Prepare to pass
The golden rule for success in any assessment is to prepare thoroughly. It is not unusual for examiners’ reports to note that some candidates were not adequately prepared for the exam. As each exam will include broad coverage of the syllabus, to maximise your chances of success you must have studied the whole syllabus. It is also important to attempt past exams and practice exam-standard questions.
Of course, it is essential that you use all questions carefully and follow up on your responses. Whether a question was answered correctly or incorrectly during exam preparation, it will provide an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the topic. By reflecting on why a specific option is correct, you can improve your understanding, while reflecting on why the other options are wrong can help to overcome misunderstanding and eliminate confusion. When attempting questions as part of your preparation, it is useful to remember that the key purpose of the exercise is to enhance your understanding – not just to get the right answer. When reviewing each option, it is important to ensure that you understand exactly what the underlying point is – and to make sure that you reflect on this to enhance your learning.
Read the question
The amount of time, effort, and discussion that is put into each question before it appears in an exam is likely to surprise most candidates. Every question is subjected to a number of rigorous reviews as it progresses from an idea in the writer’s mind to the exam. These reviews mean that you need to read the question extremely carefully, remembering that the wording has been chosen deliberately. This is intended to ensure that the question is unambiguous and does not mislead candidates.
An example of the need to read the question carefully might be the way in which a question communicates cost information. It is not unusual for a question to relate to a production period of, say, three months, but for fixed costs to be stated as an annual figure. To get the correct answer, candidates must have recognised this fact. This is not an attempt to catch out candidates, but rather to ensure that candidates can apply the technique in a real-life situation, where information must be clearly understood and is frequently communicated in this way.
A further aspect is to recognise that the answer will be based on the data or other information included in the question. There are two aspects to this. First, in order to ensure that questions are not too long, the data may have been simplified. To some candidates, this may seem to be unrealistic when compared to a real-life situation. A particular example of this is the way in which the labour cost is described in many questions. More often than not, direct labour is described as a variable cost, even though candidates may appreciate that this assumption will be totally unrealistic. Therefore, an objective question should be answered on the basis of the data provided. Second, only the data included in a question is required to obtain the answer. This means that you should not waste time wondering about additional data or inferring additional data into the question.
An example of this could be a question that tests the ability to calculate the closing balance on a ledger account. The question may give details of transactions during a period and a closing prepayment, but there may be no reference to an opening prepayment. In such cases, you can assume that this was $0. As already noted, the writer will have sought to keep the question as short as possible by omitting unnecessary words such as ‘the opening prepayment was $0’ or ‘there was no opening prepayment’.
It is imperative that the ‘prompt’ (the actual question that is to be answered) is read carefully. For example, a question may give information on receivables, irrecoverable debts and required allowances for receivables. Here, the prompt could require any of the following to be calculated:
- the movement on the allowance
- the closing receivables allowance
- the expense to profit or loss, or
- the carrying amount of receivables to be reported in the statement of financial position.
A candidate who assumes that they know what the prompt is (usually on the basis of a question they have seen previously), rather than actually reading it, is likely to select the wrong option.
It is a common fallacy that some objective question types are easy. In particular, that where one of the options is the correct answer (eg in MCQs and drop-down lists), all you have to do is make the correct selection. While it is fair to say that some questions may appear to be easier to tackle than others (eg selecting one option is easier than multiple-response or number fill), that is often not the case as the answer will not be obvious. A question from the AB/FAB specimen exam illustrates this:
Sample question 1
A company has advertised for staff who must be at least 1.88 metres tall and have been in continuous full-time employment for at least five years.
Which of the following is the legal term for this practice?