Think Through the Question

From Joe: I have a box of 3 by 5 cards sitting on a table beside my computer at home. My wife (or someone) gave these cards to me a few years back. They were developed to deliver messages found in one of those books that talk to you about the habits of successful people.

So, this morning I decided to select one of these “success” cards at random and see what it told me in connection with the CPA Exam. I thought I was just joking with myself. Much to my surprise, I loved the advice that it provided. And, it seemed to apply perfectly to the CPA Exam.

“First, understand the problem.”

I’m not joking – that is what the card I picked randomly recommended.

I have watched college students and CPA Exam candidates take exams for several decades. There is one thing that consistently happens that holds them back from success. They get excited and they start answering the question before they know what it is about. This is what I sometimes refer to as “guessing rather than reading.”

In every CPA Exam problem, the actual question will be spelled out clearly and everything you need to know to work that question will be present. It takes real self-discipline to stay focused line by line and read all the way through the question so that you

(a) – know what is being asked and

(b) – locate all of the necessary data that pertains to that question.

For example, if you are working on FAR and see a question dealing with depreciation, you need to determine what is being asked.

--Do they want to know the expense for a particular year or

--The accumulated depreciation after a period of time or

--The impact of a trade or

--An impairment

You are probably going to need to know

--The cost of the asset and

--The expected length of life and

--The residual value and

--The method used being applied

Depreciation problems are usually pretty straight-forward but you do have to stick in there and “first, understand the problem.” No matter how easy a depreciation question might be, you cannot work it if you do not know what is being asked or if you miss seeing a vital piece of information.

On the back of my “success card,” it gives the following further recommendation: “You may find that you have a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But you may often fail to take the time to deeply understand the problem first.”

Yes, we all have to avoid the tendency to rush in and rush around.

If you don’t know enough to pass the CPA Exam, then that is one thing. The solution is obvious: You need to study more.

But, if you know enough to pass but still miss too many questions because you rushed around, that is just a shame. John Wooden, possibly the greatest basketball coach of all time, used to tell his players: “be quick but don’t hurry.” In other words, move as fast as you can as long as you are able to stay under control and keep moving steadily toward your goal. Unfortunately, quickness turns into a hurry when you begin to lose control.

For each question, make sure you, first, understand the problem. 

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