Time Management on the CPA Exam

There were two people who asked about this in the REG discussion for this month, and I found it worthy of a post. Time management on the CPA Exam is critical for REG and FAR. AUD and BEC? – not as much.

REG is probably the worst exam in terms of time management. They only give you 3 hours to cover 72 MCQs and two sims.

Ideally, you would have 50 minutes per sim, which only leaves you a little over a minute per MCQ. This is not reality.

In all likelihood, you'll spend about 35 minutes per MCQ testlet, 50 on your first sim and about 25 on your second sim. It took me 4x to get through REG and I was consistently left with 15-25 minutes to finish the last sim and I never fully finished it. I got close this last time…I left one tab unanswered.

You can plan all you want, but you will encounter frustrating questions that leave you seeing red because you can't get any of the answers to work out and before you know it – you've spent 5 minutes on ONE question. After you hit the 3 minute mark – you have to move on. Guess B or C and keep going. If you nit-pick every question, you'll fail for sure.

Realistically for REG…

Testlet 1: 35 minutes
Testlet 2: 38 minutes
Testlet 3: 40 minutes
Simulation 1: 50 minutes
Simulation 2: 18 minutes

…is what you will encounter, give or take. You will probably fly through the 1st testlet…the 2nd will be harder because you're doing well and the 3rd will take longer due to difficulty (if you're doing well still) and fatigue. You will hit a wall somewhere in the early 3rd testlet and you have to “push” on through it so to speak.

They key is to move on physically and emotionally after encountering difficult questions. If you keep thinking “I didn't know that last one…I'm going to fail” – you will have a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If you get into your 2nd simulation and discover that don't have near enough time to finish it, you need to score your easy points. First, write the memo. It's worth 5% of your overall grade (10% total between the two sims). Second, do the research tab. This should only take a few minutes and it's a few easy points. Take it from someone who scored 74 twice on REG – those easy points could make a difference when it's graded.

Finally, answer all of the tabs that you can. If there is a tab with some simple answers based on fact patterns that you know without reading the whole drawn out simulation case facts, answer them. If you're down to 1 minute left on the exam – don't leave anything blank. You get points for what you answer correctly – not what you got wrong.

The key is to be cool under pressure and remember: if you find your exam to be brutal – it's probably because you're doing well. Take a deep breath and work your way through it.

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12 comments

Anonymous 13 years ago

Thanks for the timely post. I am taking REG on Saturday and do not have good vibes about this part of the exam at all. Was running over concepts in my head this AM and completely blacked out on AMT adjustment rules. Ack!! It's a real emotional roller coaster to say the least...

Good luck on FAR!

qualler 13 years ago

This is a misconception that I have had for a long time -- that if the exam testlets get "more difficult", that it means you are doing poorly. I had a teacher in a review course in the past state that if the difficulty increases, the test is trying to "weed out" the people who shouldn't pass, but the material on cpa-exam.org seems to suggest otherwise. Which is correct?

another71.com 13 years ago

Qualler - your teacher is incorrect. The first testlet begins at medium difficulty. If you do well, it will ratchet up to a harder difficulty level. If you do well, it will remain hard. If not, it will drop back to medium.

The harder questions are worth more points. Also - up to 20% of your MCQs can be "test" questions that they are trying out...which is weird because you don't know which ones they are, obviously.

Anonymous 13 years ago

I'll be honest, I don't necessarily agree with your timing structure. I think allocating 50 minutes to the first simulation is too long and 17 minutes is not sufficient time to write a memo and do research for the second simulation.

I structured my time as follows:
Multiple Choice 1 - 30 min
Multiple Choice 2 - 35 min
Multiple Choice 3 - 35 min
Simulation 1 - 40 min
Simulation 2 - 40 min

I found that when I took this exam, the actual exam questions were considerably easier then the practice questions offered by Becker. I ended up with averaging less than 30 min for each multiple choice testlet and had 45+ min for each simulation.

To ensure that I didn't waste time, I utilized the "mark review" feature and would only quickly give those questions a second thought, otherwise my original answer on the others questions was my final answer.

I ended up finishing the exam with about 10 minutes remaining and scored a 87 on the first attempt.

...Just my thoughts

another71.com 13 years ago

Thanks for sharing your experience...it shows that everyone is different. My exam time allocation was just to show what I encountered so that people wouldn't freak out if things didn't go according to the ideal allocation.

I'll agree...40-45 min per sim is ideal, it just never worked out that way for me.

Emily 13 years ago

My break out in time was very similar to anonymous above. I probably had more like 20 minutes to spare but of course I used that time looking over my last simulation just in case. Time can be a huge issue and it is very important to not get tied up on the MC questions. For each MC testlet I marked for review ATLEAST half of the questions. I usually could narrow it down to two selections so on my scratch paper I would jot down the question number and the letter answers I had narrowed it down to.

The exam is all about maximize your score the most efficient way possible. If you spend more than 3 minutes on a MC question you are unsure about that is eating into your time later down the road. You could end up missing out on the 2nd simulation all together and it would really be a bummer if it?s a topic you know VERY well but just didn?t have time to complete it.

Thanks for sharing your experience Another 71?I can?t wait to have FAR over with!! It?s really scaring me though?so many topics.

Anonymous 13 years ago

Thank you all for sharing your experience on this one. REG is to a great extent about time management, so any other thoughts/experiences are more than welcome. I'm taking the exam in a month. Emily, marking the questions and writing the two best answers in the scratch paper is a very clevel tactic!

Anonymous 13 years ago

MA REG is out! 87....woohooo...I am done!!!

roy 13 years ago

Is an hard simulation worth more points than an easy one? Like the consept of the MC

Joe 12 years ago

Would you all say there is more of a time pinch in reg then in BEC??? BEC 75 AUD 84 REG 2/13/10 FIN 5/31/10

magic_8_ball_did_i_pass 12 years ago

You can schedule your test on the holiday joe??? I wonder if i can change my date without being penalized now??? I selected 29 to take AUD.

Vaish 11 years ago

Hey, thanks a lot for sharing your inputs on time management. I have written REG twice and found both attempts pretty easy and thought I would pass each time I wrote the exam. unfortunately (or hopefuly fortunate this time), I am writing it again. I dont think it is in my hands to decide the difficulty of the paper. I have heard from my friends that tougher the paper, means that you are doing well. In my first attempt, most of the MCQs were from the theory part (Laws) which I was strong at - but ended up in 60s :( Do you know if the 2nd and 3rd testlet are dependent on your performance in the 1st? thanks a ton!