Speak to us on the phone and you'll soon see that SSG is just brimming with useful insights into the world of CIM study and revision. In fact we're so full of ideas and advice that sometimes we just feel compelled to write it down and give it away free!
Just call us and we'll send you these articles in full. Or if you can't find anything on the topic you're interested in, give us a call and we'll try to point you in the right direction. This is just a small selection of SSG's resources.
- The CIM Syllabus Explained
- What the Examiner wants
- Common exam mistakes
- Free study tips
- Been there, done that
- Exam Countdown
- Exam terminology
The rationale behind the syllabus is to enable students to move from theory based learning (Certificate) to operational application (Professional Diploma) and subsequently strategic marketing management (Professional Postgraduate Diploma). Remember, the CIM Examiners expect different levels of performance according to the level of CIM study you are undertaking so please take special care if you have just moved ‘up a level’ e.g. from Certificate to Diploma.
This page is currently being updated. For information on the CIM Professional Certificate, Professional Diploma and Postgraduate Diploma examinations.
For subject-specific detail see the CIM Senior Examiner reports. These are produced for each & every CIM subject and are written after consultation with the examining team. They provide vital feedback to students after each exam.
Here are a few examples of the great advice these reports contain.
Certificate Level: CIM Examiners Report:
Recent reasons for failure:
- misinterpretation of question
- weak understanding of how to analyse a question
- lack of preparation & study skills in terms of in-depth understanding of the syllabus
- reluctance to comply with the question requirements
- including everything about the subject when NOT required
- wrong format and poor presentation of material
- lack of practical examples to demonstrate the theory to which they are referring
- poor time management
- improved pass rate, however there appears to be a clear GAP in knowledge in some areas inc. marketing orientation, pricing, and information technology
- candidates MUST be familiar with the theory & practice of: market research planning, buyer behaviour, marketing planning & segmentation, packaging, distribution, communications mix, services marketing mix, customer care & relationship marketing.
Hot tips for the future:
- examiners reports and specimen answers are accessible via CIM websites
- do NOT rely on your CIM Course book alone
- consult the CIM reading list & read from core textbooks and trade publications as well as the course books
- focus on depth (not surface) learning: analyse questions fully, identify the focus, apply knowledge for specific context given
- manage your time according to mark allocation
- answer in format required
Professional Diploma Level: CIM Examiners Report:
Recent reasons for failure:
- overall pass rate disappointing, pass rate down on last exam, some candidates produced extremely good work
- variable standard of mini-case answers
- many candidates unable to present complete & valid answers due to…
- lack of knowledge across the full syllabus or
- inability to apply marketing techniques in a specific context
- ability to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of marketing theory
- apply it to given situations
- understand relevance to practical marketing decisions
- be aware of marketing beyond consumer marketing
- be familiar with characteristics & constraints of marketing in business-to-business, services, and not for profit contexts
- master exam technique
- use past exam papers & specimen answers
- practice question analysis, structuring & planning answers - within time allowed
Hot tips for the future:
- the Exam will always test candidates across the syllabus broadly in-line with the weightings allocated to each topic area
- note the importance of promotional operations, (within) the marketing mix, together with contextual aspects of marketing operations
Professional Postgraduate Diploma Level: CIM Examiners Report:
Recent reasons for failure:
- not concentrating on the specifics set, but answering in too generalised a way
- not answering all elements of each question
- failure to manage their time - too much time on the mini-case
- too tactical, rather than concentrating on the strategic aspects of marketing
- poor or non-use of relevant examples to illustrate answers
- weak or no evidence of wider reading
- failure to demonstrate ability to critically appraise concepts and situations
- merely describing models and concepts, should be applying them
- not answering in format required, weak or non-use of diagrams
- practise on past papers
- read examiners reports and specimen answers
- read as widely as possible, not only textbooks, but also the marketing & business press
- ensure study & revision covers the whole syllabus
- read & refer to a number of books from the CIM list
- this ensures coverage of the entire syllabus
- adds depth & alternative perspectives
- focus on application of models in a variety of market & industry sectors
- use own business experience to provide examples
- become aware of the broader implications of marketing planning & control decisions
- understand the benefits of P&C techniques
- appreciate the drawbacks (in terms of cost & other resource implications)
Hot tips for the future:
- candidate’s interpretative skills, insight and originality carry the most exam rewards
- candidates also need to demonstrate a critical awareness and understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the issues being discussed
Collated by Student Support Group from combined CIM Senior Examiner comments. SSG’s programme of Exam Revision Workshops can help you avoid or overcome all these potential problems.
