Practice exams are often overlooked by CPA review courses.  This is an enormous disservice to CPA Exam candidates because practice exams have been shown in study after study to be one of the most important tools to increase your score on exam day.

Researchers on the learning process have shown that practice exams consistently resulted in better exam performance across all subjects tested and for all types of exams.  They believe this is the case because the practice tests give students the opportunity to recall information under conditions similar to the actual exam.  Instead of studying topics in a block (e.g. studying partnership tax then doing partnership tax MCQs), a practice exam gives you the chance to answer questions across all topics, just like you will have to do on exam day.

Studies of human memory show that the more times an item is recalled, the easier it is to remember.  By doing this, you are strengthening your ability to quickly remember information and use it to answer exam questions.

In addition, the researchers found that the more practice tests students do, the better their final test performance (i.e. taking 5 practice tests is better than 1).

Finally, they found that spacing these practice tests out resulted in much better performance than taking all practice tests in a short time.  This is because you are taking advantage of spaced repetition.  In many research studies, spaced repetition has been proven to be a very effective study technique because you allow yourself to forget some of the information, then recall it again.  So, not only does the number of times you recall a piece of information matter, the time period over which you do so also is very important.

So, for the CPA exam, if you have 5 more weeks of study time left, try to take 1 practice exam a week for the last 5 weeks.

There are others out there who recommend against taking practice exams, calling it a waste of time.  The scientific research does not support that opinion.  The facts are that taking practice exams will increase your score.

One of the reasons others cite for not taking practice exams is that you don’t get feedback on right or wrong answers immediately.  Again, this is not supported by the science.

The researchers in these studies found that students actually had higher final test scores when the feedback on right or wrong answers was slightly delayed on the practice tests.  So, if you find out the right or wrong answers with explanations at the end of the practice test instead of question-by-question, you will actually improve your ability to recall those concepts that were tested.

Using practice exams this way allow you to take advantage of several very efficient methods to learn and remember – interleaving, spaced repetition, and active recall.

When selecting your review course, make sure your course includes the ability to take many or even unlimited practice exams (my review course includes unlimited practice exams).  If the review course you are using doesn’t, you are missing out on one of the best scientifically proven tools to improve your exam score.

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