CIMA’s Objective Test exams challenge students in a number of ways. Exam pass rates for the objective tests over the past year go as low as 48% of students passing (https://www.cimaglobal.com/About-us/Examinations/) and students are surprised to hear that it often isn’t lack of subject understanding that trips many candidates up, but rather a lack of good exam day technique. Even the best prepared students fall short if their exam day approach is not up to scratch. This article discusses the specific techniques you can utilise on the day of the exam to maximise the probability of achieving a pass mark.
Like the best sports teams, all the talent in the world counts for little if the coach does not have an effective gameday plan. The CIMA student is his/her own coach and nailing down the right exam day approach really can be the difference between a solid pass mark and a fail.
There are five components of an effective exam day strategy and they are as follows:
- Manage your time
- Answer the easiest questions first
- Review incomplete questions
- Use the “flag” function
- Attempt all questions
Let’s take a look at each of the five elements in detail.
1. Manage your time
The objective exams are undoubtedly time-pressured. You have 90 minutes to answer 60 questions of varying length. That equates to just 1.5 minutes per question, or 10 questions every 15 minutes. Check the time frequently (every 10 minutes or so), to make sure you’re aware of the time remaining and whether you’re spending too long on certain questions. If you follow the advice outlined in the next four points, you’ll be making your life much easier from a time-management perspective too.
2. Answer the easiest questions first
All questions carry the same marks regardless of how long or detailed they are. However, not all questions are created the same. Certain questions are far more difficult than others and will take up longer than the 1.5 minute per question allocation mentioned in the previous section. The more difficult questions require more concentration and time, and the probability of being incorrect is higher as they generally comprise of more moving parts.
For the above reasons, it makes sense to pick the low-hanging fruit first. Spend the first 10-15 minutes of the exam skimming through all of the questions using the “Next” button located in the bottom-right section of your screen (see image below). You will quickly identify the questions you are sure you know the answers to and after this first run-through, you may be surprised at the number of questions you have completed. This first run will calm your nerves and give you confidence to move onto the more challenging questions.
3. Review incomplete questions
Once you have completed your first run-through and answered the least-taxing questions, you should utilise another exam tool – “Review Incomplete Items”. You can access this functionality by clicking the “Review Screen” button located in the bottom-left of the exam window (see image below).
You will then be presented with an overview of the questions that remain to be completed i.e. the more difficult questions you left unanswered during the initial 10-15 minute sprint. The idea at this stage is to tackle the questions that are likely to be longer, but you will still be quite confident of answering them correctly. Such questions might include those requiring analysis of a short scenario or may include a set of data or calculations where you know what those calculations need to be.
4. Use the “flag” function
Once you have tackled the incomplete questions that you are relatively confident of getting right, you may well still be left with the most difficult questions. These questions are likely to be longer and more detailed and will take maximum concentration and more time to complete. Having said that, be aware of the time remaining and don’t spend too long on any one question (remember: they all carry the same marks!).
Another handy tool that CIMA includes in its computer-based assessments is the “Flag” functionality, located in the top right of the exam screen.
It may be that you are unsure of some of the answers you are selecting for these more challenging questions. If that’s the case, “flag” these questions after your best attempt and move on. Then, if you have time left at the end of the exam you can locate these flagged questions using the review screen button at the bottom-left of the exam window. This will take you to the entire list of questions again. You will see the flagged questions marked as per the below image. You can quickly jump to these questions selecting the “Review Flagged” icon at the bottom-right of the review screen.
5. Attempt all questions
It’s important to point out that there are no negative marks for incorrect answers. This means that there is no reason whatsoever to leave any question unanswered. With 5 minutes left, a window will pop up to alert you. At this point, you should return to the review screen to tackle any incomplete questions you have not been able to tackle.
If there are questions remaining that you are very unsure of and you are going to guess the answer, there are a few things you can do to improve the odds of selecting the correct answer:
- eliminate any obviously wrong answers. This might narrow down the range of possible answers from four to two for example, thus altering your probability of being right from 25% to 50%
- once you’ve narrowed down the range of potentially correct answers, you can further narrow the range of options:
- do any of the remaining options contain misspellings or are any grammatically incorrect? This can be a clue that they are wrong.
- are there any very general answers – these are often wrong.
If you have gone through the above steps and are still unsure…go with your gut feeling!
So, there you have it! Follow the five steps above and I can assure you that the probability of passing will be enhanced. Finally, it’s important to include the following caveat: even the best exam technique in the world is futile if a student has not spent time building the theoretical knowledge that is so thoroughly examined in these exams, so make sure you’ve done the work before you start focusing on exam technique.
For a related article on the best way to prepare for the objective tests in the lead up to your exam, make sure to check out this article: