Donna’s Tips for Exam Day

04 May 2010

Guest Posts

By Jeff

My name is Donna Harding and I passed the CPA Exam on my first attempt during the 4th quarter of 2009 and the 1st quarter of 2010.

Passing the CPA Exam feels just as great as you?d imagine. I want to help you enjoy this same feeling.

When Jeff invited me to guest blog on, I considered the topics candidates worry about most. Lately, I?ve received many questions about simulations and understand the anxiety they can create.

Here is my method for simulation prep and my exam day strategy. I hope you find it helpful as you prepare for your next section of the CPA Exam.


Under the current format, three sections of the CPA exam contain simulations (condensed case studies) and constructed response (writing sample), presented together in testlets, but graded independently.

The simulation portions are worth 20% of your exam score, while the constructed responses are worth 10%.

A maximum of 70 points are possible from the MCQs and candidates must earn points on the simulations and written responses in order to pass. Many students become anxious about these testlets, but this can be overcome with adequate preparation and strategy.

The specific topic on your exam will be anyone?s guess, so be sure to follow the content guidelines for the exam you?re taking. Anything you study for the multiple choice portions is fair game for a simulation or written response. The instructor for your prep course may indicate specific topics where a simulation is more or less likely, but candidates should be prepared for anything.

Simulations come in many formats: matching, fill-in-the-blank, categorizing, research? you name it!

Work as many practice simulations as possible, using your CPA Review prep software to become familiar with different format possibilities. If you know how to search with Google, you can handle the research tab. Focus your efforts on finding the magic keywords.

Do the simulation testlets included in your practice exams during your final review. It is important to know how much time YOU need to be successful in these sections before sitting for your next Exam section.

The constructed response requires specific preparation. Practice creating written responses within a 10-15 minute time limit, using proper business writing techniques and formats.

Practice in the same way you will be required to perform in the exam (don?t look up answers or submit an outline).

Read the information provided by the AICPA for requirements and scoring specifics here.


    1. Begin by reading the written communications tab. Start thinking about your response and jotting down notes and details on the scratch paper provided.


    1. Read the situation and directions for the remaining tabs. Check the resource tab for additional information. There may be facts in these tabs that you need to know or will be helpful for your constructed response.


    1. Carefully read the constructed response instructions; do what is asked; STAY ON TOPIC!


    1. According to ?Written communication responses are scored on the basis of three criteria: (1) organization (structure, ordering of ideas, linking of ideas one to another); (2) development (presentation of supporting evidence); and (3) expression (use of standard business English). Responses that do not address the assigned topic are not scored.? Note that responses are not scored for accuracy of information. Simply put: if you do not know the answer, use information you do know about the topic to intelligently respond, focus on your writing skills to meet the 3 criteria and move on.


    1. Some candidates use the research tab to find information for use in the written portion. This could be a huge waste of valuable exam minutes and should only be attempted if your memory hasn?t been triggered in the other tabs and you draw a complete blank on the topic.


    1. Exam functionality allows candidates to split the simulation screen between 2 tabs, not the same tab; this limitation may require scrolling up and down to refer to directions and respond ? use your scratch paper for notes to simplify the process.


    1. Watch your timer! Target 10-15 minutes to write and proofread your written response. Finish the written portion first to secure 10 solid points before working the remaining tabs.


    1. Work the remaining tabs, beginning with those you are most confident with; read the instructions carefully and enter your answers carefully.


    1. Use the functional tools (calculator, spreadsheet) if you need them.


    1. During the CPA exam, you don?t lose points for incorrect responses, but you don?t receive points for items left unanswered. Fill in an answer for every blank!


    1. If you find yourself running out of time, use your last minute or two to make sure you have filled in as many answers as possible (even if this means guessing).


Practice this approach during your final review and make adjustments to your personal strategy as you see fit.

Consider the fact that an outstanding performance on MCQ will relieve some pressure from performance on simulations.

Best wishes for success on your next CPA exam!


Leave a Reply


Justin 14 years ago

That was very helpful. I have my first exam tomorrow (FAR). I'm pretty confident in the MCQs, but the simulations feel like this huge wild card. Great advide to start with the communication section. I'll try it.

Justin 14 years ago

I also have heard that 1 out of every 2 simulations is one of those "trial questions" and isn't actually used to calculate the final score of the exam. Is there any truth to that?

ANTY 14 years ago

CANU help mhee to pass CPA

Laura 13 years ago

Who did you use for a CPA review? I am looking for a good review course, but have no idea who to use. Becker sounds good but so expensive. Yaeger is looking good too. You have any opinion on who to use?

Ismail 12 years ago

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