From Brian’s Desk

Time Management on Essays and Problems

Written essays or problems on exams are a source of anxiety for many exam candidates, but having proper time management strategies will help reduce your stress level and earn the most points possible on these questions.

Candidates usually have one of two problems when writing answers on essays or problems:

  1. You know the topic very well, and don’t have time to write everything that you know.
  2. The question requires a lot of calculations or preparing a financial statement, and you need more time to finish it.

The solution to both of these problems is budgeting your time. When you get to the essay or problem portion of the exam, briefly scan through all of the questions so that you know what is required, and then roughly allocate your time for each question. This will ensure that you can write something for each question because unlike multiple-choice questions, you cannot just quickly guess on the last questions and hope to get a few correct. Earning zero points on just one problem will significantly reduce your chance of passing the exam.

The budget will also keep you moving through the essays so that you do not spend too much time writing everything you know about a topic. There is usually a diminishing return with the more time you spend on a question. If you spend 20 minutes on a question that has 20 available points, it is likely that you will get 10 of those 20 points in the first 5 minutes. In the next 5 minutes, you might get 6 more points. In the last 10 minutes, you are working for only 4 more points. If you exceed the twenty minutes, you are maybe going to get 1 or 2 extra points, but you are giving up the time that you need to earn any points on another question.

To give an example, let’s say that a question requires preparing a short balance sheet and you felt very comfortable with your answer, but the balance sheet does not balance. Do not panic! You probably got (for example) 18 of the 20 points and only made a simple math error or transposed two numbers. If you spend 10 minutes trying to balance your balance sheet, you might get those 2 extra points. But, in those same 10 minutes, you could have started another question and earned a substantial portion of the points available on the next question. Of course, if you have extra time after answering all of the questions, you can go back and try to balance your balance sheet.

By managing your time and sticking to a time budget on the essays or problems, you can be certain to maximize the number of points you earn and therefore also be more likely to pass the exam.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

Experience Matters When Taking an Exam

We all know that as we gain experience at work, our work becomes easier and we are able to perform our tasks more efficiently. Just as experience contributes to our success at work, experience also contributes to our success on an exam. This does not mean taking an exam just to take it and fail it; there are other ways experience can help you pass an exam.

1. Your experience with the topics on the exam

While most candidates want to pass exams as quickly as possible, you still need to spend time preparing for the exam. Even if you have significant experience with the topics that are on the exam, you still need to spend time learning how these topics are tested. A very good example of this is ratio analysis, because different companies may calculate the same ratio in different ways. What is included in “income” for ratios that use income? What is included as the amount of “investment” in the ROI calculation? As you can see, even if you have a lot of experience with ratios, you still need to learn how the ratios are calculated for the exam.

Additionally, some topics that are new require time to “settle” in our minds. For example, many candidates have difficulty with internal controls on the CMA exam. There are no formulas and no calculations, but there a lot of key ideas that can be applied to any part of a business. For internal controls, I advise candidates spend a bit of time each day going slowly the textbook and questions. You will be able to understand and retain a lot more by studying internal controls one hour a day for seven days than by studying five hours a day for two days.

2. Your experience answering questions

If you were to take a 100-question mock exam before you start studying, you would probably miss 15-20 questions just because you did not read the question correctly. As you practice answering past exam questions, you can be certain that you will be able to read and understand questions correctly on the exam. You will know to look for and how to react to words like “always,” “never,” “most likely,” and other similar phrases. It is much better that you go through that learning curve while you are doing practice questions than while taking your exam.

3. The experience of your teacher and/or materials provider

In the same way that you benefit from experience on the job or while studying, materials providers also benefit from experience, and that experience is something that good providers can pass on to you. The more a provider interacts with students, the more they know what topics are usually challenging. The more feedback that they have from students, the better the provider knows what changes need to be made to their materials and their classes so that they better prepare candidates for the exam.

For live-taught classes, the more experience that a teacher has preparing students for the exam, the more effective their classes will be. A teacher with a lot of real-world experience may not be able to effectively teach a course for an exam, because they could over-emphasize topics familiar to them or skip over topics that they are not as comfortable with. You want to be certain that the people who are helping you prepare for an exam are experienced in helping candidates pass that exam.

