Noteboards and Wet Tissues: A FAR Exam to Remember

05 Mar 2013


Kricket is a Moderator on the Forum and NINJA CPA Blogger.

I’ve heard people refer to the CPA exam as a “journey” or “struggle”. Some candidates breeze through it like it’s nothing and others, like me, it takes a little longer.

I’ve often referred to the CPA exam as a slow train ride through hell. I’ve been on this train for almost five years, with no break, having taken an exam in every window since July 2008.

I’ve seen a lot of changes implemented: the addition of Business Combinations, IFRS, and the written communications all moved to BEC, and now the latest change, the “note boards”.

Not wanting to be caught off guard, as soon as I heard about this latest change, I went out and bought some laminating sheets and bunch of dry erase pens. I hated it from day one. The biggest problem was the pens I purchased weren’t fine tipped pens.

So while studying I tried to use these home-made note boards but gave up after a few days. I found myself filling up a sheet on one question and then erasing the entire page using a dry erase eraser. The erasers are cheap so I purchased several of them, and they are all black from over use and pretty much unusable at this point.

I went back to my pencil and paper while studying for the simple reason that it was easier. I’ll admit that I probably write down a lot more than others and maybe I shouldn’t, but we all do what we have to do to fully comprehend the questions and attempt to get to the correct answer.

I was quite surprised during check in for my most recent attempt at FAR last Saturday that the dry erase pens were very fine tipped. I was thinking “This could work.” That is about as far as I can go for praise on this particular exam change. The pens were dry alright, but erase? Not so much.

Half-way through testlet 3, I had nowhere else to write. The boards were full, front and back. So I tried to erase them with the tissues given to me during the check in process. That didn’t work. I got the Prometric employee’s attention hoping she would just bring me another note board. She didn’t.

She brought me another tissue. I showed her that they don’t erase. So she left the room and a few minutes later another Prometric employee brought me a wet tissue.

I think everyone is familiar with the properties of a wet tissue. They turn into what can only be described as a snot-like substance that is disgusting. I tried to use the snot-like substance to erase the note board, and that worked, but now the note board was covered in water, the desk was covered in ink and I was about as mad as I had ever been in my life.

Once again, I got the attention of the Prometric employee and she brought me two more dry tissues and two more balls of the snot-like substance. I finally got back to the problem I was working five minutes after I first asked for help. I’m feeling pretty confident that I missed that one.

I understand, and fully support, whoever had the idea to make the exam more environmentally friendly by decreasing the number of trees that must be cut down to make paper, but not at the expense of my limited exam time.

But why can’t they just provide a spreadsheet function during the multiple choice portion of the exams and do away with pencil, pen, paper and note boards? That makes more sense to me and I don’t think I am alone in this thinking.

As accountants, we almost all use Microsoft Excel on a daily basis. How about giving us Excel to use during the exam? Now that’s a much better way to make the exam “green”! But they don’t let me write the exam or make the rules.

Because if they did let me write the exam, I would make the following changes:

1. Get rid of the calculator that forces you to put your face an inch from the screen to count zeros because there is no thousands separator comma. I really appreciate the fact that there is a virtual tape now, but give me a comma! A simple comma in the right place would make this self-imposed torture a little bit more bearable.

2. Get rid of the spreadsheet that is nothing more than a box with a bunch of little boxes embedded in it. My spreadsheet would have an auto sum button, and the ability to cut and paste from one box to another using CTRL-C and CTRL-V. It would also have the ability to copy a formula by grabbing the bottom right hand corner and dragging it down. If this is possible on the spreadsheet currently given on the exam, I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it. My spreadsheet would also include the elusive comma!

3. On the multiple choice questions, I would also add a fifth choice, E. E would be the most honest of all of the answer choices. Multiple choice questions would look like this:

A cash flow hedge that is partially effective on a foreign currency translation using IFRS, in a period of rising prices, in a country that is completely under the control of a self-absorbed dictator, when the moon is full and Venus is in retrograde, would be reported in the following manner:

A. In Other Comprehensive Income
B. In Net Income
C. Not reported
D. Reported in Other Comprehensive Income to the extent that Venus is falling with the difference excluded from the Cash Flow Statement
E. Yeah, right, like I’m ever going to see this in real life!

Of course, choice E could also be “What are you people talking about?”, “Is this for real?”, and “Huh?” I think I would use choice E a lot! The only thing that would make E any better would be the use of emoticons. ?

I feel that my changes would enhance the testing experience, but they don’t let me make the exam, and maybe that’s a good thing.

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