Taking the CPA Exam: How to Become a Better Test Taker

As a CPA candidate, you know that taking the CPA Exam requires you to learn about the exam and study its content. These actions will prepare you at a basic level, but you can gain an extra advantage over the exam by improving your test-taking abilities as well. After all, the CPA Exam is a test, so becoming a better test-taker will help you pass it.

Tips for Taking the CPA Exam Well

Waiting until you’re already taking the CPA Exam to apply a good test-taking strategy is ultimately ineffective because you can’t become a better test-taker instantaneously. Your inexperience will outweigh your good intentions, and your mid-exam modifications will simply distract and inhibit you. Transforming into a better test-taker requires advanced preparation, so follow these tips to refine your test-taking skills before you sit for and while you are taking the CPA Exam.

How to Become a Better Task-Taker Before You Sit

  • Expect a Challenge

    The CPA Exam is quite unlike any exam you took in college. Each section lasts for four hours, covers a vast array of accounting topics, and employs unique question types to assess your knowledge and skills at varying levels. The 2017 CPA Exam pass rates prove that many candidates confront the CPA Exam unsuccessfully, but if you brace yourself with a realistic perspective on the exam’s difficulty, you don’t have to be one of them. Learning more about the structure of the CPA Exam will help you understand just how much of a beast the exam really is, but knowing that millions of candidates have passed with Gleim will help you remember that the exam is also a conquerable beast. If you keep the threat level in mind before you sit for the exam, you’ll be better prepared.

  • Focus on Your Weak Areas

    As mentioned, the exam covers a lot of information about accounting, and because you’re a human being, you probably can’t and don’t have to recall everything you’ve ever learned about accounting on a daily basis. There may be a topic (or two or three) that is now a little fuzzy in your memory or that you honestly don’t remember at all. Before you let the CPA Exam tell you what these weak areas are, discover them for yourself during your review. Read through the CPA Exam blueprints and mark the sections you suspect will give you trouble. Answer a bunch of practice questions and analyze your results to detect any content themes in the questions you miss. Better yet, study with a CPA review course that gets rid of the guesswork by pinpointing your weak areas for you and creating a customized study plan that addresses them. When you know your weak areas beforehand, you cannot only strengthen them, you can master them and have much less to worry about on exam day.

  • Learn from Your Mistakes

    In order to eliminate your weak areas, you need to know why you are misunderstanding certain concepts. You’ll reach CPA Exam success faster by using trial and error to locate the places in which your thinking has been misdirected and get it back on course. The process of learning from your mistakes involves answering questions, surveying your performance, and reading answer explanations that clearly communicate why the right answers were right and the wrong answers were wrong. Avoidable actions that may cause you to miss a question include

          • Misreading the question stem
          • Failing to understand the requirements
          • Making a mathematical error
          • Lacking any knowledge of the topic
          • Applying the wrong rule or concept
          • Being distracted by wrong answer options
          • Incorrectly eliminating answer options
          • Employing bad intuition when guessing

    The memorable experience of getting the questions wrong will force you to deepen your comprehension and retention, and the effort of self-scrutiny will enhance the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities on which the CPA Exam will test you. It’s much better to determine why you missed a question when you’re studying than after you’ve sat for the exam.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

    When it comes to taking the CPA Exam, practice really does make perfect. To make the mental operations of the exam automatic, study consistently and study well. Take several 20-question practice quizzes every day until your exam, and employ the CPA Exam time management system you’ll use when you sit so you can complete each MCQ question in 1.25 minutes or less. When you answer practice questions, recreate exam conditions by tuning out distractions, paying attention to time, and following the appropriate strategy for each question type, whether it be multiple-choice questions (MCQs), Task-Based Simulations (TBSs), or Written Communications (WCs). When completing practice TBSs, read through the resources available rather than turning to your notes, and always self-grade your responses to practice WCs. The skills of a good test-taker will come naturally when you develop them before you take the test, so train yourself to do your best on the test by building and maintaining these good testing habits while you study.

  • Get Some Experience

    Don’t you think that seeing the actual CPA Exam before you sit for it would help you feel much more comfortable on exam day? It is totally possible to gain experience with the process of taking the CPA Exam prior to your testing appointment. You can do so by working through the AICPA sample tests and by studying with exam-emulating CPA review. The AICPA sample tests lead you through the exam introductory screens and allow you to answer a few questions for each exam section. The sample tests track your time just as the actual exam would, and they also allow you to revisit your answers in each testlet to see how you did. An exam-emulating CPA Review course like Gleim CPA Review does all this and more. Not only do the practice questions of Gleim CPA Review imitate the format and functionality of the CPA Exam questions better than any other course on the market, but our course also includes a full-length Exam Rehearsal that simulates the real exam environment in every feasible way. By using these resources to get to know the exam so well in advance, you’ll feel completely at home with the CPA Exam when you finally take it.

  • Confront Your Feelings

    After all the studying and reviewing, one additional action you can carry out to become a better test-taker is facing your feelings. In the day or so before your testing appointment, give yourself ten minutes to write out everything you are thinking about the exam. Use this exercise to empty your mind of all your exam-related emotions so that you can free up your working memory. By confronting any anxiety, fear, or stress, you can ground yourself in the fact that you have been studying for weeks and are well-prepared for this test.

