After the CA examination either at the PCE/ IPCC level or the Final level a student who has not been successful wonders what happened and why they have not been successful. Students when they introspect commonly feel that: there was less time, they knew the answer but did not answer, though they prepared hard they did not read the question properly, they spent too much time on one question and did not attempt questions which they knew.
The ICAI publishes every year the subject wise question wise suggested answers to enable the student to see where they have erred. Last year onwards the suggested answers are on the web site before the results were announced declared. The head examiners comments every year is also being hosted after the results.
The course requires full coverage in the studies and hard work is a part and parcel of the same. Some of the examiners observations as well as some best practices gleaned in the interaction with students who have passed/ not been able to and some tips on how to excel in examination/ preparation are part of this article.
The suggestions start with preparation and end with post examination behavior. Students may examine which of the suggestions apply to them and adopt them for facing the next examination more confidently.
1. Understanding the Subject: At times the basics/ concepts are not clear while studying [ even while taking coaching]. This requires that the doubts be immediately clarified from the tutor/ teacher, seniors, colleagues. If study material not clear read up recommended books for that topic. Periodically a discussion to sort out doubts in a group could also help in better understanding.
2. Emphasis on ICAI study material: The ICAI study material has been substantially improved in the past year and is being improved with suggestions from the various stakeholders year after year. Many students maybe at the suggestion of the private coaching classes or deterred by the size of the material choose not to read them. Though many students in the May 2011 attempt focused on the study material and were successful some students did not. The dependence on the study guides of the tutorials / coaching classed maybe good to the limited extent of understanding of the particular concepts taught in the class is concerned. The size however should not be the reason. It is advisable that every student should cover the study material as it is what has been prescribed of reasonable quality and more importantly is the official material for paper setters as well as examiners. The practice manuals would also help in understanding and practicing the problems. While reference to other books may add value the basic reference should be of the materials. The compliers/ suggested answers and other publications for students would also address the needs of the students as to how they are expected to answer.
3. Latest updates/ amendments: Some of the students who have not fared well were not aware of the changes in the law as applicable. This may be due to the fact that they were using old study material or were not keeping abreast of the same as announced through the student’s journal and web site and supplementary study material. This may happen as the date of issue of the material and the date of taking up the examination maybe far apart. This should be avoided as paper setter as well as the examiner would expect that the student to use the current material. This was observed in strategic FM. In tax papers especially in final the need to know the case laws was felt lacking. [Even though the citation/ name may not be necessary.] Ignoring the latest standards has also been the cause of poor performance of students in accounting and auditing.
4. Change in emphasis to understanding, application and analysis: Over period of time the Industry has been observing that that CA though very knowledgeable is unable to apply what he / she has learnt. Therefore the pattern of the question paper as you may have observed has changed to include that aspect. The tutorials/ coaching classes may have also changed their methodology of teaching. If not the students should ask them to spend more time on the same. Working out the problems independently may also be a solution whether at home or at the classes. Emphasis on memorizing may not have the sort of results as it had in the past.
5. Lack of Preparation/ Structure: It is observed that some students do not concentrate on the difficult subjects ( for them) and spend more time on the easy subjects. Such students may fare badly as they have to clear all papers in a group. It maybe advisable that they first deal with the difficult one and ensure that they can get through that. Subjects where this was observed in MAFA and MICS. It maybe advisable to prepare a chart of what would be studied when in the initial period with last 15 days/ 1 month only allocated for revision. Some students try to forecast the paper. At times the coaching classes also may do so. That may not be advisable as the hall mark of the CA paper has been its uniqueness and unpredictability.
6. Low level of knowledge of Acts/ Rules: In the law subjects not knowing the basic provisions can be a reason for low marks. The reading of the bare act could be a solution. The subject where this was observed was direct taxes, indirect taxes and corporate and allied laws.
7. Lack of practice: The papers where the problems are provided require practice of the same. Reading the study material/ practice manuals may not be enough. It is suggested that students may work out the problems to understand them. The subjects where there was a lack of practice were cost accounting, financial reporting and indirect taxes.
8. Ensuring that one does a few tests in all papers+ mock test: The taking of tests in examination conditions at least 30-45 days before the examination would provide a rain check on the extent of preparedness. Student would himself/ herself realize where they are lacking and concentrate on those to do well in the real examination.
9. Avoid Last Minute Cramming: The last minute overload would put pressure on the student and possibility of underperforming is very high. Students should get a good night sleep prior to the examination and come as relaxed as possible to the examination hall. It does to help to build up anxiety on the eve of the examination.
10. Avoid Coming Late for Examination: Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early considering various aspects like traffic, rain etc. In the CA examination it is not advisable to miss out any part of the examination time. Further it may put one in a panic situation and hamper the answering.
11. Common Mistakes at the time of examination: There are a number of common mistakes which have been observed. Students may pick the ones which are applicable to them.
a. Not following Instructions: The instructions in the admit card and the question paper should be read carefully. Students who do not follow the same may end up quite unhappy. Not making any distinguishing marks/ appeal in the paper is one such example.
b. Illegible handwriting: If an examiner cannot read, student could end up with lower marks though the instructions are otherwise. Very small, large handwriting or lack of spacing [adding a line in between] could also be illegible.
c. Legible handwriting in main paper but illegible working notes. Since working notes also carry marks, chance of losing that if that is done.
d. Incorrect English language and grammar can confound the examiner who may have to read repeatedly and not be able to make out what the student wishes to communicate.
e. Not reading the question properly lead to answering totally incorrectly. Some time maybe spent to confirm what is being asked. [15 minutes time has been given from the May 2011 attempt onwards- which seems to have helped substantially]
f. Choice of sequence of answering. Start by answering the easy ones and the short comments answers.
g. Leaving margin for the examiner to enter the marks may also be advisable.
h. Long answers to short answer questions and vice versa not advisable. Vague answers to short answers would not get marks. Specific / brief answers sufficient for such questions. [ some correlation with the marks maybe maintained.] In case of shortage of time give only points.
i. Missing answering a question is not advisable. If not much known at least attempt the same.
j. Panicking and Giving Up : Panicking as some questions attempted not able to be answered properly. The same maybe the situation of many, therefore coolly continue to attempt and under no circumstances leave the hall in between. Einstein the renowned scientist says that there are many people in the world who gave up when they were so near their goal. Many students who continued to write the particular paper or the next paper though they felt that they had not done a particular paper well would vouch that thanks to that they got through.
Best of luck in the preparation for your examination as well as best of luck in your exam. May you come out victorious and excel as an ethical professional.
Madhukar N Hiregange FCA