The 13 most common CIM Exam mistakes… unlucky for some!
- misinterpretation of the question
- non-conformance to the question instructions e.g. answering only one part of a multi-part question
- candidates attempting to put all they know into answers rather than using selective and relevant material
- insufficient detail or knowledge of concepts, theories, knowledge and practice, resulting in answers which are inadequate or incomplete
- poor use (or non-use) of marketing definitions
irrelevant or wrong detail in answers
- use of same detail in different answers
- checklist answers (with no explanation offered)
- inadequate or non-existent use of examples
- the use of the same examples for all of the questions answered
- attempting to answer the question in a way which suits the candidate rather than what the question required e.g. non-report formats and poor writing style
- illegible answers
- an inability to manage the examination time
Most CIM students learn best (and have most fun) when they adopt a ‘chunky’ approach to study that tackles one logical step at a time. Learning is a personal thing and we all learn and remember in different ways and at different speeds. Have fun finding the study methods you like and that work for you. Here are some suggestions from those who’ve been there and done that…
Know your syllabus. You need to know how many CIM subject syllabus ‘chunks’ there are and what weightings they have. This is a good indication of the relative importance of each ‘chunk’, plus any recent changes in the syllabus.
Mind map the syllabus. Identify the ‘syllabus chunks’ and map how they link, overlap/relate to each other.
Stick to the syllabus. Focus on the learning outcomes. These state the things you need to be able to do e.g. define the Marketing Mix. This is also the menu from which the CIM Examiner will select the exam questions.
Theory and practice. The challenge of CIM study is to understand and remember the key bits of theory (what, where or when) and then master its practical application (how and why)
Key ‘need-to-know’ points. Ask yourself, what are the key need-to-know points about a topic? Have a look at past exam questions on this topic and see which key elements get mentioned in each specimen answer.
Create memorable key words. Acronyms are great memory-joggers e.g. STEEPLE – Macro environment – (Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Legal & Environmental influences)
Overview a chapter at a time. List all the chapter section headings and sub-headings. This should give you a good overview/feel for the Chapter contents and makes reading it active and interesting.
Practice active reading. Do something with the information to personalise it – initially read the chapter introduction and summary only, then attempt the quick quiz at the end. Then tackle more in-depth and background reading as required.
Take notes in your own words. Whenever you take any kind of notes, skim read a maximum of a page at a time without writing. Then take brief notes in your own words (unless it’s a key term or a definition).
Use other sources. Search out more quotes, models & or definitions from other sources, adding depth and breadth to your work. Knowledge from one core textbook only is unlikely to impress the CIM Examiner.
Find original examples. Illustrate your Exam paper/assignment. The Examiner must be fed up of reading about Coca-Cola, Macdonald’s and Amazon! Why not use the Organisation you work for or one you admire.
Use the 3C's test. Mention Customers (how to satisfy them), Company (organisational objectives) and Competitiveness (how to build competitive advantage) in each piece of work, this keeps you marketing focused.
Be practical. We have found that if you actually create a budget for example, rather than just read about it, then you are more likely to understand and then can focus on creating the methods of remembering.
Stick ‘em up. Put key learning points/definitions/models e.g. Ansoff matrix on bits of paper and stick them around the room. Don't take them down until you know them all.
Test yourself. Revisit yesterday’s topic before you move on to a new one, reinforcement and repetition feed the brain.
Rewards. Promise yourself you will have a break/stop studying when you have mastered/learnt/remembered something. Set little tests/challenges and give yourself a reward each time you pass!
Exam preparation. Many CIM students are assessed by Examination each December & June, so it is important to understand how to tackle the exam paper and to be able to perform up to and beyond the standard required to gain a good pass grade. Our Revision Programme is specifically designed to help.
