He who seeketh, findeth

June 27, 2009

CPA exam myths, questions, and my experiences

Filed under: AUD,BEC,CPA,FAR,REG — Steve (Chessiq) @ 11:42 pm

I have taken two exams so far, Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Business Economics and Concepts (BEC) and I have been blessed to have passed both of them. I had a lot of questions before taking the exams, and also after taking the exams (while waiting for the results to come out). Here are some of the questions that I had and the answers I have got from experience.

(Disclaimer: As everything else on this blog, whatever is on this site is for my personal use. It is my personal thoughts and reflections, experiences, wishes, etc – it is not advice for the way you should live your life, conduct your business, or approach life. For advice, help, whatever, consult an appropriate professional.)

HOW MUCH SHOULD I STUDY?
Short answer, as much as possible, more than you have ever studied before. Study, in my experience, includes studying the review book, going over multiple choice questions, listening to audio CDs, and watching DVDs. Some of these may not be available to you depending on the review course that you have. You need to use the most current study materials. You need to start studying early. Finish your first “pass-through” a couple of weeks early. Do all the multiple choice questions, hopefully, go over them at least twice. Make sure you are getting the passing score plus a nice safety margin. All this will be in the introduction to the review material. It is a good idea to study the introduction to the book which tells you how to approach the exam, etc. People are different, but I found it best to study continuously, well-spaced out, and then do intensive (almost cram-like) study a week or so before the exam. Even though I was not using Becker, I found this to be helpful. Everything else that is coming after this will not matter much to you if you have studied as much, as smart, as hard, as you could have. You will not have to worry about whether the exam is curved or not; whether you should be worried or not if your results do not come in the first wave; whether if you don’t finish a small part of some simulation, you will still pass or not; whether you failed or passed just because one of the testlets was tougher and then the next one was really easy; whether you passed or failed depending on how fast or slow you completed the whole exam or parts of it. If you have studied well and you have done well on the exam, everything else matters less. Okay, since the most important aspect is taken care of, we can now move on to the other things.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED IF I TOOK THE EXAM EARLY ENOUGH TO QUALIFY FOR WAVE ONE OF THE RESULTS BUT MY RESULTS DID NOT COME OUT?
From my experience, it appears that one should not be worried. People worry because they think that either they have outright failed or they are borderline. This may be true, but it was not the case for me. I was worried, just because exam candidates worry, and I didn’t think my preparation, especially towards the end was good enough. Like I have said in another post, I overstudied, burned out, stopped studying, and then got back to it 2-3 days before the exam and crammed until a few minutes before the exam. I found the first testlet pretty easy even though I missed a couple of questions that I should have got right. Anyway, I am digressing. I will explain this later. You may want to read this, for further information on the grading of the exam and how the exams are released. I believe that if you are using Gleim or Yaeger, the introduction to the section you are taking will explain enough to tell you that there is no need to worry.
For me, the thing that gave me the most peace of mind was the knowledge that if it was true that if your results did not come out in the first wave then you failed… You would have all passing scores in the first wave – which is not the case, and you would have all marginal passes and/or failures in the second wave – which is also not the case. If you go to sites like Another71 or CPANET.com, you will find that people’s scores are all over the place in both wave 1 and wave 2, so I would not read too much into it unless something changes. My FAR result came out in wave 2, on 6/19/09,  even though I took the exam on 4/20/09 and “should have come out in wave 1”.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED BECAUSE I DIDN”T FINISH A PARTICULAR TESTLET (HOPEFULLY, A “SMALL” PART)?

From my experience, if you have done well in all other testlets, and for some reason you don’t finish or something does not work out in another testlet, you should not despair. Well, I should probably explain myself. Itimed myself pretty strictly during the exams. For FAR, I planned to spend 45 minutes a testlet, maximum an hour if the testlet was tough. I told myself that I was willing to spend 1 hour on each of the multiple choice questions and then 30 minutes on the simulations if need be. I finished the first testlet in 42 minutes, and I reviewed for another 5-7 minutes. It was an okay (almost easy) testlet, but I missed a couple of questions that I should have got right if I had studied properly. I was not worried because I had a treshold of how many questions I could fail, and I was within that treshold. (Of course, if you fail 7 questions with the highest points then you may fail the testlet. I think I am able to tell when a question is objectively difficult and when it is not. Well, I would like to think so.) Anyway, the second testlet was pretty tough… I think I spent 1 hour 15 minutes on it. I was not too worried about it because I had about 10 minutes or so from the time budgeted for the first testlet. Overall, I was putting myself in a bind or time crunch, but I was calm. The third testlet was almost as tough as the second one, and I spent about an hour or a little over. In each case, I went back through the questions just to make sure that I had answered all questions, and I revisited the questions that I had marked for review, (and I had written down what I thought the correct response should be or why I could not decide.) Anyway, time for simulations, fourth testlet, I went through all the tabs, just to see the questions. I was just following the things I had read or heard or seen about handling the simulations. I had actually written down the steps I would follow at each stage of the exam and I read them each day as I started or finished studying. Anyway, I could not find the correct research solution, and I did not sweat it. I had done well or okay on the other parts of the simulation. Last simulation, I had 25 minutes or so. Obviously, I started with the written part, per advice from other DVDs or CDs or Books, and I quickly found the research part,… but when it came to the part that I needed to enter my figures, the spreadsheet was not working properly or I was doing something wrong. I tried double-clicking, I tried typing in my figures, I tried entering numbers in places I knew were not correct… I cannot remember what happened or how it all ended up working okay, but somehow I was able to enter some numbers (solutions) in a couple of places and the solutions were what I expected. Anyway, 3 minutes to go and I start reviewing the tabs, I find that there are numbers in a bunch of places I didn’t want them to be, i.e. when I was double-clicking in all the weird places and just trying things out and it didn’t seem like things were working out, the numbers I keyed in were being captured. UURRGGGHH! I started changing things, but then I told myself that I should not worry about it. I had put in a lot of effort, it was not good to try to change something that I spent minutes (or hours or days) working on in the remaining few seconds. I trusted the AICPA and their program… that if there were places that were not supposed to be touched or edited, then things will be okay… I sat there and watched as the clock ticked away. Time up. I was not sure whether to include this in my evaluation of how the computer worked, how satisfied I was with this or that, what improvements could be made, etc. I just wanted to go home and rest and start preparing for BEC. If I tell you that I did not worry about the simulations, and the questions that I knew I was supposed to know the correct answers to, I would be lying. I worried a little, but found ways to comfort myself quickly.

