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?
Recently a number of candidates have been contacting us because they have been having trouble staying motivated with their studies because they do not know when they will be able to take their exam. Here is a recent email that we received:
“I have been preparing to take the CIA Part 1 exam. However, due to the current coronavirus situation and the delay that it has caused, I have lost some motivation to study. Given the current situation, I would like to know what I can do to stay motivated when I do not know when I will be able to take the exam.”
Watch the video to see what Brian Hock is recommending to do.
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We have written several exam tips about creating a study schedule and the importance of following your schedule, both in terms of studying when you’re supposed to and also knowing that there are times when it is OK not to be studying. No matter how good your plan is and how dedicated you are to your studies, every once in a while there will be a day or event that requires an exception to your study schedule. Here are some examples:
- After months of cold weather, it is finally a beautiful Spring day and your friends are all going to the concert in the park.
- Your new smartphone that you ordered has arrived and you want to get it set up and try all the new features.
- One of your family members just had a baby and everyone in your family is going to visit.
- Your favorite movie series just came out with a new movie.
On days like these, don’t waste your time trying to study when you know studying won’t be effective. Instead, spend a short amount of time doing practice questions or flash cards, find a time in the next couple of days to make up the time, and then go enjoy yourself. You will be much happier and your studies will be a lot more productive.
Of course, every day should not be an exception, but when you’re studying for several months there will be a few times when you adjustments are necessary. Enjoy your special event and then come back to your studies the next day when you can be focused on learning instead of wishing you were somewhere else.
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.
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
The Theory of Constraints addresses the issue that, in any process, there is a step that has a lower capacity than the others. No matter how many units are produced in the other steps, the process is always limited by the step with the lowest capacity. Therefore, when planning a process it is important to make certain that the slowest step will be able to produce quickly enough to meet the production schedule.
I can also apply this concept to my classes. Every class will have one student who is the weakest. As the teacher, I need to identify and work individually with that student, after which there will then be a different weakest student. I need to keep identifying the weakest students and working with them until the weakest student in the class is going to pass the exam. If the weakest student will pass the exam, then the group pass rate will be 100%, which is always my goal.
This same idea can also be applied to preparing for an exam outside of a class. When you are studying, you need to work so that you know 70% of your weakest topic. If there is a topic you don’t know at least 70% of, go back and study it again, until there is another weakest topic. Then study that topic. When you know at least 70% of every topic, and some topics at 80% or more, you are ready to pass your exam.
Remember that you do not need to know everything about every topic that is covered on the exam; knowing everything is simply unrealistic. But, what you need to do is make certain that your understanding of your weaker topics is enough to allow you to pass. Furthermore, it is not possible for every topic on the syllabus to be tested. This means that you can occasionally take a small topic and just accept that you will not know it. Of course, you can’t say that about 25% of the exam topics and still expect to pass.
When you have a topic that is difficult for you, try to identify the main and/or basic elements of that topic. Looking at the past exam questions will help you see what has been tested in the past. Make certain that you are able to get the basic questions correct, even if some of the advanced elements are unclear to you.
For exams that have essays or problems on them, it is critical that you know at least enough to get some points on each problem. You never want to get a 0 on an essay or problem, even if it is only 5% of the exam. Every point counts, so even getting a couple of points out of five on one problem could be the difference between passing and failing the exam. Even for complicated topics, you can usually get partial credit for showing a basic understanding of the concepts or process being tested.
If you have used a similar method in your studies, please feel free share your strategies in the comments. I hope that you will be able to use the Theory of Constraints and similar strategies to help you prepare to pass your exams!
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
“Something needs to change, but what?” Does that sound familiar? Especially about your job? I have a friend who is in this situation right now. She works for a big company, has a good position, a nice salary, reasonable co-workers, and the office is close to home – everything seems to be perfect, except for one thing: She hates her job!
The problem is that she hates her job, and she doesn’t know what she should do to fix it. She could:
- Stay in the same company and move to a different position.
- Stay in the same position and move to a different company or a different location.
- Change her career field and start something completely different, perhaps her own business.
As you can imagine, each answer has its own risks. What if she makes less money? What if she has to work more hours and has less time with her family? What if she has to move and doesn’t like the new location? What if she makes the change and still doesn’t like her new job?
There are A LOT of questions that she needs to answer! Luckily, there is a process with only a few steps that makes it much easier to answer such questions and greatly increase the chances that the answers will be the right ones for you. However, even though the steps are simple, they are neither fast nor easy to go through. If you put in the time to complete the process, you will be surprised how easy it will be to make decisions (both personal and professional). The steps are:
Step 1. Establish your values. Values are the things that have the most meaning for you in life. Things that you cannot live without, and things that make you happy. Start by writing a list of everything that comes to mind, but then narrow it down to three. Be honest with yourself.
Examples of values: health, family, friends, education, career, financial stability, freedom, time, development, travel, home …
Step 2. Prioritize your values. After you identify your three most important values, you may feel like all three of them are equally important to you. However, it is critical to determine which value is the most important to you, which is second, and which is third.
Step 3. Identify the character traits that you value. What are the character traits that you appreciate in people and want to develop in yourself? Make a list and choose 4-7 main character traits that are the most important for you. The traits that will describe you as a person or a person who you want to be. Even if you have not developed these traits in yourself as much as you would like to, you know that you would like to have these traits.
Examples: honestly, kindness, accountability, mindfulness, leadership, confidence, hard-working, humbleness, loyalty, unselfishness, bravery, empathy…
Step 4. Describe the reason for and give examples of each value and character trait. Why is each value or trait important for you? What do they mean for you? A lot of people understand the same words differently. When we write things down, it helps us better understand our own values, priorities, and character traits. Be specific, write examples, names, and actions. Make sure that you put your heart and mind into each word.
