Over the years I have been asked several common questions about preparing for exams, and hope that this will be helpful for candidates considering taking a professional exam.
What exam should I pursue?
The best exam for you is the one that will help you the most in your career. So, you should ask yourself what you want to be doing in five years and what you need to do to make that happen. Keep in mind that you may also need to do something other than get a professional certification. As a general rule of thumb, here is how I look at the best market for each of the main US certifications:
- CIA – If you are, or want to become, an internal auditor you take the CIA exams. CIA is also an excellent second certification for CMAs.
- CPA – If it is required for the position that you would like, or you are wanting to work as an auditor for the Big 4, CPA is probably what you need. However, the requirements to be eligible for the CPA Exam are much more difficult than the other exams. Be certain to confirm your eligibility for the CPA Exam before you start the study process.
- CMA – This is the best certification for most candidates who do not want to work as an auditor, but instead want to work for a company as an accounting or finance professional. Anyone who works with a budget, as an accountant, as a manager in a company, in finance, or who would like to start a business would benefit from earning the CMA Certification.
- CFA – This is the certification (actually a Charter) for individuals who want to work in investment banking.
What is the most difficult Exam Part?
Obviously, this depends a lot on your background and experience, but a couple of exam parts that are usually more difficult are CIA Part 3 and CPA Regulation.
CIA Part 3 is difficult just because there is so much content in it. Even though none of the topics are difficult and none of the topics are tested in great depth, the breadth of material that needs to be learned makes the exam difficult.
CPA Regulation is difficult because it covers US Business Law and US Taxation, and for many candidates (even in the US) Regulation covers topics that they will never use. Furthermore, the nature of business law and taxation are such that the material requires memorization because there is not always an underlying logic that makes things easily understandable.
What is the one thing that I can do to most improve my chances of passing an exam?
The most important thing that you can do to improve your chances of passing an exam is knowing why you are taking the exam. Whether it is to improve your knowledge, earn the certification, or to make more money (the most common reason), if you know why you are taking the exam, you will be able to pass the exam. If you do not know why you are taking the exam, it is very probable that you will never pass. The reason is because passing the exam requires dedication over several months and it means that you need to study in the evening after a day of work, on the weekends, and when you would rather be doing something else.
What is the next thing that I can do to improve my chances?
Other than the obvious things like reading the book and doing practice questions, the next thing that you can do to increase your chances of passing is to ask questions. When you come across something that you do not understand, ask your provider. At HOCK we provide unlimited support to candidates who are using our materials, so if there is something that you do not understand, ask us. Chances are that we will be able to answer your question quickly and fairly easily for you, and much more effectively and efficiently than you could answer it if you were to try to learn it on your own. Let us help you prepare – that is why we are here. If you bought materials from another provider, ask them. They should be able to answer all of your questions.
How can I tell when I am ready for the exam?
There are a number of indicators that you can use to assess when you are ready, and like most decisions there are quantitative and qualitative factors to consider. The factors include:
- How you are doing when you take practice questions – you want to be 15% or more higher than the passing score because these are questions you have already answered;
- The result on your mock exam(s) – ideally you will be at least 5% above the passing score for your exam;
- How you feel when answering the questions on the mock exam. While it is nice to know what your score on the mock exam is, only you know how comfortable and confident you were and how many questions you had to guess on, or were uncertain about your answer.
If you know 75% of the material and there were 8 questions that you guessed on, your score would be between 67% if you guessed poorly, and 83% if you guessed perfectly. Those two different scores would give you different feedback about your readiness for the exam.
If you are able to answer the questions on the mock exams easily and comfortably and you feel that you could explain why the correct answers are correct, then you are ready for your exam.
How did you study for the exams when you took them?
I have passed the CPA (even though I do not have a CPA license), CMA, and CIA Exams. For all of them I self-studied. I passed all of my exams the first time except for CPA Regulation, which I passed on my second attempt.
Which exam is the hardest: CMA, CIA, or CPA?
This is a common question, but there is no one correct answer because is too specific to each candidate for there to be one answer. All three exams have about the same pass rate, so using that as an indication does not provide much help. For people who like formulas and numbers, CMA has more of that than CIA does. For people who do not likes taxes, the CPA will be the hardest because of the tax section. The key for making any exam easier is to be certain that you are taking the exam that you need to be taking, which will keep your level of motivation high so that you will put in the time to study.