I wrote about my preparation for BEC, especially the last couple of days before the exam, in another post. I will link to it later. But, I did not have as much of a rough time with BEC… the only thing is, I was chilling and reviewing everything in my third testlet, and I saw that I had now answered the first or second question. I had may be 30 seconds or less. It was a wordy unclear question, and I just had to choose something because you “NEVER LEAVE A QUESTION UNANSWERED!” – that had been drilled in my head – and “NEVER CHOOSE (A) UNLESS YOU ARE SURE” etc. I had written those things down and went over them as frequently as I could, especially when I was practicing MCQs. So, I chose something and time run out. I felt relieved after the exam, just as I did after FAR. Was that good or bad? If I failed FAR and I had this same feeling, then may be I failed BEC as well? As we now know… I passed both. You cannot stop living just because you didn’t finish a simulation or some part of a testlet. I guessed quite a few times, because I just wasn’t sure or I didn’t have the timeto spend on a particular question or questions, but it appears I had studied enough to make the right guesses, or if I got things wrong, I had gotten enough correct to pass.

A SECTION I TOOK HAS COME OUT, I AM PREPARING FOR ANOTHER SECTION TO BE TAKEN  IN A FEW DAYS, SHOULD I CHECK MY SCORE?

Honestly, I do not know the answer to this. I was preparing for BEC when FAR wave 1 came out. I checked and checked and checked even though I knew that both failure and passing could affect my preparation for the BEC. Neither was better for me as far as preparing for BEC was concerned. If I passed, I could relax a little bit and study better or relax too much and not study well enough. If I failed, I could study harder to at least pass one, or I could be devastated and not study well enough and fail two in a row. I thank God that I did not get my FAR score in wave 1. I lost a day that I could have studied BEC because I was checking NASBA, another71, the state board site, my email… I even wrote NASBA! Ha Ha! I read a hundreds of discussions and rants about the exams… so this one is a toughie. If you can manage to not worry or think about the exam you took and focus on the one at hand, that would be the best thing to do. However, spending time checking exams that have not come out, worrying and not studying, is one of the most unproductive things one can do while preparing for the CPA exam. It is not easy to block distractions out.

I AM NOT READY, SHOULD I RESCHEDULE THE EXAM?

As I was preparing for the exam, the one thing that I frequently did was to visit sites like another71 (link above), CPAnet, and read up on people’s experiences. I will admit that sometimes I overdid it, because it was much easier than studying, but I learned a lot just by seeing the mistakes that other people made, or the good things that people who passed the exam did. One of the mistakes that I made was to overstudy and overprepare for FAR way before the exam… (I am not sure if it was a mistake – but I regard it as such) – and then burned out a month before the exam… and I didn’t touch a book or a DVD or a CD until the week of the exam. I had 4 days or so to review for the exam and it was a little stressful. For BEC, I did the opposite, I didn’t study until it was too late – almost too late. Lucky enough, I realized this weeks ahead of time, and I rescheduled my exam date. I had read various people’s writings about why the rescheduled and how the additional week or weeks made the difference between passing and failing. In my case, I can surely say that if Ihad not rescheduled, I could have barely passed or failed. I had rescheduled the exam to a week later. That allowed the cramming that I did during the week of Memorial Day weekend(?) to settle in – and it was almost like I had two cramming review sessions. If you look at the postings I made during that time, you will see that I was not exactly a happy camper, but I was positive about my progress.

So, to answer the question, you know yourself best. Do you think that waiting another week or two (if there is time in the testing window) is going to make a difference? If so, is it worth the cost? For me, the $35 was worth it. I will buy an extra week of study for the CPA exam at $35 any day if I think it will make a difference. Actually, it is not just a week I bought… I bought/saved future time that I could have spent re-applying, re-studying, re-taking the exam, re-worrying, re-checking various sites for results information etc. What a deal I got! However, not studying just because there is an option to reschedule is not smart at all. It is a waste of time and money. I don’t think I will ever reschedule again. I think I have got a good hang/handle of how much studying I need to do and when I can start without burning out or underpreparing.

Here is a helpful link  for other AICPA or CPA exam-related questionsfrom an interview Jeff (another71.com) conducted with the AICPA.

I guess I should stop here for now. It is almost midnight. I will add to this or do another post when/if I remember something else. I will read my mission statement and then do a couple of Auditing MCQs before I sleep.

It is a wonderful life.

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