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
Students frequently ask us what kind of device they should use to study, and whether a laptop, tablet, or smartphone is best. In this post, we will give a quick reference for which materials we recommend using on each type of device, and which devices work well for each type of materials. The HOCK website is optimized for all sizes of screens including smartphones. This means that you can access and use My Studies and the PassMaps on all devices.
Note: For our purposes, a tablet is a full color touchscreen device running iOS or Android with at least a 7 inch (18 cm) screen. Black and white or eReader tablets are not supported.
- Computer: A computer is ideal for using the HOCK materials. With a large screen, you can easily read the textbook, watch the videos, and answer practice questions.
- Tablet: A color tablet works well with the HOCK materials. We do recommend doing the mock exams on a computer to mimic the exam environment and get practice taking the exam on a computer.
- Smartphone: We do not recommend reading the textbook on a smartphone, but you can still watch the videos or use the practice questions on your phone. The audio files can be downloaded and played offline, so listening to the audios on your smartphone is a good way to use travel or exercise time to study. Our CMA and CIA materials include a mobile app with the MCQs that can be used offline.
By type of material:
- Textbook: The textbook is easily readable on computers and tablets. While the textbook can be viewed on a smartphone, it is tedious to read with a lot of scrolling and zooming required.
- Videos: The videos work well on any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Some slides with a lot of text may be difficult to read on smaller smartphone screens. The closed captions may also be difficult to read on a small screen.
- Practice Questions: The practice questions can be used on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The smartphone is not ideal because longer questions require scrolling or zooming, but most questions will be easy to read. Our CMA and CIA materials include a mobile app with the MCQs that can be used offline.
- Flash Cards: Our electronic flash cards are in PowerPoint format and can be viewed with any program or app that can open PowerPoint files. Some cards with more text may be harder to read on smaller screens.
A computer or tablet are both good choices to study for your exam. While all HOCK materials are usable on smartphones, we do not recommend using only a smartphone to study for an exam. However, the smartphone is a great way to supplement your studies when you are not able to use a larger device, especially by listening to the audio files.
If you have any questions about the HOCK materials or how to use them on any type of device, we will be happy to help.
Do Exam “Shortcuts” and “Cheat Sheets” Work When Studying for a Professional Exam?
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
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
Check out today’s deals on HOCK CMA, CIA, and CPA Exam Prep Materials
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
Check out today’s deals on HOCK CMA, CIA, and CPA Exam Prep Materials
In my twenty years of helping candidates pass their certification exams, I have come across many myths and misconceptions that can cause candidates to spend more time and/or more money than they need to. These myths are often perpetuated through the marketing that companies use to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Unfortunately, this marketing can be very misleading as you research the best materials to use to study.
Myth #1: More material means better material
There are not a lot of materials that you need to prepare properly; all you need is a way to learn and way to practice. Usually, this means a textbook (but can also include videos if the videos cover the entire syllabus) and practice questions from past exams. The quantity of pages, number of questions, hours of videos, etc. is not as important as whether or not that material is complete, relevant, and prepares you to pass the exams. You generally do not need multiple question banks, either, because the question banks from each provider are usually very similar, including the same previously-released exam questions.
Myth #2: More expensive material means better material
While it is usually true that “you get what you pay for,” it is true only if what you are paying for adds value for you. When a material provider pays to receive “status” from the examiner or has an affiliate agreement with another site that “recommends” them (more on this next), these are costs that are passed on to you but do not add any value. If someone “approves” or “recommends” certain materials, be certain to find out the criteria for that recommendation. Any non-quality-based recommendation adds no value to you.
Myth #3: Review comparison sites are really unbiased
For many professional exams, there are websites that claim to offer unbiased reviews of the different providers. What is not very well known is that most of these sites receive commissions from the material providers listed on them, meaning that the reviews are not objective. Usually, the company that is rated the highest is the one that pays the highest commission to the review site. On some sites this relationship is disclosed (though often not very prominently), but on many sites it is not disclosed at all.
As an example, one of the review sites for CMA materials used to list HOCK as their #1 provider with five stars. When the owner of the site asked HOCK to join an affiliate commission program but we chose not to participate, we lost 2 stars overnight and went from first place to third place in their rankings. The change had nothing to do with the materials, but rather the review site could make money recommending other providers who would pay a commission.
Besides the undisclosed financial relationship, these sites often have incorrect and/or outdated information because they write a review and then it sits online, unchanged sometimes for years. These sites also give no mechanism for the course providers to provide updated information or to respond to the reviews if there are inaccurate or incorrect statements.
