Written Communication

Is a 73 on BEC Worth a Rescore?

Though this week is a little different, you are still welcome to email me directly with CPA exam questions so they don’t get lost in the editorial mix. Especially good questions like this one:

Adrienne,

Never thought I’d get to this point, but I’m a heavy senior who has yet to pass the CPA exam. Granted, I also haven’t TAKEN all the parts of the exam, but that’s not why I’m writing.

I took BEC in the 3rd testing window of 2011, and failed by 2 points. Two lousy points. To make it even worse, I didn’t receive my score notice until October 5, so it was difficult to just take it again quickly before I forget all those things I so diligently learned.

But it said that my writing section was strong. Is there any hope in having a positive result if I contest the exam? Is it possible to get two more points out of a strong writing section? It’s $150 to contest, or just $225 to retake…. but retaking of course involves re-studying which makes me want to crawl in a hole and die. Dramatic? Yes. Accurate? Insanely so.

Anyways, any help you and/or the readers of Going Concern can provide me would be greatly appreciated!

First, “Heavy Senior,” no judgments. While it’s generally in your best interest to knock this puppy out as early as you can, we realize life happens. The important part is you’re doing it now.

Second, forget a rescore. I mean completely forget such a thing even exists because even though you can technically request one, it is NEVER going to turn out in your favor. In the four years I worked in CPA review, I never once heard of a successful rescore, and as far as I know, it’s been even longer since one actually turned out in the candidate’s favor. Think about it… if the AICPA had to admit its precious highly-guarded psychometric scoring system was (gasp!) flawed, how many candidates would cry foul?! Isn’t going to happen.

My third point, however, is the one that should keep you out of that hole you want to crawl into and die. Here’s the good news: you got a 73 on BEC! Do you realize how many candidates need at least 4 attempts on BEC to get anywhere near that? Just a little bit more studying and you’ll nail it. I realize this is not much to get excited over but it’s something, and let’s be real about it, you don’t have much to go on here.

My last little item here is that you don’t get bonus points for writing a really, REALLY good essay. God, it pains me to say that – feeling like the champion of the English language for lost little accountants everywhere – but doing really good on the writing portion is not going to get you a higher score than someone who performed satisfactorily on the essays. I’m beyond proud of you for smashing through stereotypes that say accountants don’t rite good but unfortunately for the purposes of the CPA exam, it isn’t going to help you to perform extraordinarily well in this area. So don’t. By all means, continue to write well-versed, correctly-formatted emails as you are an asset to the profession but for the exam? Forget it. Bare minimum, my friend.

You haven’t forgotten everything you learned, it’s in there somewhere. A quick refresh and a thorough once-over of your review materials plus lots of practice questions will get you there. When it comes to BEC (as I’m sure you know), there is no such thing as studying too much. Try not to do the same questions over and over but instead focus on covering as much material as possible. Having taken BEC already, I don’t need to remind you why this is important.

Good luck!

How Much Harder Is FAR Going To Be In 2011?

Quick answer: easier actually, in my opinion. I didn’t take the exam this year and I am not taking it next year nor any year after that so perhaps I’m wrong.

A few nights ago, a CPA exam candidate was bitching about studying so I threw in my whining about digging into new CPA exam content for next year. Cry cry, we all have it rough.

Long story short, since I was stuck shuffling through new content anyway she asked an easy 2011 question.

Can you tell me if FAR will be that much harder in 2011? I don’t think I’ll get my NTS in time to schedule for 2010


How many of you are in that boat right now? I’ve seen quite a few of you making plans to knock out two exam parts this year that have just put in your applications; I’m truly sorry to be the one to break this to you but chances are you aren’t going to get in this year. It’s good to be realistic going into this, anyone could lie to you and say in 4 – 6 weeks you’ll have an exam date. Even if you do get approved to sit right now you still have to wait for payment coupons and NTSs, by the time all that is in your hand all the exam dates will be taken. Don’t trip, next year it will be easier and here is why:

Simulations: Big ass simulations are broken up into little parts so you can totally blow a few of them and have several different topics coming at you instead of just two. So if you’re not so hot on pensions, you still have 5 or 6 other chances to do well on simulation problems. In 2010, if you didn’t study the indirect method you better hope you don’t get it or else you’ve blown it. For candidates who have sat this year, you’ve likely already seen them testing out the new format.

Written Communication: You get a spell checker in written communication AND you only have to do essays once (unless you fail BEC). Come on, written communications are easy already, you don’t even have to be right you just have to rite good. In 2011, you won’t have to write 6 different essays in 3 sections but just 3 in 1. That’s a win. Throw in the spell checker and I really wonder why some of you are scrambling to take BEC this year so you don’t have to in 2011. Is writing that bad? Get used to it, you’re going to be writing a lot of unnecessary emails and it’s an important skill to have. You can’t protect the public interest if ur writin liek this. Point being, FAR won’t have written communication for those of you morally opposed to writing anything.

