Taking the CPA Exam

I wanted to cover some tips about taking the Cpa Exam.

The biggest mistake I see with most CPA candidates is poor time management. I am not talking about poor time management during self-study but rather poorly allocating your time during the actual exam.

Each MCQ should take you between 1-1.5 min. In addition, you should allocate about 15 min per SIM or written communication.

Thus, you will always want to be monitoring the countdown of your time. For example, when the exam starts you will have 4 hours remaining. After the first testlet you will have 3 hrs 15 minutes remaining. Of course the exception is REG which is composed of 35 minute testlets.

When you are in the CPA test taking facility you will have about 10-15 minutes of screen time before the actual exam automatically starts. You will be provided with laminated sheets and markers and you want to write down the time markers to make sure that you are pace. For example you would write down 4 hours to 3:15 hrs remaining, 3:15- to 2.5 hrs remaining etc. Thus you will always know how much time is remaining for each testlet.

As you probably know the CPA exam uses a multistage adaptive testing model. Thus, as you perform better on the exam, the questions will get harder. However, when you are at a difficult stage you do not have to get as many right. If you are on an “easy” stage you have to get most of the questions correct. The biggest curveball is the fact that about 20% of all tested questions are “pre-tested questions” which do not counta against your score. These questions are use to introduce new topics on a national level.  I think it is helpful to train your mind to disregard the most difficult questions as most likely being “pre-tested questions.”

Finally, always remember that you are not penalized for wrong answers. In other words don’t leave anything blank. If you are pressed for time with 10 questions and only 5 minutes remaining, you want to quickly guess when you see that a questions is difficult.

If you find yourself taking the Cpa Exam without a firm game plan with respect to time, you are just asking for trouble.

Timing the CPA Exam

Most CPA students taking the Cpa Exam do not allocate their time effectively while studying for the CPA exam. However, perhaps more concerning is that most students misallocate their time during  the CPA exam.

First of all when you sit down to take the exam you will have about 8-10 minutes to read through all of the exam policies. I recommend that you read these policies before you actually sit down and take the exam.

During the actual exam, the most common mistake is that CPA students run out of time leaving simulations that have not even been examined.

For example, if you are writing the REG exam there are 3 testlets of 35 minutes. In addition, there are task based simulations of 75 minutes.  The SIM section is worth 40% of the total exam and that is why it is crucial that you leave enough time to finish the TBS.  You will have about 12.5 minutes per simulation on the REG exam.  There will be 6 SIM’s and one of the SIMS will not be counted on the exam.

The timing allocation is only a guideline. In other words, perhaps it will take you 16 minutes to complete one SIM. Going over the time for one difficult section is not going to disrupt your entire exam. However, if you go over time on two sections you may be setting yourself up for failure because you may leave on SIM that you have not even looked at. This is a disastrous test taking strategy.

As always, I recommend that you take lots of practice questions before taking the Cpa Exam.

Taking Breaks

There is a lot of debate if you should take a break in the middle of taking the Cpa Exam.

Some candidates feel that every minute is precious and you can’t waste a minute while others think your mind needs a rest. So what is the optimum way to take the CPA exam? Is there any scientific evidence supporting one or the other claim?

First of all, I’d like to state my bias. I do not think sitting through a 3 hour exam is onerous. It’s long but it’s not brutally long. You should not need a bathroom break or a snack break. You just plough through the material and make sure you use every minute. 5-7 minutes of 180 minutes is almost 5%. That can be the difference between passing and failing the CPA exam.

Furthermore, taking a long break might mean that you need a lot of time to re-focus. According to Professor Gloria Mark, you need 25 minutes to re-focus on a give task. Thus, that 5 minute break may cost you 20 minutes of a actual time.

However, I think a four exam is a different story for a lot of test takers. Personally, I think you need a break for less than 5 minutes during a 4 hour exam. My eyes start to pop out of my head after a few hours and I start to become apathetic. My goal becomes “let’s just get this over with” vs. “let’s find the right answer.”

I need a bathroom break, a healthy snack and I find moving my body gets the blood flowing.

During a limited break you have to do the right things.  There is a chance that mild hypoglycemia might be setting in. You have to manage your blood sugar levels. Often people will confuse this lethargy with needing more caffeine.

My final take is that FAR and AUD are 4 hour exams and a five minute break is a worthwhile investment.