Assignment looming large? Get going, get going early and keep it going. It can be difficult to maintain momentum on your coursework. We have many assignment resources to help.
- Find a place to study that is quiet, warm and comfortable - familiarity with one place helps improve mental preparation.
- Allocate quality time to revision. Reward yourself at set intervals.
- Collate all revision notes into a masterfile organised by CIM topic - your very own "box of tricks".
- Read the marketing and other business press (avoid the agency news pages).
- Read the textbook before the lesson, highlight key areas.
- Go back over the highlighted areas and create prompt cards - questions on one side, answers / descriptions on the other. Think up memory prompts / nmemonics to help remember the answers (e.g. I used "IUDBAG" to remind me of the decision making units: Influencer, User, Decision-maker, Buyer, and Gatekeeper).
- Make the most of the tutor - ask lots of questions!
- Use past CIM examination papers.
- Take the CIM text book on holiday, take few other reading books
- Go to seminars and workshops, e.g. CIM branch meetings, Student Support
Group syllabus days
- The Case Study - 4 weeks of intensive effort
- Use the Student Support Group systematic approach (the "critical steps" - audit / analysis, mission / aims, objectives, strategic options, strategic marketing mix / the "7Ps", budgets, plans).
- Use syndicate groups to share work, this is what Student Support Group workshops do - allows sharing of individual strengths (finance, analysis, etc.).
- Arrive early for syndicate group meetings / workshops, network hard and work out who's best to work with.
- The Student Support Group mock exam day, done in groups, is also very helpful. As is a private tutorial, particularly with objective setting.
- Have the strategic marketing plan all prepared to pull out in the exam (incorporate new material too).
- Get a pen you can write quickly and neatly with.
- Have other stationery, rulers, etc. ready.
- Write student number on the top of every sheet.
- Read the questions carefully, look at the marks allotted and try to pre-empt what they are for (Student Support Group exam prep days are helpful in getting your head round this).
- Pre-plan the answers using mind maps, notes, etc.
- Answer the question.
- Lay out answers as required (as report etc.).
- Use the SOSTAC (Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Activities, Control) framework to answer the questions, particularly at Postgraduate Diploma level.
- Use relevant examples (avoid MacDonalds, Coke, etc.). Have a range of examples pre-prepared.
- Use lots of space so that additional information can be added later in the exam if neccessary.
- Think big picture, don't get bogged down in the detail (examiners only skim the answer).
- Use own experiences (e.g. I used the Clerical Medical case study material in answering the value chain question in the Planning & Control exam).
- Monitor the time spent per question.
Two to three months before the exam ...
Start to develop your revision notes as you progress through the course - don't wait until the end. Consider using "mind-maps" or other re-call techniques (see our study skillsguide) to help you.
Read around the topic to extend your knowledge (don't just rely on the CIM recommended textbook), use other textbooks, the quality press and marketing trade press. The internet can also be a useful source of information (e.g. see our useful links).
One month before the exam ...
Start building up a portfolio of examples to illustrate your ability to apply theory to the real world. Becoming a qualified marketer is not about regurgitating textbooks - you must be able to demonstrate application of your knowledge. Aim to have at least one example for every learning outcome (and sub-outcomes where applicable - these are listed on the subject syllabus document).
Use your time effectively - you will absorb more by reading for an hour each day for a week (e.g. during your lunch hour) than trying to concentrate for a 5 hour session on a Saturday or Sunday. Bus or train journeys, waiting for an appointment, etc. can provide valuable reading time, even if it's only 10 minutes.
Answer all of the "check your understanding" questions following each chapter in the CIM textbook. Alternatively, quiz yourself on each topic. This will help to identify knowledge gaps which need addressing.
Don't be afraid to seek external support - available revision aids include courses in syllabus revision, exam technique development, one-to-one mentoring, examination paper services, etc. Consider whether you have weaknesses in specific knowledge areas, exam technique, or if your confidence just needs a boost, and then seek the relevant help.
Two weeks before the exam ...