- If one of your values is health, write what being healthy means to you (both physically and emotionally). Write what you will do to stay healthy and live out this value every day.
- If one of your values is family, write the names of the people who are part of your family and how you are going to value your time with them.
- If one of your values is financial stability, write what level of income helps you feel financially stable.
Steps 1 and 2 are the answers to the WHAT questions in your life. Steps 3 and 4 are the answers to the HOW questions in your life.
After my friend did this exercise and determined what was important to her, she knew what she wanted to do. She decided to stay in the company, get a professional certification, and work towards a top management position. She will be doing it with respect, dedication, and curiosity. Interestingly enough, by going through this process with respect to her career, she also made some important decisions in her personal life. Whether or not she should move to a different state, what arguments to have and not have with her spouse, and even whether or not they want to have a child now. By establishing her values and priorities, she knows what she needs to do to achieve those things.
So, what are YOUR values, priorities, and character traits? Follow these simple steps to figure them out and you will be able to more easily answers the questions you face. It is THAT simple, even if it is not always easy.
1. Not looking at sample materials before making a purchase
We talk, email, and chat with a lot of exam candidates, and too often we hear from students who spent a lot of money – sometimes over $1,000 – on a competitor’s course only to find out that the materials are not easy to understand, not complete, or don’t come with teacher support. Fortunately, there is a very easy solution to this problem: thoroughly review the sample materials that each provider offers on their web site. Don’t just sign up and flip through the book, but sit down and read a section of the textbook, answer practice questions, and watch some of the videos as if you had purchased the materials and are using them to prepare. Ask the provider some questions, and evaluate if the answers are prompt, complete, and professional.
What should you do if a provider does not provide free samples? If a provider does not want you to see their materials, I would assume that it is because they know that they are not very good, and therefore you should not consider that provider. Here at HOCK, we are proud of our materials and want candidates look at them before buying because we are confident in the quality of our materials.
2. Overestimating what they already know
While relevant work experience and education are very helpful for passing the exam, many candidates assume that the questions on the exam should be answered the same way that they would be at work. This is not always the case, however, because usually the exams have to simplify the real world in order to make questions that can be solved in the time frame allowed by the exam. In the real world, almost every decision must consider quantitative and qualitative factors and everyone will assess those factors differently. On the exam, there is a correct way to make a calculation and a correct decision. Candidates with a lot of real-world experience still need to answer the past exam questions to understand how it is that the exam asks the questions and what the examiners consider to be the correct answers.
3. Underestimating the value of practice questions
Answering practice questions is critical to preparing to pass an exam, for a number of reasons:
- “Practice makes perfect.” While the goal is not perfection, practicing the questions will absolutely increase your understanding and therefore your exam score.
- You learn how the examiners have asked questions in the past.
- There is a learning curve in the amount of time that it takes to read and answer a question. For candidates who are concerned about running out of time (which is most candidates) taking the exam, you need to go through this learning curve months before the exam, not during the exam.
- You do learn from your mistakes. Learning from missed practice questions should not be your primary learning tool, but making mistakes can reinforce concepts and also show common mistakes and pitfalls. Again, it is best to learn these lessons while practicing and not on the real exam.
4. Underestimating the benefit of asking questions
If there is something that you do not understand after reading the textbook, answering the practice questions, and making a reasonable effort on your own, there are three things that you can do with that topic:
- Research the topic and teach it to yourself.
- Hope that you will not be asked about that topic on the exam (a risky strategy).
- Ask your provider for help.
Not only is it more effective to ask an exam expert, it is also the most efficient use of your time. Most likely your provider will be able to answer the question quickly, or let you know that the question you are asking is outside the scope of the exam. In either case, you have received an answer without spending a lot of your time trying to do the job of your provider, or perhaps trying to learn something that is not on the exam.
5. Starting too late to prepare
One of the most common questions that exam candidates ask us is “How many hours should I study?” Your material provider should give you a suggested number of hours. Of course, this is only a starting point and depending on your background, you may need to adjust the number of hours.
Let’s say that the recommended number of study hours is 100. On one hand, this is a simple math question: if you need to study 100 hours and you plan to study 5 hours a day, you theoretically will be ready in 20 days, or three weeks. On the other hand, there is a limit as to how many hours you can effectively study in a day or week on a long-term basis. Even if you can study all of the hours in a short period of time, some topics require additional time to “sink in” beyond just the hours you spend studying. So, not only is a certain number of hours required, but there is also a minimum amount of time for understanding.
Overall, most people have in mind 3-4 months to prepare for an individual exam, and that is a good rule of thumb to use. Yes, some people can prepare for an exam in 1-2 months, but for the vast majority of people, 3-4 months is a good amount of time to be able to prepare comfortably and pass confidently. You cannot cram 3 months of learning into 2 weeks, no matter how many hours you study per day.
In this video, HOCK international President Brian Hock offers some tips for how to study segregation of duties, a usually very difficult topic for CMA, CPA, and CIA exam candidates to master.
In this video, HOCK international President Brian Hock offers tips about how you can maximize your study time with distraction-free studying. Fewer distractions = more learning and more learning = passing your exams!
Some of the suggestions discussed in the video include:
- Have all of your materials ready when you start studying.
- Turn off all of your notifications (phone, email, etc.).
- Wear earplugs or play soft music.
- Try studying somewhere other than home or office (try the library!).
- Try different study times (maybe an early morning or later at night).