Making the decision to purchase exam prep materials is the first step in preparing to pass the exam. Once you have purchased your materials, what should you do first? For the purposes of this exam tip I am going to assume that you purchased HOCK Complete materials, but the same general ideas apply to any materials.
In the first week, you should familiarize yourself with the materials, in a sense an installation and fact-finding week. I suggest that you do the following, though it doesn’t have to be in this order:
- Read the different study tips that we have written at: www.hockinternational.com/category/exam-tips/. These tips and ideas will help you understand what you will be doing and how you will do it.
- Download the textbook, and page through the textbook to familiarize yourself with the topics and layout. Read a couple of pages in a few topics that interest you and look at some of the examples.
- Access the videos page, look at the videos available, and watch the introduction video. Then, watch a few videos from different topics to get a sense of the style and content of the videos.
- Install the ExamSuccess software on your computer, and/or become familiar with how ExamSuccess online works, and do a few practice questions. It does not matter now if you understand what the question is asking. The questions are the same in both ExamSuccess and ExamSuccess Online, so you can use whichever one is more convenient.
- Download the flash cards, and familiarize yourself with how the flash cards work in PowerPoint. The flash cards are an excellent review tool.
- Create a study schedule and set up your Personalized Study Plan (on the Textbook page of My Studies). You should decide when you are going to study each week so that you have time set aside for studying. See www.hockinternational.com/exam-tip-scheduling-for-success-peace-of-mind/ for more thoughts on why a schedule is important.
Once you have your schedule and have studied for a couple of weeks, you should stop and evaluate your studying. Are you staying on track with your study plan? Has it been working like you thought it would? Are your blocks of study time too long or too short? Are you trying to study too much each week? If necessary, revise your Personalized Study Plan. Re-evaluate every month or so to see how you are doing with your schedule and make further adjustments as needed.
Remember that the study process for any professional exam is a marathon, not a sprint. It does not matter how fast you start studying, but rather that you study fully and completely so that you pass the exam. Having and following a study plan will ensure that you are successful in passing on your first attempt, which is why you purchased materials in the first place!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
One of the most common questions I get from students is how to study for an exam. I have written about how to study before (read that post at: https://www.hockinternational.com/how-should-i-study/), but there is one part of the study process that I want to specifically address again.
When you make the decision to study for a professional exam, you have made a time commitment that will span months, if not years (depending on the exam). On the first day of a class, I would often tell my students that for the next few months they would no longer have to ask themselves, “What should I do with my free time?” Once you start studying for an exam, you always have something that you could be doing, whether that’s reading the book, watching videos, or answering practice questions.
The problem is that the feeling that you should or could be studying is always in your mind. When you are reading a book for pleasure, you begin to think, “I could be studying the textbook.” When you are watching your favorite TV show, you think, “I could be watching a video lecture.” When you are exercising, you think, “I should be reviewing that last chapter that I read.”
To help manage your time when studying for an exam, I strongly encourage you to make a schedule of when you will study each week by specifically designating time for studying (our standard study plans suggest about 10 hours per week). It might be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings from 6 – 8 p.m. It might be 6 – 7:30 a.m. Sunday through Friday. It might be an hour at 8 a.m. in the morning and an hour at 7 p.m. night on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Whatever will work for you.
Having a schedule of exactly when you will study will make your non-study time more enjoyable. You will have your set study times, but you also will know that during all of the other times of the week, you can do whatever you want. For example, if you know that you study on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, you also know that the other nights are not times to study. So, when you are relaxing on Wednesday evening, you do not need to worry that you should be studying because you know it is not a time that you need to be studying.
A schedule is critical not only for your success on the exam, but also for your peace of mind while studying. If you have a schedule already, congratulations. If you do not have a schedule for studying, then the first thing you should do today is to make a schedule. Both your studies and your personal life will be more enjoyable and less stressful as a result.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Both the CMA and CIA Exams test their organizations’ Code of Ethics. While the Code of Ethics may be a small topic on each exam, do not ignore preparing for questions about the Code of Ethics. These are easy points to earn on the exam.
The way to prepare is to memorize the Code of Ethics. It is not long, and by memorizing it you are prepared for a question that covers the specific terms or definitions used in the Code of Ethics. Also, on the CMA Exam, if you get an Essay that covers Ethics, by using the same terms in your answer that are in the Code of Ethics you will be certain to get all of the points.