Can I prepare for an exam by doing only practice questions?
No, you should not try to pass any exam by only answering practice questions. While the practice questions are a critical part of preparing, they are not enough by themselves. The practice questions show you how a topic has been tested in the past, but the questions on your exam will be different than what has been asked in the past. Therefore, you need to know more of the theory than you learn just from practice questions. Additionally, while there is some important learning that takes place when you miss a question and have to learn why you missed it, learning through missed questions is a very inefficient way to learn. It is much better to have a basis in the theory (from textbook or videos) so that there is something to build on when you miss a question.
What is the difference between the textbook and videos? Do I need both?
The obvious difference is in how they teach. Different people learn differently, so you will learn more from the method that works best for you. The videos cover the entire syllabus, but do not include every detail that is in the textbooks. The textbooks cover more details and exceptions to the rules than the videos. If you study primarily with the videos (and the practice questions, of course) you should be able to pass the exams. I say your “primarily” because even if you use the videos as your main study tool, you will still need to refer to the textbook for some topics that you do not fully understand from the videos.
One way that I sometimes describe it is that if you want to win an award for the highest score on the exam, you need to know everything in the textbook. If you want to comfortably pass the exam, focusing on the videos as your primary learning tool is fine.
What makes HOCK materials different than other materials?
I think that there are a few ways the HOCK materials are different than our competitors, confirmed by the reviews and feedback from our students.
- Our materials are not just “Review” materials. We do not assume that you have studied all of these topics in school and therefore only need to review them. Our materials have more explanations, more details, and more examples than the competitors. This does lead to our textbook being longer, but we continue to stay focused on the syllabus in all of our materials.
- Our explanations of correct and incorrect answers in our question bank are better and more helpful. Sometimes knowing why a specific answer choice is incorrect is just as important as knowing why the correct choice is correct. We have complete explanations for not just correct answers, but incorrect answers as well.
- We provide quick and unlimited support, and we answer every question that we receive from students studying with HOCK. We almost always respond the same day that the question is asked and for most candidates any delay in a response is due to time differences. It is worth mentioning as well that the support that you get from HOCK is usually from the authors of the textbook – this ensures that you get accurate answers that address what you need to know on the exam.
- We are the only company to provide a guarantee that pays for you to retake your CMA, CIA, or CPA exam if you fail after studying using our materials. While some companies may offer a partial refund, or give you extended access to the materials, your goal is passing the exam. I believe that materials should be such that if you use them, you will pass. And that is what the HOCK “You Pass or We Pay” Guarantee does – if you watch the videos and do the review quizzes and mock exams (this is how we confirm that you have actually studied), and do not pass the actual exam, HOCK will pay your fees to take the exam again. We are asked if we actually make the payment, and the answer is yes, we do, but not very often because if you do study our materials following our study plan, you will be prepared to pass – comfortably and confidently.
I hope that you have enjoyed this Q&A. If you have any other questions about preparing for the exams please contact us and we will be glad to help.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
Brian Hock gives advice about how to overcome some of the stress that candidates feel on the essays and problems on the CMA Exam:
Check out more CMA Exam study tips from Brian Hock.
How to Make a Good Guess Quickly
On the CMA and CIA Exams, it is important to answer every question, 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 from the 4 choices, sometimes you can quickly narrow your choices down to three or even only two possibly correct answers. Having a 33% or 50% chance of guessing the answer correctly is better than 25%!
Watch the video to learn the words to keep in mind as you make a quick educated guess, and other tips from Brian Hock.
If you are already a CMA, CIA, or CPA Exam candidate, you may be interested in more study tips from the HOCK team. If you haven’t started studying yet, check out today’s deals and get unlimited access to the HOCK materials.
Brian Hock talks about the need to answer every question on the CMA and CIA Exams and the strategy to use for long and difficult questions.
Do you know how is the CMA and CIA Exam scores are determined? Learn everything you need to know!
