Exam Tips

5 Common Mistakes that Exam Candidates Make Studying For an Exam

1. Not looking at sample materials before making a purchase

We talk, email, and chat with a lot of exam candidates, and too often we hear from students who spent a lot of money – sometimes over $1,000 – on a competitor’s course only to find out that the materials are not easy to understand, not complete, or don’t come with teacher support. Fortunately, there is a very easy solution to this problem: thoroughly review the sample materials that each provider offers on their web site. Don’t just sign up and flip through the book, but sit down and read a section of the textbook, answer practice questions, and watch some of the videos as if you had purchased the materials and are using them to prepare. Ask the provider some questions, and evaluate if the answers are prompt, complete, and professional.

What should you do if a provider does not provide free samples? If a provider does not want you to see their materials, I would assume that it is because they know that they are not very good, and therefore you should not consider that provider. Here at HOCK, we are proud of our materials and want candidates look at them before buying because we are confident in the quality of our materials.

2. Overestimating what they already know

While relevant work experience and education are very helpful for passing the exam, many candidates assume that the questions on the exam should be answered the same way that they would be at work. This is not always the case, however, because usually the exams have to simplify the real world in order to make questions that can be solved in the time frame allowed by the exam. In the real world, almost every decision must consider quantitative and qualitative factors and everyone will assess those factors differently. On the exam, there is a correct way to make a calculation and a correct decision. Candidates with a lot of real-world experience still need to answer the past exam questions to understand how it is that the exam asks the questions and what the examiners consider to be the correct answers.

3. Underestimating the value of practice questions

Answering practice questions is critical to preparing to pass an exam, for a number of reasons:

  1. “Practice makes perfect.” While the goal is not perfection, practicing the questions will absolutely increase your understanding and therefore your exam score.
  2. You learn how the examiners have asked questions in the past.
  3. There is a learning curve in the amount of time that it takes to read and answer a question. For candidates who are concerned about running out of time (which is most candidates) taking the exam, you need to go through this learning curve months before the exam, not during the exam.
  4. You do learn from your mistakes. Learning from missed practice questions should not be your primary learning tool, but making mistakes can reinforce concepts and also show common mistakes and pitfalls. Again, it is best to learn these lessons while practicing and not on the real exam.

4. Underestimating the benefit of asking questions.

If there is something that you do not understand after reading the textbook, answering the practice questions, and making a reasonable effort on your own, there are three things that you can do with that topic:

  1. Research the topic and teach it to yourself.
  2. Hope that you will not be asked about that topic on the exam (a risky strategy).
  3. Ask your provider for help.

Not only is it more effective to ask an exam expert, it is also the most efficient use of your time. Most likely your provider will be able to answer the question quickly, or let you know that the question you are asking is outside the scope of the exam. In either case, you have received an answer without spending a lot of your time trying to do the job of your provider, or perhaps trying to learn something that is not on the exam.

5. Starting too late to prepare.

One of the most common questions that exam candidates ask us is “How many hours should I study?” Your material provider should give you a suggested number of hours. Of course, this is only a starting point and depending on your background, you may need to adjust the number of hours.

Let’s say that the recommended number of study hours is 100. On one hand, this is a simple math question: if you need to study 100 hours and you plan to study 5 hours a day, you theoretically will be ready in 20 days, or three weeks. On the other hand, there is a limit as to how many hours you can effectively study in a day or week on a long-term basis. Even if you can study all of the hours in a short period of time, some topics require additional time to “sink in” beyond just the hours you spend studying. So, not only is a certain number of hours required, but there is also a minimum amount of time for understanding.

Overall, most people have in mind 3-4 months to prepare for an individual exam, and that is a good rule of thumb to use. Yes, some people can prepare for an exam in 1-2 months, but for the vast majority of people, 3-4 months is a good amount of time to be able to prepare comfortably and pass confidently. You cannot cram 3 months of learning into 2 weeks, no matter how many hours you study per day.

Exam Tip: Taking a Step Back

We have written previously about the importance of having a study schedule and sticking to it (Exam Tip: Scheduling for Success and Peace of Mind), but sometimes you need to take a step back from your plan in order to move forward. If you’re familiar with soccer (football for our non-US readers), it is common for a team to pass the ball backwards in order to regroup and prepare again to go forward. Sometimes in studying you might need to do this, too.

What do I mean, exactly? When you are studying a topic that is taking longer than expected to learn, or is not making sense to you, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave that topic and come back to it later. By learning and thinking about other topics, you can give your mind a break and a chance to process the topic that you were struggling with.