In addition to being useful for the exam, you should memorize the Code of Ethics anyway because you are supposed to follow it in your professional life, and it is easier to follow it if you actually know what it says.
In CMA Part 2, Ratios is one topic that many candidates are not comfortable with. One reason is that the same ratio may be calculated in slightly different ways by different companies or in different textbooks. Fortunately, the ICMA (the organization that administers the CMA exams) has prepared a ratio formula sheet with the official ratios for the CMA exam. If you have not already downloaded it, it is available at http://www.imanet.org/docs/default-source/generalpdfs/ratio-definitions.pdf?sfvrsn=2. We use these formulas in the HOCK materials.
The official formula sheet says that the Price/Earnings Ratio is calculated as the market price per share divided by earnings per share (EPS), but does not say whether earnings per share means Basic EPS or Diluted EPS. Because of this ambiguity, HOCK students frequently ask, “Should the P/E ratio be calculated using Basic Earnings Per Share of Diluted Earnings Per Share in the denominator?”
To answer this question, HOCK asked the ICMA for clarification, and their answer was to use Basic EPS when calculating the P/E ratios. So, remember that the P/E ratio is the market price per share divided by Basic EPS. If you see other materials use Diluted EPS, those materials are incorrect.
One final tip for studying the ratios: to help with memorizing them, we suggest that you use flash cards – if you have HOCK’s you can use those, but you can also easily make your own flash cards. The process of making flash cards will also help you learn them.
If you have any questions about the P/E Ratio or ratios in general, we are here to help.
Once you have made the decision to study for the CMA or CIA exam and received your materials, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information that you need to learn. This makes the question “How should I study?” an important question.
Understand the goal
Remember that your main goal is to pass the exam. To achieve that goal, there is a syllabus of material that you need to learn. The syllabus tells you what you need to study, and by process of elimination, what you do not need to study. You should not get distracted by reading outside of the textbook or searching for other sources that are not written specifically for the exam you are studying.
The two main study tips that I offer for preparing for an exam are:
- Remember that preparing to pass the exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This means that you need to have a long-term plan when you start studying. You should plan on studying 1-2 hours at a time, three to five times a week, for several months. It is OK if you miss one session occasionally.
- Making a specific study schedule will help reduce the stress of the study process. Without a schedule, you always have studying hanging over your head. If you know that you will study Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, Friday morning and Sunday afternoon, it makes it a lot easier for you the rest of the time because you know that it is OK to not be studying.
How many hours do I need to study?
The not very helpful answer to how many hours you need to study is that you need to study “enough.” How much is enough is determined by several factors:
- Your experience in the areas that are being tested.
- Your education in the areas being tested.
- Your level of fluency in English.
- How well you study when you study.
- What preparation materials you use.
As a general starting point, most people need to study around 120-150 hours per part for the CMA Exams, and about 60-80 hours for CIA Part 1, 50-70 hours for CIA Part 2, and 120-140 hours for CIA Part 3.
The most important thing you can do to prepare for the exam is to study! Having a schedule will, by itself, not help you pass the exam. Reading motivational quotes and books will not help you pass the exam. You must actually have productive and quality study time, and reading the book and watching TV at the same time does not count.
If you have our Textbook, Questions, and Videos, this is how I would study:
- Skim through the textbook for a topic and look at the main points and examples.
- Watch the video(s) about this topic.
- Do the practice questions in ExamSuccess for this topic.
- If you are uncertain about any particular concept within this topic, read the detail that is in the textbook to help you understand the topic and/or re-watch the video(s).
- Ask us questions! If there is something that you do not understand, ask us. We are here to help you and we can almost always help you more quickly than you can figure out an answer yourself.
- After you understand the topic and can answer the questions, you should start using the flash cards. This will put that topic’s cards into rotation so that you can review the topic on an ongoing basis as you continue into the next topics.
If you do not have the videos, replace step #2 with carefully reading the textbook and working through all of the examples and questions in the book.
Do I need the Videos?