Create a set of "gapped revision notes" - try drawing out all of the models, flowcharts and diagrams in your course but leave out the text. Make a dozen copies of each and then try to fill in the blanks during your revision sessions. Similarly, you can try making notes with the important words / marketing terms / jargon / etc. missing and use in the same way.
Read the CIM examiner's comments published after each paper - he / she is your customer, so take time to understand their needs so that you can exceed expectations.
Complete a mock exam - writing for 3 hours is a challenge. Just as important is learning how to allocate your time appropriately during those 3 hours. You are likely to make mistakes the first time - so make sure you learn the lessons outside of the exam room!
One week before the exam ...
Tackle past exam papers - there really is no better way to revise. The common mistake most students make is to revise material that they already know. You should aim to complete at least 2 exam papers in full (that includes doing all 6 part b questions in each paper). It is only by tackling the questions that you are unsure of, that you'll begin to master the theory and application required for the exam.
The day before the exam ...
Relax! Compare your brain to a muscle that you have over-worked in the gym - it's going to be sore the next day! So give yourself some "downtime" on the day before the exam and let your brain relax.
Good luck - of course if you follow this timetable, you won't need luck because you will be well prepared!
The following is a list of those small but crucially important words whose occurrence in a CIM examination question (or indeed any exam question) requires an appropriate response - failure to notice these words, or provide the required response, generally resulting in an expensive (in examination mark terms) mistake.
Advise - first explain the subject then provide conclusions and recommendations.
Briefly - discuss in a short and concise way.
Compare - describe what is similar and what is different, or show the advantages and disadvantages. It may be appropriate to end with conclusions and recommendations.
Contrast - highlight the differences between the subjects.
Criticise - quote the accepted theory or model and then say what is good or bad about it. Give evidence / examples if you can.
Describe - give a detailed description of the subject.
Discuss - give the arguments for and against, and examine the implications. Follow this with a conclusion.
Evaluate - show the value of, appraise, weigh things up, say whether you think it's useful / useless.
Explain - give reasons for why something has happened.
Illustrate - make things clear by giving examples so that you make the arguments explicit.
Outline - omit detail and provide the overall structure.
Relate - show how things are connected to each other, demonstrate the extent to which they are alike and how they affect each other.
Summarise - omit details and give a brief account of the main points.
In order to think creatively and positively about your exam performance and eventual results, it can be helpful to use the techniques of visualisation or imaging.Visualisation is the activity of creating a vivid picture of what you want to bring about at work, in your studies or in yourself.
Studies of high achieving people like athletes and managers often show how successful people tend to visualise the results they want in order to help bring their goals nearer.
Steps for effective visualisation
Visualise - visualise yourself in various scenarios related to your career or self-image (e.g. imagine yourself relaxed and confident in the exam). Focus on what you want to happen.Describe - visualise every detail. What are you doing? What are the surroundings? How will you feel when you've got what you want (e.g. passed the exam)? Go into as much detail as possible.
Deserve - know that you can have what you repeatedly see. Be willing to create the picture exactly as you want it.
Intend - direct the picture, concentrate on it, see the picture and hold it, don't let your mind wander.
Ease - relax, don't tense or strain.
Intensity - pour your feelings into the image. Let yourself feel an intense longing, or desire, for what you see.
Maintain - fix the image in your mind by recording it on paper, so that you can recall the image and reinforce your positive attitude.
List - finally make a note of your goals as taken from your "visualisation session", it is useful to write down all the goals however far away they seem. By writing them down you will get a sense of time scale and start to get a sense of the actions required to make them a reality.
An example of a personal goal might be to visit a far away country (e.g. Brazil). For some it would be a great financial investment, for others it would seem impossible to get time off work to do justice to such a trip.
The actions required would probably be to start a savings plan and / or look at the possibility of carrying forward a week of your annual leave. Even buying a guidebook and starting to decide what you will do when you get there!
The possible consequences would perhaps be learning to live without a few luxuries while you save, or having one year when you take less holiday. From a different perspective, think how would you feel if you didn't ever go there, or how you would feel after you had been there.
Career and work related goals can be visualised in the same way.