A snippet of Joe's conversation with a student:
One of my former students came by my office this afternoon to talk about the CPA Exam. She graduated a few weeks ago and is studying hard so she can knock out some/all of the exam over the summer. She asked specifically about the written communication questions included in BEC.
The best thing you can do for the written communications questions is to go to Tutorial and Sample Tests by the AICPA. Then, select the Sample Tests for downloading. They will give you five multiple-choice questions. After you submit those answers, they give you two examples of written communications questions. That shows you the kinds of questions that you are going to see.
It is very important to understand that they include the following information (I may have missed a word or two but this is the basic idea).
On AICPA's website: “REMINDER: Your response will be graded for both technical content and writing skills. Technical content will be evaluated for information that is helpful to the intended reader and clearly relevant to the issue. Writing skills will be evaluated for development, organization, and the appropriate expression of ideas in professional correspondence. Use a standard business memo or letter format with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Do not convey information in the form of a table, bullet point list, or other abbreviated presentation.”
In other words, write something that is clear and understandable and addresses the question in a professional manner. Make it look like it was written by a CPA
I gave my student the following example: you might be told that a client runs a manufacturing operation and wants you to suggest a method for reporting a by-product that is created as a result of this process. That seemed like a reasonable question that a CPA might encounter in practice and would fall under the BEC topics.
My student then asked the obvious question. “What if I don’t know a specific method for handling a by-product? Do I just leave the answer blank and get a zero?”
Absolutely not!!! The answer is graded twice. First, it is read to determine whether it is “on topic” In other words is the written answer about the accounting for by-products? If it is not, if you have written about deferred taxes or contract law, you get a zero regardless of how well written the answer is. The answer has to address the question.
If your answer is “on topic,” then the question goes through a second grading where points are given for your use of the English language as described above. Notice, that the second grading is about the use of the language and not about whether the answer is right or wrong. The rest of the BEC exam tests your knowledge of content. That is not the purpose of the written communication questions. So, you do have to be “on content,” you do have to write about the subject in question. After that, though, the points are given based on proper use of English and not on how well you did getting the answer perfectly correct.