How to write an APC case study

An APC assessor explains how he judges your submission.

The case study is a big part of your APC process because you’ll be answering questions on it, as well as writing it. Experienced trainer and RICS Assessor Tony Ward FRICS talks about what he’s looking for and shares his favourite tips.

APC assessor Tony WardIn my 13 years as a RICS assessor, I’ve seen more than 1,000 case studies so I know what works and what doesn’t. A lot of people find it hard to write about themselves but this is your opportunity to shine, so don’t be shy about reinforcing your skills as a surveyor.

The whole APC process, including the case study, is designed to show how you react and respond to a brief. So never lose sight of the fact that your case study is about your work and your achievements; it’s not a technical description of a project.

At its simplest, your case study must:

  • reflect your specific APC pathway
  • focus on a real-life project that you were heavily involved in or led on
  • identify key issues on this project
  • analyse a number of potential options in detail
  • explain how and why the eventual solution was chosen.

Some of the most obvious mistakes include:

  • not really understanding what the RICS assessment team are looking for
  • failing to identify and analyse the key issues
  • not providing enough relevant advice.

We want to see detail, but it has to be relevant. I strongly recommend reading the description of the case study submission in the APC Candidate Guide before you start.

Choosing a topic

Your case study should focus on a project (or projects) in which you have been personally involved in the two years prior to your assessment submission date. It also needs to provide tangible evidence of the competencies you have achieved.

So, how should you choose? Personally, I recommend selecting a project you’ve lived and breathed, where you (not your boss) provided the client with advice. You need to have been at the very heart of this project, not acting as a spectator. Choosing a topic you know inside-out will also make the face-to-face interview easier because your passion for the project will shine through.

I often suggest creating a matrix of key competencies for two or three possible topics. The ‘winner’ will be the project that showcases all of the skills and competencies you need in your chosen pathway.

How mentors can help

Mentors and supervisors can be very helpful, as long as they fully understand what’s required. I’d recommend reading the Counsellor Guide for up-to-date insight; there’s also a useful RICS course for supervisors and counsellors.

Ask your mentor or counsellor to read your draft case study and question you on the detail, to check you fully understand what you’re writing about. Your case study presentation and Q&A session will represent around one third of your final assessment interview, so you need to be able to respond with detailed answers.

These questions could include:

  • What was your role on the project?
  • How did you undertake that role?
  • What advice did you offer the client?
  • What were the reasons behind that advice?
  • What did you learn from the experience?
  • What might you do differently if you undertook that project again?
  • What was it about that project experience that made you a better surveyor?

Certain key words and phrases (I call them ‘hooks’) are more likely to generate questions. So, ask your mentor or counsellor to help you identify the obvious hooks in your case study so that you can properly prepare for potential questions.

Get the prep right

I recommend several RICS training courses that make the case study process easier – there’s a half-day face-to-face course and a two-part online training session. Finally, here’s a list of tips I hope will also help.

  1. Get the basics right – write your case study in first person and in past tense. And pay attention to spelling, grammar and presentation.
  2. Read the guidance notes properly – you’re not writing an essay or a story so follow the recommended four-step structure: Introduction, My approach, My achievements and Conclusion. Again, this is where the case study description in the APC Candidate Guide can help.
  3. Stay within the word count – we’re looking for a maximum of 3,000 words, plus two or three appendices. Don’t pad it out with too many appendices.
  4. Getting started – begin by mapping out the key issues on your project and the different options you considered, plus the pros and cons of each option. As you fill in the detail, your case study should come together in a logical way.
  5. Be honest – don’t be afraid to discuss lessons learned because this reflects what happens in real life.
  6. Avoid unfamiliar jargon – too many three-letter acronyms can be off-putting, especially if they’re specific to your own company. The assessor simply won’t understand them.
  7. Focus on solutions – a common mistake is to focus on the technical problem, rather than explaining how it was solved. The important thing is to explain what you did.
  8. Set yourself up for success – only include something in your case study that you know you can answer questions on. And make sure you can clearly define any terminology or technical detail you’ve mentioned.
  9. End on a high – finish with a really strong conclusion that reflects all of your learning outcomes and illustrates your skills and competencies as a surveyor.

Tony Ward FCIOB, FRICS, MCIArb is Managing Director at Award Consulting Ltd.

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