Five steps to multiple-choice success

The FA1 and MA1 exams consist of 50 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). This five-step approach to preparing for MCQs will help to ensure that you are not left guessing.

  1. Proper preparation and rehearsal
  2. Good time allocation
  3. Careful question reading
  4. A logical approach
  5. Sensible emergency procedures

Proper preparation and rehearsal

It is important to appreciate that there are a limited number of ways in which certain learning outcomes can be tested by MCQs. This means that, with lots of practice, you will start to recognise familiar patterns.

Try to get hold of as many relevant MCQs as possible, practise each one at least twice and, on the second attempt, highlight those that you get wrong, so that you can attempt these one more time just before the exam.

When you practise MCQs, it will help you to better allocate your time if you tackle them in batches – 10 at a time is a sensible number. Try and think of fun ways to practise – perhaps hold a quiz with some of your friends who are also studying. If you commute on public transport, this is also an ideal time.

As you work through the questions, make sure you become more and more familiar with your calculator. Do you know how to use all the functions? What is the most efficient way to calculate a percentage?

Make sure you trial the software for computer-based exams (CBEs) first by visiting the ACCA's online CBE demonstration and practicing the specimen exams.

Good time allocation

If you are sitting an exam worth 100 marks in two hours, you should aim to spend 1.2 minutes on each mark. Of course, this is much easier said than done. A good technique is to batch questions. So, if each question is worth two marks, and the exam is two hours long, you will need to complete each batch of 10 questions in 24 minutes (1.2 minutes x 2 marks x 10 questions). Make sure that you have practiced your time allocation strategy before you go into the exam.

Remember that you do not need to attempt the questions in order. Within each batch of questions, you might find it helpful to focus initially on those that don’t require calculations.

For example, you either know or don’t know ‘Which of the following is a fundamental accounting concept?’ – so this is a question you can deal with quickly. If a question looks as if it involves a lot of calculation, it may be worth doing it a bit later on.

However you decide to approach the questions though, you should consider and decide on a technique well in advance and make sure that you practice using it in the lead up to the exam.

Careful question reading

Where do you start to read a question? At the beginning? This is often an ineffective approach. Try to look at the requirement first which should be found just before the four alternative answers and will be shown in bold.

In reading a question, first identify the requirement, then think about what information is needed, and then try to find this information from the question. This approach takes some conscious practice, but eventually becomes automatic.

When you are reading, be careful about the words ‘do’ and ‘do not’, or ‘true’ and ‘false’. It is important that you answer the question being asked and it can be easy to misread a requirement if you are not careful.

A logical approach

If you know how to do the question, try and decide on the answer before you look at the four options. If time allows, double check that you haven’t picked up the wrong information, but don’t waste time trying to decide on how the examiner arrived at each of the options that you have discounted.

Sensible emergency procedures

There is no negative marking in MCQ exams – so even if you guess the answer you have a one in four (25%) chance of getting the question right. It may even be possible to use some of your knowledge to eliminate one or more of the available options and therefore increase your chances of guessing correctly. Sadly, some candidates leave questions unanswered which will guarantee getting no marks.