Brian Hock talks about the idea of “slowly and then all of a sudden.” This expression is used to describe how someone falls asleep, and was used by Mark Twain to describe how he went bankrupt. Brian sees a lot of similarities between this idea and how CMA, CIA, and CPA students learn some of the exam topics.
In this video, Brian also shares his personal experience of sudden understanding with the statement of cash flows almost 25 years ago.
When it comes to passing certification exams, every candidate has to learn the same content. Whether you prefer to prepare by reading, listening, or watching, you must learn the content and be able to answer the questions that are asked on exam. Unlike preparing, there is only one testing method for the exam regardless of how you prefer to learn or communicate.
There are three stages of preparation that you must go through in order to pass the exam: learning, practicing, and passing.
As long as you are learning what you need to know, how you learn is not as important. You may choose to use a textbook as your primary learning tool, or you may prefer videos or audios. But, no matter what method you use to learn, you need to use materials that are designed specifically for your exam. There are a number of different providers for most exams, and every provider has the same knowledge and information about exam content (regardless of what some companies may claim or advertise). While any materials from these exam prep providers should be geared specifically to the exam, it is always good to have a copy of the syllabus that you can refer to as you study.
On the other hand, if you use materials that are not exam-specific, you run the risk of studying a lot of things that are not on the exam, or not studying important topics that are on the exam.
How many hours you need to spend learning will depend on your background, education, and experience. You may find that different topics require different amounts of time to learn. Do not let yourself get locked into a specific number of hours. If you think you have learned a topic a bit faster than you expected, that is OK. Similarly, if it takes a bit longer than expected, that is OK too. The key is to learn the content, not stick rigidly to a time budget that may not lead you to success on the exam.
Of course, keep in mind that for any exam that the passing mark is usually 70-75%, so you do not need to learn 100% of the details about 100% of the topics on the syllabus. You just want to make certain that you are closer to 100% coverage than 75% coverage so that you have a margin of error.
After you have learned the material, you need to “activate” it with practice.
In order to pass the exam, you need to make certain that the knowledge that you learned is “activated” for the exam and the way that exam questions are asked. The best way to do this is to practice past exam questions, which will enable you to learn how the questions have been asked in the past and the language that is used in the questions. This practice will also help you see what the examiners have thought are the most important questions within a topic. For example, on the CMA exam, process costing is a big topic, but in looking at past questions you will see that the calculation of equivalent units produced has the most past exam questions about it.
When you are practicing questions, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- More questions is not automatically better. The questions that you are practicing need to be on-topic and similar to the questions that are asked on the exam. It is easy to do a lot of multiple-choice questions that are just definitional in nature, but if the exam does not ask definitional questions, then those questions will not help you pass the exam.
- Do not memorize questions or answers. Ideally, your software will change the order of the answers when it repeats a question, but even in that case, you do not want to memorize that the question about Johnson Co. is $600,000. What you want to be able to do is understand why the correct answer is correct. On the real exam, the questions will be different than what you practiced. If the real exam question is changed in what it asks from a similar practice question, unless you truly understand the topic, you will not be able to get that exam question correct.
- Use the incorrect choices as a learning tool. Just as you need to understand why the correct answer is correct, in many questions you can also practice by being able to understand why the incorrect answer is incorrect. In some cases, changing just one word in the question would make one of the incorrect choices correct.
While you are practicing the questions, using flash cards (whether you prepared them or they were provided with your materials) is also a good way to practice what you learned.
Sometimes when you are practicing, you may realize that you did not fully learn a topic or two. This normal, and not a problem. When you do not understand the questions for a topic, just go back and look at the textbook or watch the videos for that topic to make certain that you have learned it. Many times, when you re-learn a topic after doing some questions you can learn it much better because you have an understanding of what you need to know having answered some of the practice questions.
After you have completed your learning and practicing, it is time for the third stage. But, before you take your real exam, you need to pass your mock exam. The mock exam should resemble what will be on your real exam, and you will want to complete the mock exam in the same time limits as the real exam. If you have 3 hours to complete your exam, you need to take your mock exam in 3 continuous hours all in one sitting. You want to go through the process of sitting for three hours answering exam questions so that you know what to expect when you take the real exam.
