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

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