Calvin’s Exam Strategies

With exams starting next week, I want to share some exam writing strategies. I’ve written many exams in my life. In order to become a CA, I had to write 51 hours of professional exams: 5-hour exams for each of Modules 1-5, a 13-hour exam for Module 6, and a 13-hour exam for the Uniform Final Exam. My U.S. CPA exam was 5 hours, and the GMAT was 3.5 hours. 

1) You don’t have to start with the first question. 

I once had a 1.5 hour midterm exam that had 3 questions. It was a time pressure exam. Question 1 (30 marks) was hard and long and had many parts. Question 2 (25 marks) was shorter. Question 3 (25 marks) was shorter still, and the easiest. I did the exam in this order 3, 2, 1. Question 3 was worth nearly the same as Question 1, and it was much easier! No one ever said you have to do a paper exam in order. Starting with a question that you are good at will boost your confidence and help you tackle the harder and longer questions. It’s good to have easy marks in your bank. 

2) Time management is key. Budget your time!

With a 1.5 hour exam with 3 questions of almost equal weighting, I’d spend 30 minutes on each question, 35 minutes max. Even if I don’t finish a question after my time budget I’d move on because otherwise I risk not finishing the exam and leaving easy marks on the table. 

For example, the GMAT exam was designed as a time pressure test that if a candidate didn’t finish the exam, they are heavily penalized. The same could happen on a midterm or final exam. Spending an extra 5 minutes on a question you’ve already spent 30 minutes on may not be worth as much as spending the 5 minutes starting on the next question. Budget your time wisely, and stick to it!

3) Prioritize your time

This was one of the best lessons I’ve learned writing so many CA exams. Not all issues are equally important. Some issues are VERY IMPORTANT. Some issues are not important but take up a lot of time. Think which issues MUST be dealt with. I’ve learned to prioritize the most important parts of the exam and spend most of my time doing the most important tasks first. After I deal with the most important issues on the exam, if I have time *then* I’ll work on the not so important parts. One of the worst situations to be in is spending too much time on something not important and running out of time for things that actually matter. 

Good luck on your exams!!


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