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5 Top Tips for Preparing For Your BCS Oral Exam

The BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis is a well-recognised and well-established scheme that is suitable for new and experienced BAs alike. With two core modules and two elective modules, it provides the flexibility for a practitioner to tailor the qualification so that it is relevant to their specific context or career aspirations. Yet one part of the programme that can raise apprehension for some candidates is the oral examination.

One of the challenges with the oral exam is the feeling of the unknown. Sitting a written exam might be nerve-wracking, but, with the availability of sample exam papers, candidates know what to expect. With an oral exam, questions from across the diploma syllabus may be asked, meaning the revision and preparation process is quite different.  With this in mind, here are five top tips aimed to help those preparing for the oral exam.

1. Download the syllabus

This sounds like an obvious tip, but it is one that is easy to overlook.  The oral examination is always conducted on the current syllabus, meaning that if you sat your written exams some time ago, there may have been changes. It is well worth downloading the syllabus and using this to guide your revision. The syllabus is split into knowledge areas and individual topics that fall within the scope of the exam. Go through each one, refer back to your course material, and pay particular notice to any gaps in your knowledge. It’s also crucial to note that the syllabus covers some topics that aren’t explicitly covered in the core modules—so extra revision may be required. 

2. “Knowing” is essential, but it isn’t anywhere near enough

Whilst the syllabus is an excellent ‘backbone’ on which to base revision, it is important to note that knowing about each topic area isn’t enough. In fact, understanding the technique isn’t sufficient either. You will be required to show application, analysis and synthesis at different parts of the exam. For example, knowing what PESTLE is wouldn’t be sufficient. Knowing how and why it is used, being able to use it within a scenario and making links between this and other techniques would be crucial. The syllabus makes reference to ‘Blooms taxonomy of learning’, and explains the levels that apply to different parts of the exam. It is well worth taking note of this and revising accordingly.

3. Ignore the stories

Over the years a whole range of legends and stories about the oral exam have emerged. Much like many of the rumours that exist around the driving test (“If you’re the first driver back, you’ve definitely failed!”), many of the legends around the oral exam have no basis in reality.  Be careful whose advice you listen to, and remember the oral exam is carefully structured to ensure consistency and fairness. If you prepare well, there is no reason why you shouldn’t pass.

4. Be selfish: Allow time to prepare

Proper planning is absolutely essential, and it is worth blocking out more time in your diary than you think you will need. It’s likely that even the most experienced BA will find that some topics haven’t ‘stuck’ quite as well as they thought they have, and it is best to avoid a last-minute rush. Be selfish and stick to the plan. Of course, the reality of life as a BA is that life is busy and too often the ‘important but not urgent’ tasks get deferred or displaced by seemingly more ‘important’ tasks. When there is a project crisis, it would be tempting to cancel your planned revision. Yet doing so will eat into your revision time—would attending that extra conference call really be worth risking your ability to do well in the oral exam?  Probably not.  

Where possible, it is an excellent idea to attend an Oral Preparation Workshop.  This will help you to understand the structure and format of the oral exam, and to identify weak areas so that you can focus and accelerate your revision. It acts as a useful catalyst to concentrate your revision, so be sure to plan sufficient reflection time after the session.

5. Enjoy It!

This final tip might sound slightly odd; ‘who enjoys exams?!’ you may be asking yourself. Remember, this is the final stage of a demanding process and you have already passed four exams. This is an opportunity to show and apply what you have learned. The oral examination is conversational, and the examiners will do what they can to put you at ease. If you get nervous, breathe, take a sip of water, and collect your thoughts.  If you have prepared well, and if you know the topics, you’ll find the oral exam flies by.


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