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CPA Exam Strategies (13:28)

Multiple Choice Question Strategy and Tactics

Multiple Choice Question Strategy and Tactics

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.  Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.” Sun Tzu

Some of these are tactics you can use on the multiple choice questions and some of these are meant to dispel some of the bad advice that is out there.  The foundation of your MCQ strategy should be knowing the material well. 

Presuming you are well-prepared heading into the exam, the tactics below will help you get through the entire exam without running out of time and maximize your chances of getting the largest number of questions right.

How To Read The Questions

  • Start by reading the last sentence, then go back and read the facts.

This will focus you on the question they want you to answer, help you pinpoint the relevant facts and eliminate those put in just to distract you. 

Without doing this, you will likely end up reading each question multiple times which is inefficient, distracting, and a waste of precious exam time. 

Practice reading questions this way while you are using your study software or textbooks to make this habit second-nature.

Answering The Questions

  • Try to come up with the answer before looking at the options.

If the answer you came up with is there, it is likely the correct one.

  • Look for options you can eliminate.

For example, in deferred taxes, we know that current deferred tax assets get netted together with current deferred tax liabilities to report a net current deferred tax asset or liability.  We also net together noncurrent deferred tax assets and liabilities. 

If the facts of the question give you a current DTA and a noncurrent DTL, you know right away you can eliminate answers that tell you to net those two together. 

On governmental accounting questions, they like to throw in potential answers from not-for-profit accounting, so if you can distinguish between those two and eliminate the NFP options, you give yourself a better chance of getting the answer right.

  • Look for options that contradict each other and choose one as your answer.

If you are unsure of the answer and option (B) says, “The difference between the fair value of plan assets less the accumulated benefit obligation” and option (D) says, “The difference between the fair value of plan assets less the projected benefit obligation,” one of them is likely to be correct.

  • Answer all MCQ.

Your exam score is based on the questions you get right.  You do not give yourself chance to get it right if you do not answer all the questions.  If you truly have no clue what the right answer is, guess and move on (see below).

  • Do not rely on so called “guessing strategies.”

A true guess is a last resort if none of the other tactics work.  Do not be lulled into a false sense of security on the method you use to guess based on what you may have heard elsewhere or used in college. 

The CPA exam is specifically designed to catch people guessing.  Things like guessing (B) or (C), looking for similar answers among the options and choosing one, choosing the longest answer, and looking for grammar clues in the question may be better than guessing cold, but are not tactics you can rely on.

  • Answer all questions the first time through.

Do not leave answers blank to come back later.  It makes it easy to forget the questions you skipped.  If you come across another question on the same topic in the same testlet that gives you a clue to the question you guessed on, then you can go back and change your answer to the original question.  Note that once you move on to the next testlet, you cannot go back to a previous testlet.

Time Per MCQ

  • Save enough time for your simulations.

Most people feel they need 10-15 minutes per simulation.  For AUD and FAR, this means you should take about 1 ½ minutes per MCQ to stay on track for your sims.  If you are taking longer than 2 minutes and are not making progress toward finding the answer, you need to guess and move on.  See the tactics below for more on this.

  • Keep track of your time at the end of each testlet.

For FAR and AUD, each testlet should take you between 45 and 60 minutes.  Testlet 1 is medium difficulty for everyone, so plan on being closer to 45 minutes for that testlet and give yourself a little more time on testlets 2 and 3 (which will be more difficult if you are doing well) and the sims. 

For BEC and REG, each testlet should take you between 35 and 45 minutes. 

Think about this – on a 90 question test like FAR or AUD, if you take 2 minutes per MCQ instead of 1 ½, it will take you an extra 45 minutes to complete your MCQ and only leave you 60 minutes for the sims.  This is less than the 10 minutes per sim most people need (at a minimum), so you are likely to be rushed in completing the sims.

  • Use "MCQ Triage"

The key to ensuring you have enough time on the MCQ and sims is to decide which questions you have no idea on and which you just need to spend some time working through. 

In the interest of getting a high score and giving yourself the best chance to pass, you have to be honest with yourself about your strong and weak areas headed into the exam.  This will allow you to quickly guess at questions you are weak on and allow you to spend more time on questions you are strong on, but are just difficult questions that take extra time to solve.

For instance, if you did not study much for pension and you get a pension question, realize that your best chance to pass is to make a quick guess on this one question and move to the next question without wasting any more time.  You would have little chance of getting the question right, even if you spent 10 minutes working it. 

Distinguish those questions from questions you have a good foundation on, but are just difficult questions.  Do not give up on a question because it takes you longer than 2 minutes. 

Remember that “hard” questions you get right give you more points than “medium” or “easy” questions.  It will give you a better score if you spend a little extra time on the hard MCQs that you feel you are able to get right. 

If you guess quickly on questions you really don’t have a clue on, it will allow you to spend a few extra minutes on questions you do have a chance of getting right.

If these tactics are helpful, stop by Pederson CPA Review to see more tactics and strategies for passing the exam.


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