You may have noticed that there are a lot of these review comparison sites for CMA, CPA, and CIA materials that do not include HOCK. This is usually because we refused to pay a commission to the person who runs the site. I am certain that we have lost business over the years because of this decision, but I also know that it has allowed us to keep our prices more affordable for you, because we do not need to include a 20% or 25% commission mark-up in our price. What you pay for HOCK materials goes to value-added activities, and not to expensive marketing relationships.
Myth #4: Pass rates are accurate and honest
Many course providers post a pass rate for candidates who use their materials. I have written about this in the past, but these pass rates mean almost nothing because there is no straightforward and consistent way to calculate them. Which candidates are included? Or excluded? How do we determine a “pass?”
For example, if a candidate buys materials from Provider X and fails, but after purchasing Provider Y materials they pass the exam, is that candidate a “pass” for Provider X, Provider Y, or both? Does Provider X still include the first failure in their pass rate? Provider X could claim a 100% pass rate for that one student because they eventually did pass, but a 50% pass rate would be more accurate and honest.
Or, if a candidate uses materials from three providers and passes on their first attempt, who claims that “pass?” One way that you can see the inaccuracy of pass rates is by looking at all of the providers who publish pass rates. Every company claims a pass rate that is significantly higher than the exam’s published pass rate by the examining body. If these claimed pass rates were true, the real pass rate for the exam would as high as the claims made by the providers.
Myth #5: You must attend a class
For many years I taught live classes, and I know that a good class can be very helpful. However, the materials that a company sells should be sufficient to pass the exam with self-study. If you are going to study in a classroom, please make certain that the class will be value-added. See this post that I wrote previously listing some questions you should ask a classroom provider (https://www.hockinternational.com/questions-live-taught-classes/).
In addition, pay attention to the number of hours in the class. Some classes (including online classes) can include a large number of hours of instruction, which may be used to “justify” a higher price. No matter how good the teacher is, however, you need to spend time yourself studying and practicing questions. Not all of your study hours need to be instructor-led and if the class goes on too long, you are not getting any value from many of those hours.
For the CMA exam, both HOCK and the ICMA recommend 150 hours of study per part, and our videos are currently only 24 hours for Part 1 and 25 hours for Part 2. I have been teaching CMA since 2000 and we use those videos as the basis for our “You Pass or We Pay Guarantee.” If I am able to teach the content that you need in 25 hours per part, you do not need to be in a classroom for 100 hours per part.
Myth #6: Personal counselors are personal and needed
Some companies offer a personal counselor or similar service. While this sounds good, we believe that personal counselors are of limited added value to your studies. There is a specific syllabus for the exam, and every candidate must learn the material on the syllabus. You are able to determine in what areas you need additional study by looking at the statistics in your practice questions. If you have 94% for a topic, you know that topic well. If you have 43% for a topic, you do not know that topic well and you need to keep studying it. Maybe the counselor helps keep you motivated because they contact you every one or two weeks, but a good study plan can also keep you keep on track.
Besides statistics, only you know how well you understand a topic, regardless of the statistics. Are you guessing on the questions a lot? Are you confident in your knowledge as you read questions and answer them? Those are indicators about your preparedness that only you know. The counselor can’t tell you what your understanding and confidence level is.
In the end, interacting with a personal counselor adds time to your study process because the time you take talking to them or trying to meet specific administrative reporting tasks is time that you could be studying and learning the material instead.
Myth #7: There are shortcuts to passing the exam
Occasionally, a company will claim to have materials that reduce the time that you need to spend studying or have a shortcut to focus on “the right topics” for the exam. While that would be nice, there are no shortcuts! There is a syllabus for the exam and you need to learn all of it. Some common shortcuts include mnemonic devices or memory tricks, which may seem like they are working when you practice with questions that you become familiar with in the practice software, but on the exam you will have questions that you have never seen before. If you have only memorized a handful of key terms or phrases, you will not be able to answer questions on the exam that are different than the practice questions.
Using such shortcuts may reduce the amount of time you spend preparing for your first attempt on the exam, but you will spend the full amount of time later when you need to prepare to take the exam again. Not only do the shortcuts not save you any time, they cost you money as well when you don’t pass on the first attempt.
I hope that it is not too late for you to avoid some of these myths and misconceptions that could make your studies more expensive or take more time than necessary. You won’t find any shortcuts or marketing gimmicks at HOCK; instead, we will prepare you effectively and efficiently to pass the exams on your first attempt with comprehensive materials and support that give you all of the tools that you need – no more, and no less.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
In this video, HOCK international President Brian Hock offers some tips for how to set up a study schedule for effective and efficient studying.
Some of the suggestions discussed in the video include:
- Set aside time when studying is the only thing you do.
- Make studying a priority in your schedule.
- Study at a time of the day when you are alert and focused.
- Use smaller blocks of time for studying rather than longer blocks.
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. Watch the video to find out the question!
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?