I use this strategy when writing materials, too. Sometimes I get “stuck” trying to explain a concept or develop an example. I can tell that what I am writing is not as clear or concise as it should be. When that happens, I usually will stop, work on something else, and then return to the unfinished topic later. Most of the time this break is just what I needed to finish my writing in a way that is clear and concise.

Just like in soccer, the path to success on the exam is not one that always moves forward. Sometimes a step back today will help you move many steps forward tomorrow.

Brian Hock, CMA

I just sat for the CMA exam. How do I know if I passed?

During the CMA exam testing windows, we get a lot of questions from CMA candidates after taking the exam, such as:

  • “How many multiple-choice questions did I need to get right to comfortably pass the exam?”
  • “I got to the essay portion and thought I did really well, so will I pass the exam?”
  • “What was the pass rate for the exam in the last testing window?”

These all boil down to essentially the same question: “What are my chances of passing the exam?”

As much as we would like to be able to answer, we have no way of knowing. There is simply no way to predict whether or not you passed the exam. Spending time wondering about it, thinking about it, or stressing about it will not change the result, which you will receive approximately six weeks after the end of the month in which you took your exam.

If you still need to take the other part of the exam, the question you should be thinking about is whether or not to start studying for the other part while you wait for your exam result. This is a question that we can help with: https://www.hockinternational.com/waiting-result-start-other-parts/

So, what should you do instead of wasting time wondering if you passed? Our suggestion is, if you are not studying for the other part, that you should take a break and do things you enjoy that you could not do while you were studying. Rest your mind and relax your body. The results will come soon enough, and only then will you know the answer to your question, “Did I pass?”

Exam Tip: Take Your Studies With You

Having a study schedule and sticking to that schedule is an important part of preparing for an exam. We have written before about creating a study schedule and also how to recognize when you have to make an exception to your study schedule. However, there is another option to keep your studies on track when unexpected events threaten to disrupt your schedule – take your studies with you!

Every component of the HOCK materials can be used on mobile devices, including all popular tablets and smartphones. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading the PDF textbook on your phone, your smartphone is a great way to answer practice questions, review major concepts with the flash cards, or watch a few videos. If you have a tablet, the larger screen is perfect for reading the textbook, and most PDF readers even allowing highlighting or writing notes in the margins.

By studying on the go, you can be flexible when unexpected events pop up and stay on track with your study schedule.

CMA Exam Study Tips

In our 15 years of helping candidates around the world pass the CMA Exam, we have written a large collection of study tips. We’ve assembled all of these study tips into one master CMA Exam Study Tips document so that CMA candidates can easily read all of them in chronological order through the study process. We hope that these tips will be useful in your CMA exam preparation.

Download the CMA Exam Study Tips file here.

Exam Tip: Which Part Should I Take First?

Because the CMA and CIA Exams do not need to be taken in any particular order, many candidates ask, “Which part should I take first?” I will answer that question for both the CMA and CIA exams.

On the CMA Exam, the topics are not connected between the exam parts, so you will not get questions on Part 2 that are related to Part 1 topics, or vice versa. Therefore, I recommend that that you look at the exam syllabus and the topics tested on each part. If you are more familiar with the Part 2 topics than the Part 1 topics, then you should start with Part 2. Otherwise, start with Part 1.

Many people believe that CMA Part 2 is easier than CMA Part 1 because Part 2 has a higher pass rate. However, this does not mean that Part 2 is easier. Because most candidates start with Part 1, a lot of candidates never take Part 2 if they can’t pass Part 1. So the main reason that the Part 2 pass rate is higher is that the majority people taking Part 2 have already passed Part 1.

On the CIA Exam, Parts 1 and 2 have separate syllabi, but we have received feedback from a number of candidates who feel that they were tested on Part 1 topics in Part 2 and vice versa. This is partially because there are topics that are tested on both parts but from different perspectives. Because of this, I suggest that candidates look at the CIA Exams not as three exams, but as two exams, with Parts 1 and 2 combined into a larger exam. Because of this, you may want to consider preparing for Parts 1 and 2 at the same and taking them together.

Whether you should start with Parts 1 and 2 or with Part 3 depends on you background. If you are an internal auditor without other professional certifications, I recommend starting with Parts 1 and 2. If you have passed a professional certification with content similar to CIA Part 3, then I recommend that you start with Part 3 because many of the topics will already be familiar to you.

