Exam Tip: Good And Effective Presentation Techniques For Better Examination Results

July 23rd, 2007 Comments off
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A key skill in accounting is the ability to clearly communicate information to management. Hence, the examiners will expect candidates to demonstrate such communication skills in answering examination questions. In examinations there may well be specific marks within the marking scheme for careful presentation of answers in the required format. The following formats have being appearing in many examination papers:

  • reports;
  • briefing notes;
  • memos.

In this article, the following are discussed:

·         understand what are reports, notes and memos

·         what is good and effective communication;

·         what is meant by plain English;

·         the different formats and styles of communication in business;

·         how to present answers and gain marks in examinations.  

Understand the difference between Reports, Notes And Memos
Report:

·     usually a formal clearly structured document, often a lengthy summary of an investigation of a problem culminating in a conclusion and recommendation.

·    use itemised lists where appropriate  but with a sentence of explanation where necessary; diagrams; appendices.

Memos:

·         are documents for people within the organisation.

·         often shortened to 

·         tend to be only a single page of paper 

·        the purpose of which is to give instructions or to provide or request information.

·         Nowadays, the memo is usually in the form of an email.

Briefing notes:

·         gives information to someone in a form that can be referred to in a meeting or during a presentation.

·         intended to be prepared quickly and easily in a form that can be referred to whilst talking or presenting.

·         usually short conveys key facts/concepts only.

·         bare minimum of words and punctuation. 

Good And Effective Communication :-

Good communication is about understanding the needs and background of the recipient and presenting information in a form that is appropriate to those needs, the context of the situation and the objectives that you wish to achieveEffective communication only exists when a message is received, understood, accepted and correctly acted upon. The process is about transferring knowledge, changing opinions and issuing instructions.

In a normal Communication Model, we have the following traits:

·        A message must be clear, unambiguous and understandable to the receiver.

·        It is important to understand the position and background of the person(s) receiving the message. It is essential to direct the message to the right person(s) in a form that allows them to access it physically and psychologically.

·        It must also be psychologically acceptable. Cultural background plays an important part in communications as what is acceptable in one culture, may be taboo or even illegal in another.

·        Feedback should evaluate whether the message has been received, understood and has generated the desired response.  

Plain English
Plain English is defined as:·         something that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it.

·         Plain English takes into account design and layout as well as language.[The plain English campaign exists to promote the use of crystal-clear language against jargon and other confusing language. It has an extremely good website at www.plainenglish.co.uk .A subsection of the site is dedicated to common financial terms, good for reference or as a revision aid! Go to www.plainenglish.co.uk/FinanceA-Z.html]The following examples of “gobbledygook” are reproduced from the Plain English site.

Before Plain English
Please be referred to your communication of the 14th instance  See your letter on the 14th 
High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.  Children need good schools if they are to learn properly. 
If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone. If you have any questions, please ring. 

Formats and Styles
It is very important to appreciate to whom the report is being addressed to and to understand their outlook and background. For example, an accountant must take care to explain technical terms to people outside the finance function. If you are writing to people higher up in the organisation, or outside it, the style you adopt in your language will tend to be more formal than it would otherwise be for, say, a close colleague or a subordinate.In business, written communication takes different forms and styles, dependent on who exactly is being addressed and the context of the message.We shall now look at an example of each paying attention both to layout and style.  Note how these formats are quite distinct from the traditional essay-style format that tends to be the normal in junior and secondary education. Examiners tend to frown on answers where candidates merely produce lists. This is mainly because candidates often simply give headings or state key points without supporting explanations that demonstrate they clearly understand the item.
Suggestions On How To Present The Answers:

Use the format specified in the question

If the question requires specifically that you prepare a report, memorandum, letter, briefing notes, etc., then that is exactly what you should do. There are often a couple of marks just for the application of the correct format. Each format has its own purpose and requires a slightly different approach. You should view such business-orientated formats as opportunities rather than problems. It is much easier to write good answers using headings, lists and short paragraphs, rather than writing a traditional ‘school-style’ essay with all its attendant problems of structure and continuity.

Use clearly labelled diagrams, tables and graphs

Sometimes you will be asked to produce a certain diagram by the requirement of the question. On other occasions you will be expected to use your own initiative. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words! Particularly, if your workings have become a little messy. Always reference your final results to the relevant section of your workings. Do not forget to give your diagrams clear headings and to label the axis of graphs, etc. You might find that a simple drawing template might greatly speed up drawing diagrams with lots of boxes, whilst improving presentation enormously.

Plan your answers

When questions require long written answers, you should spend just a few minutes preparing an outline plan before you start writing the answer to be marked. This will help you to keep a logical structure as you progress through your answer.

Leave a little space in your answers

It is often a good idea to leave one line between each paragraph, not only to improve presentation, but because you might wish to add an extra sentence or note as you check through your paper at the end of the examination. Another tip under this heading is to start a fresh page for each question. For answers involving lots of computations, that might be needed for subsequent parts of the answer, for example in preparing budgets, start a new double page. Then any figures required for further workings can thus be seen at a glance, rather than by having to turn the page over, thereby wasting time and increasing the risk of transposition errors.

The order of questions

Always keep to the order in which the sub-sections of the question requirements are stated. This is simply because each section will often build on an earlier part. If you do have to put a part of an answer at the back of your answer booklet, make a clear reference to this fact using the page references at the bottom of the booklet.

Write clearly and neatly

Most accountants spend so much of their time using computer keyboards nowadays that handwriting is starting to border on a lost art. If the examiner cannot be read your answer, you can never gain marks. If you have problems with presenting numerical data, try drawing a couple of faint pencil lines on the page. This will help align columns of data before you attempt to add the figures up. If you have made a mistake and wish to ‘cross out’ a section of your work, then draw a box around that part and clearly cross it through. It is a good idea to do the crossing out in pencil, as you might realise later that your workings were correct after all, in which case you can simply restore them using a pencil eraser.

Highlighting key results

It often helps management to identify key aspects of information if significant words/phrases are underlined. This technique can be used to good effect to highlight key terms or definitions in written answers. You should also underline the final answer to each sub-section of your answers in the computational sections. Do not be tempted to underline in freehand, unless you have a very steady hand. Always use a ruler.

Follow instructions

If the question requires you to ‘show your answer to the nearest $’000’ then there will be no marks available for answers such as $374,654.8729, however accurate such a figure might be. Management needs information that is relevant to their needs. For example, a sales forecast for the next budget year might be quite acceptable stated in round $’000s, whereas last year’s actual sales would, more likely, be shown to the nearest whole ?.  

Sample Outline ReportTo: CEO

From: Mr ABC.

Date: xx/xx/xxxx

Proposed Overhaul of Steam Turbine — Financial Implications
 

Introduction

Note: keep this as brief as possible.  Findings/analysis

Note: this will be the major part of your answer — don’t forget keep your answer in line with how the question requirement has been broken down, e.g.
(a) identification of opportunity costs
(i) parts and materials
(ii) labour
(b) total costs
(c) alternative quote from outside supplier

(d) Recommendation of buy-in option
End of Report

Overall salient points: Therefore in examinations, please

  • read the requirements carefully whether it should be a report, note or memo
  • answer in plain English
  • in a style appropriate to the intended reader

 

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