A very common question we get is what score on the mock exam indicates being ready for the real exam. We suggest that you want to be at least 5-10% above the pass rate for the exam, which usually works out to 80-85%. Higher is better, but keep in mind that repeating the mock exam to get a better score is probably going to be counter-productive due to memorization. Instead, use the mock exam as a final assessment of any weak topics that you still need to go back and review.
Once you have learned the material, practiced what you learned, and passed your mock exam, the last step is to pass the real exam. Think of the real exam as being the final step in your success. Having prepared properly, you can go into your exam confident and relaxed, rather than stressed. You are ready to pass!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
You may also be interested in Blog: 5 Common Mistakes that Exam Candidates Make
Recently, I was talking with someone who was interested in HOCK CMA study materials and I was telling them that HOCK students receive unlimited support for as long as necessary to pass the exams without any time limit. That person responded excitedly, “Wow! That is really a value add!” This reaction started me thinking—value-added activities are part of the CMA syllabus and are also applicable to CMA materials.
Value-added activities are those activities that create more value for the customer. Because those activities create additional value, customers are willing to pay for them. However, there are also a lot of costs that are incurred that do not add value to the customer but instead only increase the cost of production and correspondingly the price. For example, the cost of storing inventory is not a value-added activity. For most businesses, advertising also is not value-added to the customer (it is value-added for the business, but not the customer).
HOCK value-added exam prep
As a student, you are interested in what adds value to the materials you purchase, i.e. materials and services that will help you pass the exam. At HOCK, we focus on adding the most value that we can and doing so at the best possible price by eliminating things that don’t add value to you. Some of the things that we do at HOCK that are value-added and/or help us reduce our costs are:
- Unlimited support from exam experts.
- No set expiration on the materials you purchase—use them for as long as you need to pass the exams.
- Always up-to-date materials.
- No expensive marketing contracts that increase our costs
- All of our products are available electronically, meaning there is no delivery cost except for the hard copy textbooks.
- Just-in-time inventory eliminates inventory storage and spoilage costs.
Because we focus on adding value in everything that we do, we are able to provide more study tools, more complete materials, and better guarantees than our competitors in the market. As a customer, this is what you want—effective and cost-efficient materials that will help you pass the exam on your first attempt.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
How much should I study for the CMA, CPA, or CPA?
This is one of the most common questions that people ask us, and it is a very important question. If you do not study enough, you will probably fail the certification 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 it is 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. Practicing 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.” For most people, this process cannot be hurried in one long study session. The longer you review 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 topics that you have already learned (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.
Assess Your Level of Readiness
- 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.
Now that you know how much you should study, the question is how to study. And the answer is you have to make a schedule for success and peace of mind.
If you don’t have your exam prep materials yet, you can choose them right now:
The True Character
When we talk about the character of a person, we are talking about “who” they are. A person’s character tells us their values, what motivates them, and how they will respond in a given situation. While someone may be able to act in a way contradictory to their character for a short period of time, eventually their true character will reveal itself.
The UK company Brighton Rock makes candy with the name of the company embedded throughout the entire candy. Even after you have eaten the outer edge of the candy, the name of the company is still visible. Thus, this candy shows what character is – something embedded throughout a person.
What Is the Exam Character and Why is it Important?
Just as having good character is important for a person, having good exam character is very important to passing the professional certification exam. If you only have a shallow understanding of the material, you may be able to get some of the questions correct, but not enough to pass the exam. If your knowledge is deep, you will be able to think and apply the concepts that you have learned to new situations and be able to answer any question asked on the exam.
How to Develop Your Exam Character?
Like personal character, exam character does not come quickly or easily. We need to study and practice and be willing to spend time to make certain that we really understand the topics tested on the exam, and not just shortcuts to answer practice questions. Exam character does not come from shortcuts or study “secrets,” but rather it comes from your hard work and dedication to studying.
How Does HOCK Help?
In addition to helping you pass the exam, what you learn in building your exam character becomes part of you and part of your skills and knowledge that you will be able to use in your career. At HOCK, we help you build your exam character one topic at a time until you are ready to not only pass the CMA, CIA, or CPA exam, but also put your new skills to use every day long after you have achieved your certification.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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: