains all the information you need to develop high quality answers to all four questions. So use it!
Address the context provided by the case study. Remember that the skill of application opens the door to achieve good analysis and access the highest levels of evaluation.
Focus relentlessly on the evidence provided in the case study. Draw on the evidence provided of the market/s the business operates in; the structure of the firm (ownership, management etc.); the resources available to the business; the external influences that are most significant to the business.
Look out for potential conflicts between the different functional strategies and also dependencies. Think about what success will depend on and which of these factors is likely to be the most significant to the firm.
This blog entry on how to use the appendices and other data to demonstrate good application will also help you:
BUILD THE DEPTH AND STRENGTH OF YOUR ANALYSIS USING CONNECTIVES
In BUSS3 it is the depth and quality of the points you make that counts, not how many points you make. Bullet point lists are no use to you in BUSS3. To reach the higher levels of the mark schemes you have to develop your relevant points and build a logical chain of argument that makes reference to, and is supported by the evidence in the case study.
A great way to build depth in each answer is to make the connections between the main functional areas of the case study business. Every chosen functional strategy will have implications for other functions. Explain these connections and develop your points to explain their significance. An effective way to do this is to explain “cause and effect".
The use of “connectives" is the technique that tutor2u recommends to write answers that achieve Level 4/5 for KAA (knowledge, application and analysis). Connective words or phrases help you write longer sentences and connect them to build an in-depth paragraph with a strong chain of argument. Examples of connectives include:
• …this will mean…
• …as a result…
• …a consequence of this might be that…
• …this is likely to lead to…
• …although this will depend on…
This blog entry on building connections between functional areas might help you further.
OBJECTIVES, OBJECTIVES, OBJECTIVES
BUSS3 is all about what the case study firm wants to achieve! So, all your four exam answers must consider those.
As you read the case study, actively look for and annotate any evidence of corporate or functional objectives. This is vital evidence that will help you develop good application and analysis. It also provides great hooks that you can use to evaluate the likely success of the chosen strategies or those under consideration.
Address the corporate objectives of the case study and whether those objectives are likely to be achieved given the functional strategies being considered.
In business, strategy is about making choices. Decision-making inevitably involves uncertainty – things never work out as planned. Use this insight to help make your answers stand out by writing about the “depends on" factors.
Consider the influences (internal and external) which are likely to affect whether the objectives of the business can be achieved. Don't just list these – pick those that you believe are the most important and explain why (using connectives).
Two key models - SWOT Analysis and Porter's Five Forces - will help you in assessing the realism of the case study's objectives. These two blog entries will help you:
WRITE LESS, BUT BETTER QUALITY
Good news! The way BUSS3 is marked means that you do not have to write thousands of words to earn high marks. Once you have demonstrated the required skills in each answer to the highest level, you don't have to continue at that level for page after page in your answer book.
So, aim to write less, but go for better quality. More thought; less writing. How can you do this? Simple - take time to plan your response (point, evidence, argument) and then develop your points in depth.
Don't provide the examiner with bullet points. It is much more important to develop two or three points fully. As we've said, the best way to do this is to build your paragraphs using connective phrases such as “this will mean that", “as a result", “a consequence of this might be" etc.
EVALUATE THROUGHOUT (apart from Q1)
With so many marks available for evaluation (20), it's not good enough to leave it until the last moment. Look to include some evaluative points throughout your responses to Q2, Q3 and Q4 and then draw them together at the end.
Ensure that each of your Q2, Q3 & Q4 answers contains good evaluation that draws reasonable conclusions based on the case study evidence that you have referred to.
Build evaluation into your developed paragraphs by writing about what you believe are the most important points or factors. Make sure you identify some “depends on" factors which might affect the likely success of the strategies being considered by the case study business.
An effective route into good evaluation is also to refer back to the objectives of the case study firm and also to consider the issue of timescale. Which objectives are likely to be achieved only in the medium or long-term? Which can be achieved quite quickly in the short-term? Which objectives look unrealistic…and why? What uncertainties are there about the future of the business? How good is the quality of the information that management have used to support their decision-making?
MAKE YOUR EVALUATION STAND OUT - THINK CREATIVELY ABOUT THE BUSINESS
The examiner can see generic evaluation phrases a mile-off. Your evaluation needs to be purely in the context of the case study and should address the uncertainties that are involved in business decision-making.
We've written a series of short guidance notes on different ways in which you can build the depth and quality of evaluation. Take some time to read these and consider how you might use them:
DO JUSTICE TO Q4 - THE FINAL QUESTION
Typically 34 marks, so almost half your writing time should be allocated to this crucial question. Make sure you are strict with your time management to allow at least 45-50 minutes minimum.
Do this question last. It is important you have been thinking about the case study business for the longest time possible before addressing the strategic question; you can use insights developed in the previous three answers to good effect.
All the above advice on developing in-depth paragraphs, frequent evaluation, referring to objectives etc. comes into play for the final question.
Some final advice on structure:
• Plan the answer
• Be selective - pick ONLY your best points and develop them fully
• Stay focused on arguments “for" and “against"
• Use the case study evidence (including that you may have used in previous answers) to build your logical argument
• Build the answer using a small number of in-depth paragraphs, all of which use the case study context
Make sure your conclusion includes a justified recommendation and recognition of the “depends on" factors
• For your final recommendation:
• Make a decision and justify it
• Prioritise your reasons - “I think the most important reason for my recommendation is….because…"
• What is the most important issue affecting the decision?
• What will success depend on?
Join Jim Riley and the tutor2u BUSS4 team for an intensive day designed to prepare students for the challenges of BUSS4 in June 2015. Each of the five workshop sessions introduces and builds effective essay planning and writing technique. We do this in the context of looking at both Manufacturing in the UK (Section A) and core topics for Section B including leadership, change management, technology, strategic choice and globalisation.