CPA Exam Tips: Written Communication

All potential certified public accountants (CPAs) must pass the four-part CPA exam before they can actually become a CPA. Currently, three of the four CPA exam sections include written communications tasks (the BEC section does not contain any writing tasks), but in the new 2011 CPA exam, all written communication will be moved out of AUD, REG and FAR and put in the BEC section only. Some test takers may get a little freaked out or nervous when they find out that they'll actually be expected to write during the exam. You don't have to be a prize-winning writer to score points on the written communication tasks, however. Read on to learn more about the written communication portions of the CPA exam.

The written communications tasks are designed to test your ability to create professional business documents. To earn points on written communications questions, test takers must read a description of a realistic scenario or situation and write a document that responds to that situation using proper grammar and punctuation. For example, the question may require the test taker to write a business letter, memo or other document to a hypothetical client concerning a situation that a certified public accountant might encounter in everyday business. The type of document the candidate must write is specified in the question, and is formally called a "constructed response."

Written Communication Scoring

While the rest of the questions on the CPA exam are graded with automatic scoring, written communications are reviewed and scored by a network of readers who are actual certified public accountants. Each written constructed response is scored according to relevancy, organization, development and expression.

In the first stage of scoring, the constructed response is read to determine if it stays relevant and on topic overall. For that reason, you'll want to confine your writing to only the topic at hand. Try to avoid showboating, adding a lot of extra information, or going off on tangents. You won't be given any extra credit for writing about more than what's required, but you can lose points for straying off-topic.

If your written communication maintains a consistency of topic in the first stage, it then passes on to the second stage of scoring. During the second stage of scoring, the written communication is scored on organization, development and expression.

Organization

Make sure your document has a definite beginning, middle, and conclusion. Start your writing with an overview describing the purpose or objective of the document, and then ensure that the following middle paragraphs support this overview. All paragraphs should fluidly lead into each other as well. In your conclusion paragraph, summarize the key points of the document and reiterate the main purpose of the document.

Development

Display that you have extensive knowledge of the subject by providing clear and concise details, examples and definitions in your written communications.

Expression

Always use correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice; your constructed response must exhibit a clear understanding of standard professional English. The exam software includes a basic word processor which features a spell check function. Be sure to use spell check, but don't rely solely on this tool. Always manually proofread your work as well to check for errors.

Quick Tips

  • Be concise and stay on topic; avoid writing more than necessary.
  • Don't get too verbose or wordy; stick to basic vocabulary for best results.
  • Ensure that each paragraph in your constructed response serves a purpose in establishing, supporting or summarizing your answer to the question.
  • Do NOT use diagrams, bullet points, abbreviations, or other short-cuts.
  • Do NOT use run-on sentences or fragment sentences.
  • Create an outline with your basic ideas first, and then go back and flesh them out.
  • Be conscious of your time limit, but stay calm. You won't do your best work if you're stressing out.

This is simply a brief overview of the written communications section of the CPA exam. A proven CPA exam review course can provide even more tips on written communications, as well as the other sections of the exam, and help you achieve your goal of passing the exam and becoming a certified public accountant.

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