Time Management on Essays and Problems

Written essays or problems on exams are a source of anxiety for many exam 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 essays or problems:

  1. You know the topic very well, and don’t have time to write everything that you know.
  2. The question requires a lot of calculations or preparing a financial statement, and you need more time to finish it.

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 can write something for each question because unlike multiple-choice questions, you cannot just quickly guess on the last questions and hope to get a few correct. Earning zero points on just one problem will significantly reduce your chance of passing the exam.

The 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 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 are maybe going to get 1 or 2 extra points, but you are giving up the time that you need to earn any points on another question.

To give an example, let’s say that a question requires preparing a short balance sheet and you felt 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 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. Of course, if you have extra time after answering all of the questions, you can go back and try to balance your balance sheet.

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 and therefore also be more likely to pass the exam.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

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