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Three steps to heaven

How to take CIMA’s Objective Tests – or Peter's Three Pass Technique!

October 2016

I have always thought that taking exams is part knowledge and part technique. In fact, during most of my teaching career I have often said that to pass professional accountancy exams you need three skills in equal measure: knowledge, technique and time. With the onset of objective testing has this option changed? Well, no it hasn't!
For objective tests I believe that technique is very important; it can make the difference between a pass and failure.
The most important tip is this: make sure the first time you take the exam isn't the first time you take it for real. In other words, practise, practise and practise. What you need to do is not only test your knowledge but also practise your exam technique as well and to time.
If you were entering for a marathon you wouldn’t just turn up on the day and run. You would train. This training would consist of short runs, longer runs, trying different techniques, different paces until you found something that really worked. This is what you need to do in the final build up to your exam. Also, you wouldn’t run a marathon in a brand new pair of trainers, would you? No! So make sure you practise questions using the calculator (from CIMA’s approved list) that you will use on the day. Even practise using a single piece of paper or laminate sheet like you get in the exam.
With objective tests, careful reading of the question is crucial. One word can change the whole meaning of the question. Watch out for double negatives and check how many answers you have been asked to select.
You have on average 90 seconds to attempt each question, so with this in mind can you really afford to read and then re-read a question a second or even third time?

So here’s Peter’s three-pass technique
First pass: Aim to do over 10 questions in each 15-minute period (there is a timer on the computer screen). Start at question 1 and ask yourself the question, can I do it quickly? If the answer is yes, do it. If the answer is no, flag the question (there is a button top right) and move on.
Second pass: Again, aim to do 10 questions per 15 minute period. Start at your first flagged question and this time ask yourself the question, do I think I can do it? If the answer is yes, do it; if not leave it flagged and move on.
If a question has a long scenario, read the question (at the end, normally) first, so you know exactly what you’re looking for in the scenario. Think about what type of information is needed to answer the question, and then look for the information in the scenario.
Attempt the questions and remove the flag as you do it.
Third pass: Now go back again to your first flagged question, work out how much time is left and try to spend equal time on the still flagged questions. Don’t leave any multiple choice question unanswered – if you don’t know which answer is correct, exclude those which you know are wrong and make an educated guess. You have nothing to lose as there is no negative marking in the exam.

Remember you must…
If a question does look ‘subjective’ stop thinking too much about it. This is an objective test after all. Think what it says in the textbook. Try a ‘simplistic’ common sense approach. It is normally the correct one. If you over-analyse it, you will get yourself even more confused.
The questions students are finding most challenging are the ‘Select ALL that apply’ questions. Of course, you need to select the most obvious answers, but which ones? Well, it is least likely to be one or all of them, so 2/3/4 should be your ‘favourites’ – but a much better approach is to try spotting the ones that don’t apply.
If you find yourself using far too much time on a question, guess and move on. Try to attempt ALL the questions in the 90 minutes, even if you have to guess at a few.
Never go back to questions you have already answered. You'll only waste time and talk yourself out of what is probably the correct answer.
Finally to pass exams you do not have to follow my technique but you must at least have one. Good luck!

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