In this video, Brian discusses some tips for exam day: how to eat, how to dress, how to prepare mentally, what to bring with you to the exam center, and offers some final words of encouragement.
If the exam date is not coming up just yet, check out the following videos:
In this video, Brian discusses where you should be with one day before your CMA, CIA, or CPA Exam. Limit yourself to some quick reviews and get as much sleep as you can. You are prepared and you are ready to pass the exam!
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with two weeks before your exam. Continue studying with timed tests to practice time management, reviewing all of the materials, cramming if you have extra time, and planning for exam details like your calculator and how to get to the testing center.
In this video, Brian Hock discusses where you should be with six weeks before your CMA, CIA, or CPA exam. Continue sticking with your study plan, reviewing previously-studied materials, using the flash cards, and plan when you will take your first mock exam.
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, CIA
How to study for an exam?
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, 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.”
Make a schedule
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.
Success and peace of mind
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
Do Exam “Shortcuts” and “Cheat Sheets” Work?
Studying for a professional exam is just like preparing to accomplish any significant goal—the only way to succeed is to put in the required time and effort. There is a specific and defined body of knowledge that you need to know to pass a professional exam and until you have mastered that body of knowledge, you will not pass the exam.
When someone advertises that they have a shortcut or very short materials that condense the exam into “only what you need to know,” this is only a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, marketing does not help you pass the exam. Marketing may help you feel confident that you have some special knowledge, but when you get to the exam you will be in for a surprise if you don’t know the information that is tested on the exam.
Practice Questions vs Exam Questions
One comment that is often made by unsuccessful candidates is the questions on the exam were different than the practice questions. Of course the practice questions and exam questions are different—they should be different! If the actual exam had only questions that you practiced with, then the exam would not test what you know, but only how many questions you can memorize.
Candidates who pass that exam understand the concepts and theories tested on the exams and are able to apply that knowledge, even if the questions are asked differently than the questions that they had practiced with. Earning the credential means that you can apply your knowledge to new situations, and this is what your employer expects you to be able to do. Memorizing specific answers is of no value to your employer.
How to Save Your Time and Money
In order to be prepared to pass the exam the first time, you need more than shortcuts or simplified materials. You can save yourself a lot of time, effort, and money by studying only once using complete and comprehensive exam prep materials that prepare you to pass on your first attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
How to Use Value Chain Analysis While Preparing for the CMA, CIA, and CPA Exams
Value Chain Analysis
Value chain analysis helps a company understand which processes add value for the customer and which processes do not. If the company can reduce or eliminate activities that do not add value for the customer, then the company will lower its costs without having to reduce the price because the customer will not notice any difference in the product or service after the non-value-adding activities have been removed.
From an exam preparation standpoint, value chain analysis can similarly help you identify the activities that do add value to the exam preparation process and eliminate those that do not. Eliminating non-value-added activities will not reduce your ability to pass the exam, and will give you more time to do value-adding activities.
Some of the activities that do add value to your exam preparation process are:
- Reading the textbook
- Answering good practice questions
- Studying incorrect answers to questions to help you understand common mistakes
- Watching exam prep videos
- Asking questions of exam experts
- Reading some exam advice and guides on-line
- Making your own study notes, especially for topics that you find difficult
- Reviewing previously-studied topics
- Discussing the exam with other candidates
Activities That Do Not Add Value
Examples of activities that I know candidates sometimes want to do but do not add value to the exam preparation process are:
- Spending too much time reading exam advice or tips. The only way you can prepare for the exam is by actually preparing (i.e. performing the value-added activities). Just reading exam advice or tips will not prepare you to pass the exam.
- Answering non-exam-based questions. If you search for questions online, there is a great risk that the questions you find will not be relevant to the exam.
- Asking questions to people who are not exam experts. Colleagues, professors, or other users on general accounting forums do not have the exam in mind and may give answers outside of the scope of the exam.
- Trying to find “shortcuts” to studying. There are no shortcuts to passing the exam and there is no secret knowledge that substitutes for spending the required time studying and learning the material.
- Memorizing practice questions or repeating practice questions so often that you know all of the answers. The questions on the exam will be different than the practice questions.
- Spending time and money on multiple question banks from different providers. Because all providers have access to the same previously-released exam questions, the questions will be mostly the same no matter which question bank you use.
- Trying to guess what topics might or might not be tested on your exam. Because the exams use large question databases covering all of the topics on the syllabus, you need to be prepared to answer questions on any topic.
As you are studying for the exam, ask yourself if your activities are value-added to the main objective of learning the concepts tested on the exam. Anything that is not accomplishing that objective is non-value-added and can be eliminated from your studies.
What are some other value-added activities that you do to prepare for the exams?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Using Exam Variance Analysis to prepare for the CMA, CIA, and CPA Exams
This continues a series of posts that looks at preparing for an exam using some of the same concepts that you might study for the CMA, CPA, or CIA exams.
In management accounting, variance analysis is the process of looking at the differences between the actual and budgeted results for a period. Common uses of variance analysis are in manufacturing expenses, i.e. direct material, direct labor, and overhead. When teaching variance analysis, I emphasize that we should not ignore variances that are favorable (positive) because we should look to see what that department is doing differently that led to the positive variance.
Actual vs Expected (“budgeted”) Results
When preparing for an exam, we can look at the difference between an actual result and an expected (or “budgeted”) result with practice questions. We recommend for most exams that you should be getting at least 80 – 85% of practice questions correct in order to be ready for the exam. So, when you answer practice questions, you can measure your actual result against your “budgeted” result and analyze where you need further study.
Answering Practice Questions
When you are answering practice questions, you should pay attention to how well you know each topic and how easily you can answer the questions. There are different ways that you can achieve a “passing” score, and you are in the best position to know how you did it. What do I mean by that? Let us say that you answer 10 questions and your goal is to get at least 8 correct. When doing the questions, there are 6 questions that you know for sure, and four questions that you mostly guessed on. If you got lucky in your guessing, you might get 8 or 9 of the 10 questions correct. But, in reality, you really only knew 60% of the questions, and the 60% score is the one that really matters.
Therefore, when you look at your results on a quiz or mock exam, you, and only you, are in the best position to make an assessment of your knowledge. Candidates often ask us if they are ready for the exam based on a mock exam score. That is an impossible question for us to answer; we don’t know how many questions you got right because you knew the answer and how many you got right because you guessed. On a mock exam, there’s a big difference between scoring 90% with 10 lucky guesses (you are probably ready for the exam) and scoring 90% with 25 lucky guesses (you are probably not ready for the exam).
Assessing Your “Total Variance”
Being honest in your assessment of your “total variance” is one of the best things you can do while studying for the exam. What are some of the strategies you have used in assessing your true variance when reviewing practice questions?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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CMA, CIA, and CPA Exam Preparation Using Exam Content: Capital Budgeting
This is the first in a series of posts that looks at preparing for an exam using some of the same concepts that you might study for the CMA, CPA, or CIA exams.
Capital budgeting is the process that a company goes through when it makes large capital investments or investments into long-term projects. As individuals, we do not have much need for capital budgeting, but one example of personal capital budgeting is the decision to pursue a professional certification.
Usually, when we make a decision to get a certification, we are focusing on the increased salary that we expect to receive as a result of having that certification. While that is obviously a great benefit (cash inflow), it is not the only element of capital budgeting that is part of this decision. There are also cash outflows associated with taking an exam.
When I teach capital budgeting, I always emphasize that we need to take into account the non-monetary qualitative factors (both positive and negative) involved in a decision. For example, how the project would impact employee morale, whether the project would have any public relations implications, and if the project is congruent with the company goals and objectives. These qualitative factors are difficult to put into an analysis but may be just as important as the quantitative factors (i.e. the cash).
Some of the cash outflows and qualitative considerations connected with pursuing a professional certification are:
- The cost of the exam registration fees, including any re-takes (CMA Exam Costs, CIA Exam Costs, CPA Exam Costs)
- The cost of study materials (CMA Study Materials, CIA Study Materials, CPA Study Materials)
- The amount of time that you will spend preparing, which is an opportunity cost because while you are studying you will not be spending time with your family, exercising, reading, sleeping, working another job, etc.
Some of the cash inflows and other qualitative benefits that you will receive include:
- The increase in your salary that is the direct result of gaining the certification
- An increase in respect and reputation within your organization
- An increase in confidence that comes with passing an internationally recognized professional exam.
The tools that a company uses to determine whether or not a project is beneficial include the payback method and the net present value method. Both of these can also be applied to making a decision about getting a professional certification.
Payback Method and Net Present Value
- Payback method. Based on the expected raise from gaining a certification, you can calculate how many years you will need to work to earn back the costs of taking the exam.
- Net present value. To calculate the net present value of a certification, you would need to determine a required rate of return. I am not sure how you would determine a required rate of return, but it could be based on how much you value your time. It would also be possible to calculate the Internal Rate of Return and see if that IRR is acceptable to you. But, however you calculate it, is the return acceptable to you?
Have you considered any other cash flows or qualitative factors in your decision to prepare for a professional certification? I’d be glad to hear from you in the comments about what they were.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA