Four Steps for Making a Decision

Four Steps for Making a Decision
“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.

5 Common Mistakes that Exam Candidates Make

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:

  1. “Practice makes perfect.” While the goal is not perfection, practicing the questions will absolutely increase your understanding and therefore your exam score.
  2. You learn how the examiners have asked questions in the past.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Research the topic and teach it to yourself.
  2. Hope that you will not be asked about that topic on the exam (a risky strategy).
  3. 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.

Study Tips: Maximize Your Study Time with Distraction-Free Studying (Video)

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).

Learn more about the HOCK study materials for the CMA, CPA, and CIA exams and see how HOCK can help you prepare to pass your exams on your first attempt.

I’m waiting for my exam result – should I start with the other Part(s)?

After taking an exam, students frequently ask if they should start studying for the next part right away, or if they need to wait for their results first. If you feel that you did well on the exam, I suggest that you should start studying the next part, and here’s why:

  • Even if you do not pass, you will not have a lot to re-study, so you would be able to re-study while you continue studying for the next Part.
  • Once you have studied for an exam, you are the habit of studying. If you take more than a week or two off, it will be harder to start studying again later than if you just continue studying without a long gap.
  • You will need to take all of the Parts eventually, so there is nothing to gain by waiting.

If you leave the exam knowing that you failed or did poorly, then I recommend you take a short break (no longer than a week) and start preparing to re-take that same Part, and then you should retake that same Part as soon as possible.

During your break, you should also think about your study materials and try to determine if your study materials contributed to your poor results. If there were questions on the exam that you did not think that the material covered, or covered poorly, then you might want to consider looking into other study materials for your second attempt.

If you determine that you need some additional materials, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Most of the question banks are going to be very similar among all of the providers because all providers should be using the same previously released exam questions as the basis for their question bank. Therefore, you normally should not purchase a second question bank.
  • If you have a textbook from one company, it might be a better investment to purchase videos from another company instead of a second textbook. If the videos cover the entire syllabus (like the HOCK Videos do), the Videos will not only provide a different approach to some of the topics but also provide a different style of learning, which may be useful.
  • If you decide to purchase HOCK materials as additional materials, be certain to take advantage of our “Switch to Hock” Discount. We know materials are expensive and want to help you when you are purchasing a second set of materials.

The time period after you take the exam and before you get your results is a period of anxiety. But, you can use this time wisely by preparing to either take the next exam or prepare to retake the exam that you just took. Whether it is the same exam or the next exam, we are confident that HOCK can help you pass the exam. Learn more about our CMA, CIA, and CPA exam materials and start studying today!

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

Three Reasons Why You Should Take Professional Exams While at University

When we talk about professional certification exams, we generally think of people with jobs taking the exams to advance their career and increase their earnings potential. However, if you are a university student in accounting or finance, you should seriously consider taking a relevant certification exam while you are still a student.

If you would like to be an internal auditor, you should take the Certified Internal Auditor Exams (3 exams). If you would like to work in management accounting or finance, you should take the Certified Management Accountant Exams (2 exams). If you would like to go into auditing, you should take CPA or ACCA (or other similar certification), depending on the required certification for auditors where you live.

No matter which exams you take, there are three reasons that you should start your Certification while you are still at university:

  1. You save money. Registering for the exams is cheaper if you do so as a student. For example, the costs of taking the 2 CMA Exams as a professional is $1,325, but the cost of taking them as a student is only $849. Additionally, some of the certifications have scholarships for students that make the registration for the exams free. You should contact the local Chapter of the organization that gives the certificate and ask if there are any student scholarships available for you.
  2. It is easier to study. While you are a student, you probably have studied many of the topics on the exams in your classes. This means that your studying for the exams is more of a review of these topics, and you can prepare more quickly while everything is fresh in your mind.
  3. It will help you get a job. It is a very competitive market for graduates in accounting and finance, and anything that you can do to differentiate yourself will help you get a better job and/or the job that you really want. By taking the exams (even if you have not passed them all yet) you are showing a prospective employer that you are serious about your profession and that you are also making a positive distinction between yourself and everyone else who graduated but did not take any exams.

We welcome any students (or professionals) with questions to contact us and we will be glad to discuss certifications and how to prepare to pass the exams. The sooner you start your professional exams, the sooner you will benefit from them.

If you are a university student, send us a copy of your unexpired student ID at to get the 35% discount.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA


CMA Exam Time Management on Essays and Problems

CMA Exam Time Management on Essays and Problems

The written essays and problems on the CMA Exams are a source of anxiety for many 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 the essays or problems:

  1. You know the topic of the question very well, and don’t have time to write everything that you know.
  2. The question requires a lot of calculations (for example,  preparing a financial statement), and you need more time to finish it and make your answer perfect.

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 do write something for each question. It is critical that you have some time for each part of each question because, unlike multiple-choice questions, you cannot just quickly guess on the last essay or problem and hope to get it correct. Earning zero points on just a couple of tasks will significantly reduce your chance of passing the exam.

Your 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 in points 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 may get an extra 1 or 2 points, but with that extra time, you could have earned 8-10 points by answering the next question and getting the easy points in that essay or problem.

To give an example, let’s say that a question requires preparing a short balance sheet and you are 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 with the work that you did 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.  Since you have a limited amount of time, you need to be make certain that you get the maximum number of points for each minute that you have available.

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, which will lead to your passing your CMA Exam.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

The 4 Post-it Notes Strategy or How to Find Focus and Motivation for Studying


The first thing you usually hear about focused work and studying is “your environment.” However, have any of these ever happened to you:

  • You are in a quiet room with no distractions, and
  • You turn on the background music that is supposed to help you focus, and
  • You turn off your email notifications and set your phone in silent mode, and
  • Your desk is perfectly clean and organized, and 
  • You have materials to study, a brand-new notebook, and a study plan, and
  • You are ready to start studying, but…

… you simply can’t focus. You can’t motivate yourself. You can’t get deep into it. Your brain is jumping from one thought to another. You understand why you are studying. You know that now is the time to start reading the book. But, you simply can’t. All of a sudden, you feel an urge to read an email, to go to the bathroom, to check on your kids, to add an item to your to-do list before you forgot it, to get a glass of water, etc.

Does this sound familiar? Most likely, yes! Everyone has been through this, but the good news is that there is a simple strategy that will help you. It is called the 4 Post-it Notes Strategy.

Here is how it works:

1. The first note is your goal. For example, if your goal is to become certified, write your name with the certification letters after it.

 Example: Sophie Herbert, CMA

2. The second note is your why. Remember what Brian Hock, says: “If you can answer why are you studying, then you are ready to pass your exams, and you will pass your exams.”

Example: I want to become a CMA because I want to make more money and buy my own home.

3. The third note is a “10 minutes” reminder. Brian also says: “The hardest 10 minutes of each study session are the first 10. So, all you need to do to study 1-2 hours is to make yourself study for the first 10 minutes.” Remember, 10 minutes of deep, uninterrupted work is all you need to set yourself up for success. 

Example: The hardest 10 minutes are the first 10 minutes. I can do it!

4. The fourth note is the plan for this study session. You have to write what you are going to study very specifically. When you are writing this note, make a firm decision that you are not going to interrupt or stop your study session until you are finished studying what is on this note. If you finish this topic and would like to study more, you can add another Post-it.

Example: CMA Part 1, Section E. Topic: Internal Control. Pages: 177-201.

This strategy sets you up for success: you are reminding yourself why you are studying, you are visualizing the results, you are making it doable because you need to start with only 10 minutes (and everybody can do anything for 10 minutes!), and you are writing a specific plan. Make the “4 Post-it Notes Strategy” your study ritual. Even if the first three notes do not change, don’t keep them on your desk all of the time. Take them down after you have finished studying and make new ones when you are ready for the next study session. It is an important mental strategy and study ritual that will help you study successfully and pass your exams with confidence!



You may also like: Taking a Step Back to Pass the Exams

Exam Tip: I purchased exam prep materials, now what?

Making the decision to purchase exam prep materials is the first step in preparing to pass the exam. Once you have purchased your materials, what should you do first? For the purposes of this exam tip I am going to assume that you purchased HOCK Complete materials, but the same general ideas apply to any materials.

In the first week, you should familiarize yourself with the materials, in a sense an installation and fact-finding week. I suggest that you do the following, though it doesn’t have to be in this order:

  1. Read the different study tips that we have written at: These tips and ideas will help you understand what you will be doing and how you will do it.
  2. Download the textbook, and page through the textbook to familiarize yourself with the topics and layout. Read a couple of pages in a few topics that interest you and look at some of the examples.
  3. Look at the videos that are available, and watch the first video. Then, watch part of a few videos from different topics to get a sense of the style and content of the videos.
  4. Access the question bank, and do a few practice questions. It does not matter now if you understand what the question is asking. Spend some time experimenting with the interface and learning how the questions are organized.
  5. Download the flash cards, and familiarize yourself with how the flash cards work in PowerPoint. The flash cards are an excellent review tool.

Once you have your schedule and have studied for a couple of weeks, you should stop and evaluate your studying. Are you staying on track with your study plan? Has it been working like you thought it would? Are your blocks of study time too long or too short? Are you trying to study too much each week?

Remember that the study process for any professional exam is a marathon, not a sprint. It does not matter how fast you start studying, but rather that you study fully and completely so that you pass the exam. Having and following a study plan will ensure that you are successful in passing on your first attempt, which is why you purchased materials in the first place!

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA