Pass the CPA Exam: Time Management

Question: Do you have any advice that I might otherwise have overlooked?

Joe: There are two keys to success on the CPA Exam.

The first is to invest an adequate amount of time using good quality review materials and make certain to cover all of the topics. The candidate does not need to be perfect; the candidate just needs to gain enough knowledge to pass.

The second involves the proper management of time during the exam. Candidates can have sufficient information in their head but they still have to get the questions right. It is very important to stay calm and focused. Read every question carefully to avoid making careless mistakes. Think about what the question is asking and what your note cards have listed as the most important elements of that topic. Tie the questions into what you have covered in your preparation. Always watch the time. Some candidates finish the exam too early so that they have made poor use of their allotted time. Others fail to complete the exam and leave questions blank even though they actually knew the material.

Question: Since time management is so important, how much time should a candidate spend on each question?

Joe: In the BEC exam, there are 72 multiple choice questions and 3 written communications questions. The candidate has three hours (180 minutes).

Therefore, if the candidate can average doing each of the multiple-choice questions in one minute and 50 seconds that will take up 132 minutes. That leaves 48 minutes for the three written communication questions or 16 minutes each. That’s a pretty good allocation of time. However, the candidate has to hit that average for the entire time and not slow down as time passes.

As you study, keep a watch handy and try to answer questions in that time just to get used to the proper pace. And, at least once, keep at the question answering for a solid three hours just to give yourself a feel for what the proper pace feels like. There’s no use in always studying for 45 minutes and then quitting if the exam is three hours long.

Regulation has 72 multiple-choice questions and six task-based simulations to be completed in three hours (180 minutes). A lot of the Regulation questions are simply asking for the application of rules-those questions don’t take too much time. If the candidate can average one minute and 40 seconds on the multiple-choice questions that will use up exactly two hours. Obviously, that leaves one hour for the task-based simulations or ten minutes each. Finishing a task-based simulation in ten minutes is not easy but it can certainly be accomplished (especially if you force yourself to keep moving at a quick pace throughout the test).

Finally, both Financial Accounting & Reporting and Auditing & Attestation present the candidate with 90 multiple-choice questions and 7 task-based simulations. However, the candidate has four hours for each of these two parts. If candidates can work each of the multiple-choice questions at an average of one minute and 50 seconds, they will complete them in 165 minutes. That leaves 75 minutes for the seven task-based simulations or nearly 11 minutes each.

All of this points out just how important it is to get used to working as quickly as possible. If a candidate practices like a snail, it is very difficult to run like a rabbit in the race. As candidates move through these exams, they will come across questions that are going to take much more than the average time. It is not a bad idea to skip those questions and come back to them later. However, if it is obvious that a question is going to take significantly more time than the above averages, it may be a good idea to make an educated guess and move on. Remember, you are not seeking perfection; you are looking for enough questions that you know you can answer so that you can get 75 points and pass.

Use your time wisely. Learn the material; use your notes to keep it fresh in your mind until exam time, and then manage your time well throughout the exam.

Always stay confident. If you believe in yourself, then you can do it.

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