Andrew Knapman Opinion Students

Five winning mental strategies for writing CPA PEP exams

You’re in the CPA examination room. How should you approach your PEP exam to ensure your success?

Author: Andrew Knapman

VANCOUVER, May 3, 2018 – So you’re in the examination room, taking an exam in the chartered professional accountant professional education program (CPA PEP). Congratulations on making it this far in your journey to becoming a Canadian accountant. If you’ve been following my blog posts, you already know that, just like you, I’m working my way through the program and I’m doing well.

I assume you followed my advice, got plenty of rest the night before, and began your day with a proper breakfast. You’ve brought some energy snacks to the room. Now you’re ready to go. So here are five winning strategies for when you’re actually in the room, writing your CPA PEP exam.

1.  Follow the CPA way.

I’ve stressed this strategy before and it’s extra-important come exam time. You must follow the CPA way in every exam you take because that is your roadmap to success. To summarize, this means beginning every case by discussing the issue in detail, stating relevant Handbook rules (if any), performing an in-depth analysis, and providing a recommendation based on your findings.

Now is not the time to get creative and follow your own path. Follow the CPA way with sound logic and you’ll be fine.

2.  Take your time when reading and planning.

Some of the cases in CPA PEP exams can be painstakingly long. I’m talking 10-20 pages of reading. A general rule of thumb is to spend 20-25 per cent of your time reading, digesting and planning your response. If the question is a 90-minute case, dedicate 20 minutes to reading. Many people dive right into writing without really understanding where they are going, only to waste time when they realize they approached the case wrong.

CPA PEP heavily focuses on how to prepare an effective plan when writing exams and, to an extent, it is very useful. For someone like me, though, who reads slowly, I wouldn’t have time to prepare an in-depth plan like they recommend. For me, spending most of my planning-time reading and a few minutes outlining a plan has been an effective approach to a case.

3.  Be consistent.

Remember, CPA exams are about being consistent across the board, so the more boxes you tick, the better. You won’t pass the exam if you answer half the questions brilliantly and leave the rest. But I guarantee that, if you answer everything equally, or on average, you will pass comfortably, if not with distinction.

I’ve seen plenty of smart people fail their exams and not because they don’t know their stuff. If you don’t know something, move on and tick another box where you do know the answer.

4.  Take breaks but keep them short.

In all reality you don’t have time to take breaks in any CPA exam. The most time I’ve had left at the end has been five minutes. Any break will eat into your quality of answer. That said, breaks are important to clear the mind when moving onto a new subject.

I like to take power breaks where I take a few deep breaths, maybe have a sip of juice and a quick snack, and then power forward again. These might only last 30 seconds but they’re very useful for composing yourself before the mania continues.

5.  Don’t fret about getting it right.

The great thing about CPA exams is you can get an answer completely wrong and still pass. As long as you follow the CPA way, by using the correct analytical tools and methods, and knowing the right approach to getting to an answer, actually getting the answer correct is largely irrelevant.

Just look at the case feedback you get throughout the course. Nowhere are you ever marked on whether or not you got the correct answer. In that regard, don’t waste time trying to be 100 per cent accurate and certainly don’t worry if your answer is correct. Make a valid recommendation based on your findings and move on.

In my next blog post, I’m going to finish this series on CPA exams with five practical tips for when you’re writing CPA exams. These tips will help you navigate through the exam itself when you’re sitting in the examination room.

Andrew Knapman lives in Vancouver, B.C. and is a student in the CPA Professional Education Program through CPA BC. The views expressed in this guest blog are his own. Connect with Andrew through his LinkedIn profile and follow him on his journey to becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant through future blog postings on Canadian Accountant. 

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