DSDA tips from CIPFA's examiners

The DSDA exam tests your knowledge and understanding of the information and models in the workbooks, but importantly your ability to apply them. This is why the exam is scenario based with pre-seen materials.

Your role is always as a qualified CIPFA accountant working on secondment, in a multi-disciplinary team or as a consultant, to emphasise that you are not just there in a finance capacity. Read the materials and questions in this context.

Make sure you’re familiar with the contents of the advance material by exam day, and then you can spend exam time answering the questions.

When you get the pre-seen materials, do some limited research into the sector for topics in Workbook 3 – especially digital technologies. It is impossible for the tutors or workbooks to cover everything in such a fast-moving environment. If you don’t do the research, there will probably be at least one question you’ll struggle to answer.  

Note how many marks are assigned to each question and write accordingly – for example, questions worth three marks need a succinct, on-point answer, whereas questions worth ten marks need more detail and/or more analysis.

Make sure you do the progress test and the mock exam, ideally under timed conditions. This is critical to your success. Read the model answers, and if there is anything you don’t understand, speak to your tutor. 

As you revise for the exam, ensure you know and understand every model and topic in the workbooks, and then do the specimen paper in the revision pack under timed conditions. Afterwards read through the model answers and note where you’ve omitted something or where you’ve misunderstood. You can also read section 7 in the revision pack, where the advance materials for the specimen paper have been annotated to guide you as to what you should be looking for and how you should be reacting.

There will be topics in the advance materials relevant to the exam questions, but there may not necessarily be a hint for each question. Similarly, there may be appropriate references to topics that do not appear in the exam questions.

Don’t try to predict in advance what the public organisation will be – wait until you receive the pre-seen materials.

Good luck!