Topcima: Tim Stewart Suggests How to Make the Optimum Use of Your Remaining Revision Time-And How Best to Approach Writing Your Case Study Report

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If you have spent the past few weeks researching millionaire growth projections in China or the latest materials technologies for boat hulls, you are probably a TOPCIMA candidate immersed in your preparations for next month's exam. Background reading and analysis will comprise a small part of your preparation, but it is important to get on top of this as early as possible and use it in your exam simulations (see panel, right).

The picture that will emerge from your analysis is that of an industry growing rapidly. This growth doesn't come without challenges--eg, acquiring scarce production skills; partnering the strongest suppliers and sales agents; and financing the assets and working capital needed. Many US boat-builders, for example, have moved new yards near to traditional furniture manufacturers, which are in decline and shedding jobs, to find the necessary skilled labour.

It's also apparent that the company is generally in a strong position. Merbatty's revenues, staff numbers, profit margins and experience put it among the bigger and more successful players when you compare it against the real-life market. One area of concern is its approach to marketing and selling. Leading motor yacht companies use state-of-the-art web sites, owners' clubs, relationship management and extravagant displays at the 50 international boat shows held around the world each year.

Having done your basic background analysis, you need to focus on developing the organisational skills that you will need on exam day itself. Success in TOPCIMA requires a systematic and well-practised approach.

Use your 20 minutes of reading time to mark up the unseen material with distinct issues and categorise them in order of their importance to Merbatty's board. An effective way to do this is to ask a series of questions about each issue. Does it:

* Threaten the survival of the business?

* Need to be dealt with immediately?

* Have a significant financial impact? (is it in thousands or billions of euros?)

* Affect the firm's reputation significantly among customers or investors?

If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, the topic concerned should probably be included in the top five commercial issues to focus on.

Allow yourself at least another 15 to 20 minutes to organise what you are going to write. A well-planned report will read much better than a think-as-you-write type of answer. Part of the test is an assessment of your ability to integrate topics and to write logically from start to finish.

By the end of this planning period you need to have a good idea about what will be your:

* Five most important commercial issues.

* Two key ethical issues.

* Three most relevant strategy models.

* Two or three numerical calculations to be incorporated into the discussion.

Once you have formed your basic plan you can start writing. Begin with the Swot appendix and then the two other strategy models. These should be relevant to the situation, applied to the Merbatty case, used in the main discussion section and updated to account for the information supplied in the unseen material. With only one or two marks available for each, it's not worth taking a long time on them. The most suitable strategy tools are likely to be Mendelow's stakeholder analysis (because it can easily be linked to numerous discussions about the acceptability of projects), Porter's generic strategies or Ansoff's matrix.

Avoid getting too involved in highly detailed and often irrelevant calculations. Only a handful of marks are available for these, so the right approach is to show a couple of small calculations and perhaps a few key ratios. A massive net present value calculation stretching years into the future with multiple complex workings is not a good use of your time.

You also need to consider how strategically important the calculation is to your discussion. …