How to Become a Better Test-Taker While You Sit

  • Take a Deep BreathNo matter what you see in the first question or how many butterflies are beating against your stomach, just breathe deeply. Let the oxygen fill your body and soothe your nerves so you can feel relaxed and stay focused. Taking long, deep breaths while intentionally focusing on inhaling and exhaling will help you release tension and absorb composure.
  • View Your Stress Differently As you enter the Prometric testing center, you might begin to experience particular physical sensations like a racing heart, sweaty palms, or slight trembling. These cues from your body communicate that you’re encountering stress, and they’re perfectly normal. However, how you handle these signs of stress can influence how well you take the CPA Exam. If you view these symptoms as negative and allow them to raise your fear and apprehension, you’ll consequently diminish your self-confidence and your potential for a passing exam performance. If you put a more positive spin on your feelings by interpreting them as excitement and exhilaration, your optimism will empower you to stay hopeful and test successfully.
  • Do Your BestThe CPA Exam may be the most important test you’ll ever take, so committing to do your best on it is one of the most beneficial decisions you can make. When you resolve to stay focused throughout the entire test, you’ll be able to finish faster. When you refuse to second-guess yourself or doubt your abilities, you can maintain your courage. No matter what sorts of surprises present themselves on exam day, they don’t have to control you. Simply push aside any frustration or discouragement and give it your all.
  • Budget Your TimeYou have a limited amount of time to finish each section of the CPA Exam, so managing your time well is critical to your success. As soon as you begin an exam section, use the note board provided to jot down your time system for that section. Based on the number and type of questions in each section, you should average 1.25 minutes per CPA Exam multiple-choice question, 18 minutes per Task-Based Simulation, and 25 minutes per BEC Written Communication (20 minutes to answer, 5 minutes to review and perfect your response). To help you stick to these times, write down the time the clock should say when you start each testlet. If you use the shorthand hours:minutes, you’ll know when the time on the clock matches the amount you budgeted with your system.
  • Read the Question CarefullyWhen you come to each new question, read through the entire question stem carefully to determine the precise requirements for the answer. By homing in on what the question wants, you can ignore extraneous information, concentrate on relevant facts, and proceed directly to determining the best answer. Watch out for words such as “not”, “never”, “always”, “most likely”, and “least likely”, etc, as they can make the question more difficult to answer.
  • Review Your ResourcesWhen you come to a new TBS, explore all of the documents provided by reading the information tabs quickly and previewing their content if necessary. Becoming familiar with what is available to you will help you know where to go once you figure out what you’re looking for.
  • Brainstorm about the Best AnswerAfter you finish reading the question stem, stop yourself from looking at the answer choices so you can try to come up with the best answer on your own. Theorizing the best answer before seeing the answer choices prevents you from being bewildered or deceived by your options. You should apply this trick to MCQs and Document Review Simulations (DRS). Upon reading the instructions for a WC, spend a few minutes outlining your response so you can address every component of the question and ensure that your answer is clear and organized.
  • Consider Your Options CarefullyOnce you’ve speculated about the best answer, read the answer choices with a critical eye. If you’re in an MCQ testlet, the answer choices will be readily apparent, but in a TBS testlet, you’ll have to assemble the answer choices yourself by reviewing the included documents. As you’re inspecting your options, pay attention to the small details in each so that you don’t miss anything or end up confused. Each choice requires consideration because you need to find the best answer provided. Therefore, even if an answer choice seems to be correct, keep reading and don’t skip the remaining answer choices. As you analyze each option, treat it like a true/false question so you can easily determine its validity.
  • Choose the Best Answer AvailableYour anticipation of the correct answer and your thorough investigation into the answer choices and/or the provided documents should enable you to see which answer is best. However, if more than one plausible answer choice is present, you can ponder more deeply what the question is looking for and why it is being asked in order to narrow down your options.
  • Mark Questions and Move OnIf you’ve spent almost all of your allotted time on a question and still aren’t convinced by any of the answer choices, you should mark the question and move on to the next so that you can stay on schedule. Temporarily leaving a question behind so you can try again on the next one enables you to overcome test anxiety and renew your confidence as you come to questions you can answer more readily. If you follow your time management system as you work through the testlet, you’ll have enough time remaining to return to your marked questions and select an answer for each.
  • Make an Educated GuessAs the AICPA only considers correct responses and does not penalize candidates for incorrect responses, you should answer every question to maximize your scoring potential. With the MCQs, you have a 25% chance of answering correctly if you guess blindly, but you can improve your odds by making an educated guess. Either before or after you mark a tricky question, give educated guessing a go so you can select a response. Start by eliminating the answer choices that you are pretty sure are incorrect. You should be able to eliminate two answer choices with minimal effort and thereby increase your chances to 50/50. Then, try once again to infer the AICPA’s expectations or the rationale behind the question. Finally, choose what you believe is the best answer or guess between equally appealing answers. Your first guess is usually the most intuitive and therefore, most likely correct, so try not to change your answer unless you made an obvious mistake or a computational error.
  • Answer Every Question in TimeDo not skip any of the questions in a testlet. Even if you’re unsure of the answer, you should make an educated guess. Click the flag icon next to the question number so you can set a reminder to come back and confirm your answer if you have time. Again, there is no penalty for incorrect answers, so do your best to respond to every question.
  • Review Your ResponsesWisely use any time you have remaining so you can maximize your CPA Exam score. When you’re in a TBS testlet, ask yourself where you can earn the most points and then move from task to task systematically, reviewing and completing each one. Focus specifically on the questions you have flagged. As you’re finishing a WC testlet, edit your responses to insure that they meet the writing criteria of the AICPA and that you have effectively communicated your thoughts.

Taking the CPA Exam with Exam-Emulating CPA Review

Becoming a better test-taker gives you a major edge on the CPA Exam, and studying with an exam-emulating CPA review course takes the edge off the task of becoming a better test-taker. By programming our course to replicate the Prometric testing environment in every possible way, Gleim CPA Review achieves the unmatched exam emulation you need to feel calm, cool, and collected on exam day. When you choose Gleim CPA Review, you can prepare under extremely realistic exam conditions and feel supremely confident when you sit for the exam. See just how well our course mirrors the CPA Exam by accessing our free CPA demo today.