CPA Exam Written Communications, commonly known as the essays, is one part of the exam that worries people. The grading is not as black-and-white as the multiple choice questions.
Check out my tips in this video:
Here is the text version for your reference.
Did you know whether the CPA exam essay grading is based on:
- How long we manage to write?
- How flowery the language we are going to use?
- Or even, whether it helps to add charts and graphs?
Surprisingly, the answer is no for all three.
Written Communications are only required in the BEC part of the exam. If you are done with BEC, you may stop reading this page.
For BEC takers, this section represents 15% of your grading. It is important to know how Written Communication is graded.
What are the Graders Looking For?
The graders want to test the candidates’ ability to construct professional, business documents.
To earn points for this section, candidates must read a description of a situation or scenario, and write a document that relate or responds to that scenario.
The document type is specified in the question which may include a memo or letter to a hypothetical client.
How Can I Produce a Good Piece of Writing in the Eyes of Graders?
Graders look for:
- Complete sentences
- Use of Standard English
- Be Concise
- Good Organization
- Properly formatted with introduction and conclusion
My CPA Exam Written Communication Tips
1. Complete Sentences: Avoid Bullet Points and Charts
Avoid using bullets point, abbreviation, diagrams, charts, number list and graph — these are a big negatives for essays for CPA exam purposes.
The reason is actually more technical than anything else – your answers will likely be graded by machines (yes!) and machines are programmed to check the grammar and sentence structures.
Bullet points are typically not complete sentences. You will lose point because of that.
2. Use of Standard English: Stick to Standard Business Writing Format
Even if you haven’t taken a creative writing class (not necessary), drafting a standard business letter should be fairly easy for you, if you’ve ever answered an e-mail in a professional setting.
When it comes to business writing, don’t be fancy. Keep it short, simple and straight to-the-point. We have some tips on writing good CMA exam essays that could be helpful in this exam.
|Your writing must demonstrate a command of standard professional English, including correct use of grammar, spelling and word usage.|
The CPA Exam software includes a basic word processor that features a spell check function. Be sure to pay attention to this valuable tool.
Tips: check out my review of Elements of Style on standard English writing. This grammar resource from the University of Chicago may be helpful too.
3. Relevance: Aim to Stay “On Topic” vs be “Correct”
Although some papers are randomly pulled and reviewed by human graders, most Written Communications questions are graded by machines. It doesn’t even matter much if you are correct in the concepts.
You just have to stay on topic. Use topic keywords in your essay and be careful not to copy the text of the question word-for-word or you may lose points.
As long as you demonstrate knowledge in the subject by providing details, examples and definitions, we will do a good enough job to pass this part of the exam.
4. Clarity: Include Elaboration and Summary
Make sure each paragraph in your response must establish support or summarizes the answer to the question at hand.
5. Be Concise: Less is More
Avoid writing more than what is needed.
6. Good Organization: Structure Your Answer Before Writing
Write down your basic ideas on the note pad given at the testing center.
Make sure your document has a clear beginning, middle, body and finally conclusion.
Start with an overview where you describe the purpose or intent. Then, rewrite the question so the beginning sentence of introductory paragraph closely matches with the topic. You can get tips on how exactly this can be done in my book (see below).
Then, ensure that your following paragraphs support this overview, and lead into each other well. Summarize the key points of the document on the final paragraph.
7.Manage Your Time
Be conscious of your time limit. It is important that your piece of writing will have a complete introduction, the middle paragraphs and a conclusion. Allocate sufficient time to complete each section of the writing.
How Well Did Others Do in Written Communications
The following chart shows the percentage of “comparable” or “stronger” in score reports, by country. You can see this as something similar to the pass rate.
Obviously, your performance may not be the same as your peers, but this is one data point you can refer to.
Source: NASBA report
If you are from a country with a relatively low percentage, you should get better prepared.
You Can Do This — and Even Better With My “Formula”
I hope these CPA exam written communication tips can ease your concern on this part of the exam.
If you want extra tips to ace in this section, I have a “formula” in Chapter 10 of my book that you can implement when working on any written communication tasks. To give you a glimpse of what it is, here are the steps you can follow:
Step 1. Identify the format, objective, your role, and your audience
Step 2. Identify keywords related to the objective
Step 3. Write down the first sentence of each paragraph
Step 4. Begin the first sentence by rewriting the question
Step 5. State the core concept / position and develop ideas in separate paragraphs
Step 6. Keep the conclusion simple and professional
Step 7. Proofread from beginning to end
In terms of how you can actually follow these steps, you’ll need to get my book to find out!
