Let’s start today’s lesson with an easy question. If you want to pass the CPA Exam, how should you study? In other words, what is the best way to gain the knowledge you need in order to be successful on this very challenging test?
I have recently been reading a book titled Make It Stick – The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. As you might imagine, I am always deeply interested in how people can learn more effectively. I have found this book to be especially insightful. One of the things that these authors often assert (and I believe) is that reading material over and over is not very helpful in getting the key elements into your memory. According to them and their research, it is the retrieval of information that really solidifies learning. If you want to learn something, pull it out of your memory over and over and your knowledge will get stronger and stronger. It is much like physical exercise. As they say in the book, “One of the best habits a learner can instill in herself is regular self-quizzing to recalibrate her understanding of what she does and does not know.”
They even have a chapter titled “To Learn, Retrieve.”
How can you do this in practice as you work to pass the CPAExam? Here are a couple of my recommendations. How do you get “retrieval” into your study plan?
--As you read, it is very easy to become almost hypnotized by the material. You see the words and you understand them but they don’t sink in. Too often, you read the same material over and over with no improvement. So, try something entirely different; force yourself to do the following. After you read a paragraph or two, stop, look up, and talk (yes, you can do this out loud if you wish) about what you read. Explain the material you have just read orally. You are immediately retrieving the information—pulling it back out of your memory. It is this retrieval that helps solidify the knowledge in your head. Start out with: “The last two paragraphs told me the following . . .” That is a fabulous way to help the information really stick to your brain cells. Don’t read the material more than once. However, as you read it that one time, stop frequently and talk about what you have just read. According to the authors of this book, recitation of this type has been proven to be one of the best ways to increase comprehension.
--Use flashcards. Yes, you can make use of the same kind of flashcards you probably used in the third grade to learn your multiplication tables. As you read or work problems, pick out the important stuff. Write a short question about that material on one side of the card and a short answer on the other side of the card. Then, go through those cards over and over as often as you can. Ask yourself the question on one side and see if you can figure out the answer before you turn the card over. Why? Because every time you do this, you are retrieving the information from your memory and that is making it stronger.
How does all of this impact your preparation for the CPA Exam? Try an experiment. For one just week, do nothing but the following.
Use CPA Review for Free where we have thousands of the best questions and answers that you can find, absolutely free. Start reading each question. Come up with your answers and then check them against our answers. Do the following steps and I honestly believe you will experience some of the most efficient studying that you have done in your entire life. It is an efficient way to get fully prepared for the CPA Exam.
(a) – Read the question, come up with your answer, and then read our answer. Before you move on, look up and orally talk about the question. Take no more than 20 seconds. What was the question about? What information was provided in the problem? What were the keys to coming up with the correct answer? If you missed the answer, why did you miss it? Be specific. Tell the wall or your computer about the question. You are only adding 20 seconds to your study time for each question but I think that recitation will prove to be invaluable. It helps the knowledge become mentally organized. Instead of just skimming over the material so that the information is a jumble in your brain, the recitation solidifies the knowledge that you are picking up from each of the questions.
(b) – Buy some note cards (I like 3 X 5 cards because they are easier to carry around). As you read and work the questions, you will come across information that is unknown to you or where your knowledge is a bit shaky. For that topical area, write a question on one side of a 3 X 5 card with the answer on the other. Keep them as short as possible. You are trying to get the basic information under control. You are not trying to write a textbook.
Question: A company trades an old truck for a new truck. At what amount is the new truck recorded?
Answer: In a trade, the new item is recorded at the fair value of the old item. If the value of the old item is unknown, the new item is recorded at the fair value of the new item.
You don’t need a card for every question you answer. You only need a card for every concept where your knowledge is not adequate.
Then, of course, carry those cards with you everywhere. Whenever you have 10 free seconds, read the question and try to retrieve the answer from your brain. If you get it correct, that is wonderful!!! If you miss the answer, read it one more time with the intention of getting it correct the next time.
Keep all of your cards organized in three piles.
--The first pile has every card where you think the chances of your getting the answer correct is 80percent or more. You only need to go through those cards once every 3-4 days just to keep the information fresh in your head. You want this pile of cards to get bigger and bigger as you study more.
--The second pile has every card where you think the chance of your getting the answer correct is 40to 80 percent. You know the material fairly well but not perfectly and you are trying to push it into the first pile. Continue to go through this group of cards as often as possible. You are the verge of having the knowledge under control but you are not quite there. You are trying to push yourself up to a high level of knowledge on each card.
--The final pile has every card where you think the chance of your getting the answer correct is less than40 percent. Your understanding here is still weak. You need improvement. If possible, go through this pile every day. Read the question. Try to retrieve the knowledge. Read the answer. Again, like exercise, that repetition is getting your stronger—but in a mental way rather than a physical way.
After one week of doing this with the questions on CPA Review for Free, I'm betting that other study techniques will seem inefficient and not worth your time. This is the best way to pass the CPA Exam.