The short answer is that no, you do not need the videos to pass the exam. Many people prepare successfully without the videos. While we think that the videos make your studying more efficient (and perhaps more enjoyable), all of the information in the videos is also in the textbook. What the videos do is to bring my many years of teaching experience directly to you, making the topics much more alive than you just reading out of the book. If you have not yet watched a sample of the videos on our web site, I would encourage you to do so. You will see that our videos are dynamic learning tools that bring the topics to life, helping you learn and understand the materials more than other exam prep videos on the market.
Reviewing – a critical step
Any one individual topic on the exam is not difficult by itself. If you could study one topic and have a test over just that topic, you could do very well on each test. Some of the difficulty on any professional exam is the amount of materials that you need to retain at the same time. You have to remember everything you study, starting from the first day through the last day, which is likely several months later.
In order to help you retain information as you move through the materials, you should:
- Use the flash cards on an ongoing basis as you move through the material.
- Spend 30-60 minutes every week reviewing 15-25 ExamSuccess questions from topics you have already completed.
How do I know when I have studied enough?
While it can be difficult to know when you have studied enough, some things you can consider when you assess your readiness for the exam are:
- When you are answering questions, do you confidently know what the answer is, or are you sort of guessing or hoping that you’ll get it correct?
- Can you explain why the incorrect answers are incorrect?
- When you go through the flash cards, are you able to answer each question quickly and correctly?
- Were you able to score at least 80% on the mock exam?
What should I do the last few weeks before the exam?
After you have spent several months studying, you may get to the point where you have studied everything and there are still 2-3 weeks before your exam. For the last few weeks before the exam, I recommend that you:
- Continue using the flash cards
- Practice multiple-choice questions from all of the topics on the exam. By this time you may have done some of the questions a few times, so you may have partially memorized some of the answers. To make reviewing these questions worthwhile, you can a) make certain that you understand why the incorrect answers are incorrect, and b) think about what could be added or changed that would make the question more difficult, and how you would solve that more difficult question.
- Skim through the textbook and look at the main topics and the examples. For the examples, read through them and make certain that you understand not only what is being done, but also why it is being done.
- Relax! I know it is difficult when the exam is getting closer and closer, but you will perform better on the exam if you are well rested. This means that you need to be certain to sleep enough for the three nights before the exam and eat well so that you are not hungry during the exam. If you exercise regularly or have a hobby that you enjoy doing, continue to do them even during your last weeks of preparation.
On exam day
Finally, here are some tips for the day of your exam.
- Be sure to get a good night’s rest the night before your exam. Eat and drink enough so that you will not be hungry or thirsty during your exam.
- Allow plenty of extra time to travel to your testing site – there are no excuses for a flat tire, the bus being late, or bad traffic. It is much better to arrive early and be calm than end up having to rush in with stress from traveling.
- Because the test center could be warmer or cooler than you might expect, dress in layers so that you can adjust what you are wearing to be comfortable.
- Watch the tutorial at the beginning of your test session to be certain that you know how the exam computer works and that your keyboard and mouse work properly.
- After all of your months of preparation, remember that you are prepared to pass the exam. It is time for you to relax and answer the questions calmly and efficiently using the knowledge that you learned during your studies.
If you have any questions while you are studying with HOCK, please do not hesitate to contact us – we are here to help.
This is one of the most common questions that we get asked, and it is a very important question. If you do not study enough, you will probably fail the exam. If you study too much, you will probably pass the exam, but you will not have used your time efficiently.
How much should you study so that you study enough, but not too much? Let’s look at this from short, medium, and long-term perspectives.
On a daily basis (the short-term), you usually should not study more than 2 hours per day. Studying a little bit every day is far more efficient and effective than studying a lot on only one or two days a week. There are some topics that require time for the pieces to “fall into place” and for most people this process cannot be hurried in one long study session. The longer you study in any one session, the less you will learn in that additional time – this is the law of diminishing marginal returns.
On a weekly basis (the medium-term), it is important that you spend 30-60 minutes reviewing the topics that you have already studied. One of the challenges of preparing is remembering the topics that you studied early on, usually months before the exam. In this review, you should do some questions from the already-studied topics (15-20 will be enough) and also scan through the textbook to remind yourself about the terms and topics.
