CPA MYTHS SERIES: 4 Risks of Over-Relying on MCQs

Welcome to our CPA Exam Myths blog series.  In my work with CPA candidates over the years, I have heard tons of unique ideas about how to approach the CPA exam. Most of these ideas are intended to act as shortcuts to success.  Most, too, are veiled in this idea that it’s the “best” way to pass the CPA Exam.  I’ve made a public call for submissions, and I’ll be addressing your theories, conspiracies, ideas and approaches on our blog here, and via our YouTube channel.  

My intention with this series isn’t to discredit other people or what worked for them in passing their CPA exams.  My goal is to take these theories, offer my opinions on the matter, and hopefully provide you with enough information to decide if this approach is the right one for you.  

For today, I’m addressing the study technique of focusing solely on multiple choice questions (MCQs).  

There are actually 2 theories out there- one that states that all you have to do to pass is to do hundreds of MCQs; the other that welcomes other study activities but still focuses heavily on repetition with questions.  

Here are some of the risks associated with this strategy:  

  1. Skips over necessary foundational understanding

Focusing primarily on MCQs might work in areas where you’re already very comfortable with the underlying material (i.e. personal taxes if you’re an individual tax specialist).  However, in areas where you don’t have ample practical experience, you may be skipping over some details that would be critical to building a deeper level of understanding of the material.  This could come back to bite you on the exam if the questions are asked differently or if this content shows up on a simulation.  IMO, it also feels counter to the spirit of the exam to skip over the learning step.  

  1. Formation of bad habits

This is best illustrated by an example.  You haven’t yet watched a lecture/read the text on this area, and it’s an area where you don’t have experience.  By doing questions and figuring out which answer is correct, you may be able to get questions correct but your understanding of why that answer is correct may be wrong (read that again if you have to!).  This becomes a problem if/when the exam asks related questions in a different way or when they ask about small details or unique exceptions to those rules.  

  1. Memorization

Specifically related to MCQs, doing huge volumes of questions will naturally lend itself to memorization of the answers.  That’s a problem for several reasons.  By memorizing the correct answer, you’re no longer challenging yourself to recall the information or critically think about the answer.  You’re simply repeating what you “know” to be the right answer, but it may not actually reflect your true understanding or knowledge of the information.  This becomes an issue if the exams asks the question in a different way or puts an unexpected spin on the question.  Your understanding may not be where it needs to be in order to pivot and handle the new form of question. 

  1. Ignores Simulations

The main risk with only focusing your attention on MCQs in your preparation is that it ignores 50% of the test which is made up of Simulations.  I know they’re more time consuming than MCQs in practice, but you can’t pass the exam without performing well in this section.  Generally, it’s a different level of knowledge and application of that knowledge that’s required on SIMs which can’t be replicated simply by practicing MCQs.  

As you can probably tell, for my taste, this strategy is too risky.  However, I do agree with one foundational piece, and that is MCQs are important.  They will always be a critical part of these exams, and spending time getting familiar with the material via MCQs as well as becoming comfortable with the format of these questions is paramount to your success.  

I recommend doing smaller, higher quality “batches” of questions vs. large batches that you’re doing half-heartedly.  Consider building up your stamina along the way so that you’re ready to sit for 31-38 questions at a time, depending on the exam you’re preparing for.  Keep challenging yourself by mixing up the material in your sets of questions.  Deep dives into narrow sections of content mixed with broader sections over everything will keep you on your toes and replicate what you’ll see on exam day.  

Keep sending us your MYTHS, STRATEGIES AND APPROACHES, and we’ll keep offering our 2¢.

Erin Daiber

1 Comment

  1. on September 27, 2023 at 7:47 am

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