When you decide which Part of an exam to take first, you only need to make certain that you decide what will be best for you; it does not matter what your friends or colleagues did. Start with the exam Part that will be the easiest one for you to prepare for and don’t second-guess yourself once you choose. Remember that you have to take all of the exams Parts eventually – the order is only important for your planning purposes.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

Exam Tip: What is the best way to use the flash cards?

One of the challenges in preparing for the exam is that you must remember the first topic that you studied for the entire time that you are studying, so it’s important to have a quick way to review main points. Our flash cards are designed to help with this ongoing review process by helping you drill on main points and formulas. We suggest that after you complete a topic or subtopic, you immediately review the flash cards for that topic. This will put those cards into rotation and show them to you at a regular interval in the future.

For example, after you study the first topic in Section A, review those flash cards. Continue with each topic. Then, as you are studying Section B, you will be getting the Section A cards for review. Continue using the cards for Section B as you move through Section B, so that when you get to Section C, you will have cards from Sections A and B. And so on.

Because the cards that you do not know as well appear more often, the flash cards will automatically help you review the topics that you need the most help to remember. At the same time, the cards will also help you remember all of the topics you’ve already studied, but will show you the topics you already mastered with less frequency.

By utilizing the intelligent scheduling in the flash cards software, you can better retain the topics you know and learn the topics you don’t. Using the flash cards throughout your studies will not only make your final study and review easier but will also increase your chance of passing the exam.

Exam Tip: Making An Exception In Your Study Schedule

We have written several exam tips about creating a study schedule and the importance of following your schedule, both in terms of studying when you’re supposed to and also knowing that there are times when it is OK not to be studying. No matter how good your plan is and how dedicated you are to your studies, every once in a while there will be a day or event that requires an exception to your study schedule. Here are some examples:

  • After months of cold weather, it is finally a beautiful Spring day and your friends are all going to the concert in the park.
  • Your new smartphone that you ordered has arrived and you want to get it set up and try all the new features.
  • One of your family members just had a baby and everyone in your family is going to visit.
  • Your favorite movie series just came out with a new movie.

On days like these, don’t waste your time trying to study when you know studying won’t be effective. Instead, spend a short amount of time doing practice questions or flash cards, find a time in the next couple of days to make up the time, and then go enjoy yourself. You will be much happier and your studies will be a lot more productive.

Of course, every day should not be an exception, but when you’re studying for several months there will be a few times when you adjustments are necessary. Enjoy your special event and then come back to your studies the next day when you can be focused on learning instead of wishing you were somewhere else.

Kevin Hock

I’m waiting for my exam result – should I start with the other Part(s)?

After taking the exam, students frequently ask if they should start studying for the next part right away, or if they need to wait for their results first. If you feel that you did well on the exam, I suggest that you should start studying the next part, and here’s why:

  • Even if you do not pass, you will not have a lot to re-study, so you would be able to re-study while you continue studying for the next Part.
  • Once you have studied for an exam, you are the habit of studying. If you take more than a week or two off, it will be harder to start studying again later than if you just continue studying without a long gap.
  • You will need to take all of the Parts eventually, so there is nothing to gain by waiting.

If you leave the exam knowing that you failed or did poorly, then I recommend you take a short break (no longer than a week) and start preparing to re-take that same Part, and then you should retake that same Part as soon as possible.

During your break, you should also think about your study materials and try to determine if your study materials contributed to your poor results. If there were questions on the exam that you did not think that the material covered, or covered poorly, then you might want to consider looking into other study materials for your second attempt.

If you determine that you need some additional materials, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Most of the question banks are going to be very similar among all of the providers because all providers should be using the same previously released exam questions as the basis for their question bank. Therefore, you normally should not purchase a second question bank.
  • If you have a textbook from one company, it might be a better investment to purchase videos from another company instead of a second textbook. If the videos cover the entire syllabus (like the HOCK Videos do), the Videos will not only provide a different approach to some of the topics, but also provide a different style of learning, which may be useful.
  • If you decide to purchase HOCK materials as additional materials, be certain to take advantage of our “Switch to Hock” Discount. We know materials are expensive and want to help you when you are purchasing a second set of materials.

The time period after you take the exam and before you get your results is a period of anxiety. But, you can use this time wisely by preparing to either take the next exam, or prepare to retake the exam that you just took. Whether it is the same exam or the next exam, we are confident that HOCK can help you pass the exam. Learn more about our CMA, CIA, and CPA exam prep and start studying today!

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

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