Overall (the long-term), we cannot give you a total amount of time that you need to study because it is so different for each person based on your specific education, experience, study speed, etc. The mock exam can give you a good sense of how prepared you are, but you will need to be honest with yourself in making an assessment of your level of readiness. Some of the things that you need to consider are:
- How confident are you when answering a question? Do you KNOW that choice C is correct, or do you only THINK (or hope) that it is correct?
- For theory questions, do you know why the incorrect choices are incorrect? If you know why they are incorrect, that is a very good indication that you understand the topic.
- Would you be able to explain the topic to someone else? If you know it well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, you know that topic very well.
While there is no magic number of hours that you must study, you can follow our strategies to help you make the most of your study time and honestly assess yourself to know when you are prepared to pass your exam.
Exam Tip: What is the best way to study?
When I was in the fifth grade band, the trumpet section had a piece that we needed to play all together from memory, without our music. I decided that instead of memorizing it by playing it many times, I would memorize it by writing the notes down and memorizing the list of notes. After I could repeat all of the notes in my mind, I thought that I was ready. However, as I started playing a couple of days before the concert, I quickly learned that there was a big difference between knowing the notes and being able to play them on the trumpet. Unfortunately, I ended up being the weak link in the trumpet section for that piece because my method of preparing was not effective.
Like with the trumpet, there is a difference between theoretically preparing for the exam and actually preparing for the exam. You can read how to study, and you can read where to study, and you can read motivational quotes for hours and hours, but unfortunately none of these will actually help you get even one question correct, let alone pass the exam.
Students often ask me, “What is the best way to study?” The very short answer is simply, “Study!” Read the book. Watch a video. Do five minutes of flash cards. Just like the only way to learn how to play the trumpet is to actually play the trumpet, the only way to prepare for the exam is to actually prepare for the exam. Don’t spend too much time studying how to study – just study!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Last week, we talked about how it is important to answer every question on the CMA and CIA exams, even if you have to guess. One of the reasons for this is because there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.
However, rather than just randomly guessing, sometimes you can quickly narrow your choices down to three or even only two possible answers. Having a 33% or 50% chance of getting the answer correct is better than 25%! Some words to keep in mind as you make a quick educated guess are:
While it is possible that such “extreme” words can be in the correct answer, you can often quickly confirm or eliminate these choices. For example, even if you don’t know what situations a particular principle applies to, you might know that choices with “always” or “never” are incorrect. On the other hand, there are some situations where $0 might automatically be the correct answer.
When you are taking the exam, keeping these “extreme” words in mind may help you quickly make an educated guess. However, even if you have no idea which answer is correct, choose an answer on every question. It is better to have a 25% chance of being correct than a 0% chance!
It is important to remember that each multiple-choice question is equally weighted on the CMA and CIA Exams. This means that your score will be the same whether you get the 80 most difficult questions on the exam correct or get the 80 easiest questions correct.
What does this mean for you when you are taking the exam? It means that if there is a long question with a lot of information or a question that you know will require a lot of calculations, you should:
- Make an educated guess and select an answer
- Mark the question
- Go on to the next question
If, at the end of the exam, you have time to go back and work on these long and difficult questions again, you can spend the time then. But, you do not want to run out of time and not be able to answer the last few questions, which might be very easy, because you spent a lot of time on a long and difficult question.
It is important to make a guess even if you don’t know the answer or have time to calculate the answer because there is no penalty for incorrect answers! If you leave a question blank and run out of time at the end of the exam, you will miss that question with 100% certainty. If you guess, you have a 25% chance of getting the question correct. If you do that on 4 questions, then you will statistically get one of them correct.
Why is one more correct answer important? Because for some people, that one question is the difference between passing and failing. So no matter what, be sure you choose an answer on every question, even if you have to guess.
There is one question that you must be able to answer correctly in order to pass a professional exam. If you can answer this question correctly, you will pass the exam. If you cannot answer this question correctly, it is very unlikely that you will pass.
Before I tell you the question, I have good news – there are many correct answers to this question, and no incorrect answers. The question is “Why are you studying for this exam?” This question is important because dedication is what is needed to pass an exam. You need to be prepared to study in the evenings, in the mornings, and on the weekends. You have to choose to study instead of doing something with friends. If you know why you are studying, then you will be able to choose studying instead of spending time with friends.
So, before you start preparing for any question that is going to be on the exam, make certain you can first answer the question of why you are studying.
Why are you studying?