IFRS Just about everything you’ve learned in 2010 will still be relevant in 2011, especially in FAR. No one is throwing out GAAP (even our super excited friends at the AICPA who can’t wait for IFRS!) and some areas of FAR aren’t impacted by IFRS at all. It appears throughout FAR but you shouldn’t be too freaked out by it because you don’t have to be an IFRS expert to nail the material. Just read, learn and pass. It’s really simple. The questions will likely stay mild until the AICPA Board of Examiners figures out whether or not this was a good idea a few quarters down the road. Conservatism dictates they’ll take it slow with international content until we’re actually 100% on this convergence thing so don’t freak out, IFRS makes a lot more sense than cost accounting ever will.

Not bad right?

Here’s where the old timers chime in and tell us all about back in the day when you didn’t get a calculator and had to walk uphill both ways to get to an auditorium in the middle of nowhere for a 17-day marathon of CPA exam testing. In the dark. With no scratch paper. Commence telling us about the “Before Time” please.

Is Copy and Paste Cheating on CPA Exam Written Communications?

Today’s reader question comes from a CPA exam candidate who I imagine would prefer to remain totally anonymous so let’s blow right past the pleasantries and get to the question, shall we?

So I just finished my exam yesterday and I am a little concerned about my communications tab. As I still had about 2.5 hours remaining going into my first simulation, I had a lot of time to write my communication. With the amount of time I had, I was able to research my topic extensively.

In my communication, I had used sentences that were straight from the research tab, without referencing it, but a most of my memo was changed and modified into my own words. However, the fact that I used some sentences and phrases word for word concerns me. I can’t actually recall how much I copied, which concerns me even more. Do you know if this is considered cheating? Has anyone copied directly from the research tab and still passed the exam?

Let me tell you, this is a new one even for me so the best way to answer is by defining what the AICPA BoE is looking for in your written communication.

The three components of a successful written communication are organization, development, and expression. This means they are looking for a structured document with clear ideas, supporting information to supplement your statements and use of standard English when conveying your ideas. Now the AICPA BoE spends quite a bit of time and effort developing questions for the CPA exam but that does not mean they are also developing components for you to use in your communication. This means that if you do have lots of time left to work on your written communication, the very last thing you want to do is copy and paste. It was my understanding that the copy-paste function was limited to research problems within simulations only as “transfer to answer” but maybe I’m wrong (stranger things have happened).

That being said, your best hope is that they don’t notice you did that. I don’t think it counts as cheating, exactly, as cheating is defined as having someone pretend to be you to take the exam or somehow smuggling in exam answers as if you’d be able to predict what questions you would get. That last one is probably rare if not impossible as not even the review courses get the EXACT questions that will appear on the exam except for retired questions released each year by the AICPA.

If you took exact phrasing from the authoritative literature, you did not complete the objective of developing nor organizing your statements; you simply took what had already been organized for you and stuck it in there. Suffice to say this is a HUGE NO NO and probably means you will not get points for this area. As I said, maybe they won’t notice and you’ll pass, it’s hard to say.

If you find yourself with lots of time left over for written communication, use it to review your other simulation answers, not to develop the Howl of CPA exam WCs. All you need is a beginning, middle and end. Your answer could be totally wrong but you will still get the points as long as you are clear and concise. You do not get bonus points for flair so don’t bother, you’d be better off going over your simulation to make sure you did everything correctly.

So the short answer is: I don’t think it’s cheating but I don’t think you are going to get the points if they pick up on what you did. Since most WCs are machine graded, the machine may be thrown off by just how perfect your answer is, raising a red flag that gets yours pulled for human review. Again, I could be wrong on this as frankly I’ve never heard of anyone doing this.

Be sure to let us know how it went once you get your score and good luck!

P.S. – don’t do that again. Seriously.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Authoritative Literature and Research on the CPA Exam

Though it doesn’t get much coverage in CPA exam study guides (for a reason, which we’ll get to later), your ability as a CPA exam candidate to tackle research on each exam section might make or break your overall performance.


When planning out the amount of time you will spend on each exam section (i.e. 45 minutes on each simulation as a general rule), you can rest easy if you save the research portion of each sim for the very end. It is believed to be worth only one point so if you can’t get to it, don’t worry about it too much. Focus on the written communications as those are worth 10 points – or one of them is, and you don’t know which one so take care of both and save the research for last only if you have the time.

As for practicing, newer CPA Review practice software already has this function built in.

If you would like to practice manually, you’ll have to take your active NTS to register for 6 months’ worth of access to the professional literature from cpa-exam.org. With this, you can search through AICPA Professional Standards and FASB Pronouncements to familiarize yourself with accounting regs, though you are still encouraged to take the tutorial CPA exam on the cpa-exam.org website as the research on its own is not exactly representative of the research function in the exam environment.

If that is not enough practice, book a 30 minute test run with Prometric to check out your testing center and the computer you’ll be using.

Anyway, don’t obsess too much over the literature. Like the tax code, a lot of your “answers” will be provided in the questions, it’s just up to you to look into what the questions are asking.

Think about it: CPAs have access to volumes of regs and standards in their careers, it is not imperative that they memorize each one. The CPA exam is meant to test your understanding of accounting fundamentals, not how well you can memorize 200 FASBs and spit them back out.