Some potential CPAs get a little bit frightened when they learn that they'll be expected to actually write during the CPA Exam. But, there's nothing to be afraid of. You don't have to be an English professor to score points on the written communication tasks.
Currently, all CPA Exam sections except for BEC include written communications tasks. These tasks test the candidate's ability to construct professional business documents, and are generally included as part of a simulation. To earn points for a written communications question, candidates must read a description of a situation or scenario, and must write a document that relates or responds to that scenario. The document type will be specified in the question. For example, the question may request the candidate to write a memo or letter to a hypothetical client. This document is formally called a "constructed response."
Unlike the rest of the CPA Exam content which uses automated scoring, some of the constructed responses are scored by a network of readers who are actual CPAs. In either circumstance, the process is essentially the same. The constructed responses are scrutinized in two stages.
In the first stage, the document is read as a whole to determine if it stays on topic. This means that you'll want to restrict your writing to the subject at hand. For example, if the subject is Pensions, you must write about Pensions. Avoid tangents, extra information, or showboating. You won't be given any extra credit for writing about more than what's required.
If it strays off topic or includes too much extraneous information, you will receive no points for that response. However, if the constructed response maintains topical consistency, it passes to the second stage.
During this stage, the constructed response is graded for organization, development and expression.
- Organization: Ensure your document has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Start with an overview where you describe the purpose or intent of the document. Ensure that your following paragraphs support this overview, and lead into each other well. Summarize the key points of the document in the final paragraph.
- Development: Demonstrate knowledge of the subject by providing details, examples and definitions.
- Expression: Your writing must demonstrate a command of standard professional English, including correct use of grammar, punctuation, 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.
- Avoid writing more than you need to.
- Stick to basic vocabulary, and don't get creative.
- Be sure that each paragraph in your constructed response either establishes, supports or summarizes the answer to the question at hand.
- Do NOT use bullet points, diagrams, abbreviations, or other short-cuts.
- Do NOT use fragment sentences, or run-on sentences.
- Write down your basic ideas first, and then go back and flesh them out.
- Be conscious of your time limit, but don't stress out!!
For some serious guidance on accepted writing style, check out the classic book on the subject "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.