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.
1. 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.
2. 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 (under the 2018 syllabus) 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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: 1) 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 ansnwered; 2) The result on your mock exam(s) – ideally you will be at least 5% above the passing score for your exam; 3) 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 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
PS You can also read my Q&A with some personal/career questions if you missed it earlier this week.