At HOCK, all we do is help people pass exams. Our team members are 100% working on exam-related issues – whether it writing, editing, or improving the materials, or answering your questions; everything we do is focused on helping you pass your exams!

In summary, while it is natural to want to take the exam as quickly as possible, you need to be certain that you spend the necessary time to get the experience needed – from studying, from answering questions, and from your materials or course provider – to pass the exam.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

Studying for the Exam #6 of 6 – The Day Of Your Exam

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#6 of 6), 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.

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Studying for the Exam #5 of 6 – One Day Before Your Exam

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#5 of 6), Brian discusses where you should be with one day before your 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!

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Studying for the Exam #4 of 6 – Two Weeks Before Your Exam

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#4 of 6), Brian 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.

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Studying for the Exam #3 of 6 – Six Weeks Before Your Exam

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#3 of 6), Brian discusses where you should be with six weeks before your 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.

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Studying for the Exam #2 of 6 – One Month Into Your Studies

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#2 of 6), Brian discusses where you should be 1 month into your studies and staying on track with your studies by sticking to your study plan, keeping up with the practice questions, reviewing previously-studied topics, and asking questions as you have them.

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Studying for the Exam Video #1 of 6 – You Just Received Your Materials

In our Studying for the Exam series, HOCK international President Brian Hock guides you through the stages of studying, beginning with the day you receive your materials and ending with the day you take your exam.

In this video (#1 of 6), Brian discusses familiarizing yourself with the materials and setting up the study plans that you will need to successfully study for and pass the exam.

You can also learn more about the HOCK CMA, CPA, and CIA materials and support – start studying today!

Exam Preparation Using Exam Content: Planning

This continues a series of posts that looks at preparing for an exam using some of the same concepts that you might study while preparing for the CMA, CPA, or CIA exams.

Planning is a topic covered on many professional exams because of how important planning is to a business. Without long-term planning, a company does not know what it is trying to accomplish. Every department within a company needs to have a plan too, so that it can do what it needs to do to help the company achieve its objectives. Even individual employees need to have a plan so that they can help their department achieve its goals. With proper planning, a company can ensure that all of its components are moving in the same direction.

Just like a company, a candidate for a professional exam also needs to have plans, which we can break down into Long-Term, Medium-Term, and Short-Term.

Long-Term Plan

The first plan that you need is a strategic plan that encompasses what you would like to be doing in 5 years in your career, and which professional certification will best help you achieve your plan. You need to know:

  • What are the certifications in your chosen career?
  • What are the certifications most highly valued in the country where you want to work?
  • Which certifications does your company want for its employees?

Once you have selected a certification, you need to find determine:

  • Do you have the necessary education required by the exam? If not, how will you get it?
  • Do you have the necessary experience in order to be certified? If not, where can you achieve the experience?
  • What is the syllabus for the exam and what will you need to study to pass the exams?

Then, you are ready to create a medium-term plan to pass the exams and get any education or experience that you need.

Medium-Term Plan

The medium-term plan should set up a time frame for when you will pass the exams and get the needed education or experience, if you don’t already have them. You need find out what the average time is for preparing for the exam, and when the exams are offered.

For example, you may decide that it will take you 6 months to prepare for each part of the CMA Exam, and so you determine that you want to take Part 1 in early January and Part 2 in late June. Or, maybe you decide that it will take about 3 months to prepare for each Part of the CPA Exam, so you plan to take them in January, May, August and November.

You should also decide the order in which you will take the different Parts / Sections of the exam. I usually recommend that you start with the Part or Section that you feel will be easiest for you.

Short-Term Plan

You are now ready to start your short-term plans, including making a study schedule for each week. You should know when during the week you will be studying and set these times aside. If you are going to study Tuesday evening for 3 hours (for example), then when someone asks you to do something Tuesday evening, your answer should be that you are busy. Your scheduled study times should be committed appointments that you will not cancel except for an emergency.

Having a schedule will make all of your time less stressful. If you know when you will study, then in the time that you are not studying you can relax without thinking that you should be studying; your study time and your personal time can stay separate.

Just like a plan that helps a business achieve its goals, proper planning will make achieving your goal of earning a certification much easier.

What are some of your planning strategies to help you stay on track with your studies?

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

Exam Preparation Using Exam Content: Variance Analysis

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.

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.

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).

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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