Here is a more detailed discussion of my book, and how you can get your own copy.
For Your Further Reading
Strategies for other exam sections
Filed Under: CPA Exam Prep
To assess the professional competencies of CPA candidates, the CPA Exam includes many challenging case study simulations that very closely resemble real-life scenarios. On the BEC CPA Exam section, some of these simulations take the form of a writing skills exercise requiring candidates to write a memo or a letter in response to a hypothetical situation in which a practicing CPA might be placed. These simulations, called BEC Written Communication Tasks (WCs), only appear in the BEC section of the CPA Exam, and they only account for 15% of your BEC score. However, this type of simulation is unique and affords candidates who master it the chance to secure a significant portion of their score.
Our Gleim Personal Counselors have extensive experience helping candidates prepare for this part of the exam. Their advice: You should specifically prepare for the WCs, and you should do so by following these BEC Written Communication tips for studying.
As the majority of BEC consists of CPA Exam multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and Task-Based Simulations (TBS), you will be thoroughly tested on BEC content before you reach the WC testlet. Therefore, you will be well prepared for the MCQs, TBSs, and WCs if you build your foundation of knowledge on the BEC topics. With this knowledge supporting your WC response, you simply need to perfect the writing process and the format of your response.
While the WCs only appear in BEC, the content they cover can come from BEC as well as AUD, FAR, and REG. Therefore, you should prepare to see WCs that expect you to discuss topics from any CPA Exam section. However, you shouldn’t panic about this possibility. The main goal of the WCs is to evaluate your writing ability, not your knowledge of the topic presented. Graders may overlook technical mistakes and focus on egregious factual errors, off-topic information, and unlawful or unethical advice. Our Personal Counselors advise that you focus your effort on the presentation of your response, not necessarily the information you include.
According to the AICPA, you will only receive credit for your responses to BEC Written Communication Tasks if you stay on topic and do not offer any illegal advice. On-topic responses will be graded holistically, and your scores will be based on how well your responses satisfy the three general writing criteria of organization, development, and expression.Organization involves the structure of your response, order in which your ideas are presented, and the strength of the connections between your ideas. To display adequate development, you must bolster your response with ample supporting evidence and information that clarifies your points and proves your assertions. Finally, the level of expression must meet the conventional standards of business English by properly regarding grammar, punctuation, word usage, capitalization, and spelling. Rely on our free CPA Exam guide to learn more about the writing criteria as defined by the AICPA.
You will have four hours of total testing time for BEC, so to make the most of it, you should use a CPA Exam time management system and allot 75 minutes to the WC testlet. The five testlets of the BEC CPA Exam section are independent. There are no time limits on the individual testlets, so it is up to you to manage your time appropriately so that you can complete all five testlets before the exam ends. That 75 minutes gives you 25 minutes to spend on your responses to each of the 3 scenarios in the testlet (20 minutes to answer and 5 minutes to review and perfect your response). Our Personal Counselors suggest that when you practice WCs, stick to this time limit. It will help you focus your mind, practice your answering method, and be prepared for the time limit during the actual exam.
To maximize the amount of testing time you’ll have to complete the WC testlet, practice writing WC responses throughout your BEC study time. If you’re already familiar with the parts of a Written Communication Task and the process of answering one, you will be ahead of schedule on test day and will be able to commit more time and effort to refining your responses. You can practice writing your responses in the Gleim CPA BEC Review Course, which contains at least two unique practice WCs per study unit.
Completing a BEC Written Communication requires you to call on skills you’ve been developing since grade school, so don’t let it intimidate you. Remember, you’ve been handling essay exams for years. Gleim Personal Counselor Ryan Bergh encourages candidates to stay cool when it comes to the WCs. “I feel like many candidates seem to imply that the WCs were not something to stress about after the fact. Because of this, as candidates prepare, I always try to point out that most everyone with 150 hours of college coursework should have decent writing abilities. With that in mind, try not to over-analyze the BEC WC and just be familiar with the content. Practice within the review course will have you ready to do well on this portion.”
In order to get in plenty of practice writing responses to BEC Written Communication Tasks, you’ll need a CPA review course that supplies you with those opportunities. The Gleim CPA BEC Review Course features the largest test bank of BEC Written Communication Tasks on the market and includes the full-length Exam Rehearsal by which you can simulate actual exam conditions before you sit for BEC. Plus, you’ll have access to our Personal Counselors to help you with your studies. With the Gleim CPA BEC Review Course, you can be prepared for every MCQ, TBS, and WC on the BEC CPA Exam section. See for yourself by accessing our free CPA demo today.