The Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam is a four-hour exam that consists of 62 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), 4 task-based simulations (TBSs), and 3 written communication (WC) questions. The exam scoring for the BEC exam is weighted 50% toward MCQ, 35% toward TBSs, and 15% for WCs.
The BEC exam tests what a newly licensed CPA might complete when performing audit, attest, accounting and review services, financial reporting, tax preparation, or other professional services. The five content allocation areas for the BEC exam are:
|Area I||Enterprise Risk Management, Internal Controls, and Business Processes||20–30%|
|Area III||Financial Management||10–20%|
|Area IV||Information Technology||15–25%|
|Area V||Operations Management||15–25%|
Source: AICPA blueprint
There are three written communication questions on the BEC exam, and typically that is the area candidates are most concerned about. Also, the BEC Exam is usually considered one of the “easier” exams by CPA candidates. However, many candidates go into the exam without properly preparing, only to find out that the BEC section was a much more difficult exam than they realized. So ensure that you’re allotting enough study time to the BEC exam so that you’re better prepared on exam day.
Tips for the Written Communication Section of BEC
The written portion of the BEC exam is to ensure that CPA candidates are able to construct professional, business documents in the event that they need to communicate any issues or concerns they might come across with a future client. This portion of the exam not only tests your proficiency in articulating a problem and solution in well-thought-out content but also your technical use of standard English and professional document creation. Also, remember that one out of the three written communication questions is a pretest, meaning that only two of them will account for 15% of your total BEC score.
The written portion of the BEC exam is graded for both technical content and writing skills. So, here are some tips to use when planning your overall written communication strategy:
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and Standard English.
- Write clearly, concisely, and use complete sentences.
- Include an introduction, body, and summarizing conclusion.
- Don’t use bullet points, abbreviations, charts, or graphs.
- Stay on the topic because it is important that your written answer is relevant, on-topic, and answers the question asked.
- Include keywords in your answers. For example, you might use keywords like, “changing accounting principle,” “change in estimate,” and “retrospective” in certain answers. It depends on what question was asked. Either way, be sure to incorporate some of the main components of the question into your answer.
How to Study for the BEC Exam
- Manage your time. You want to make sure you have enough time to answer all 3 of the questions in full and that you spend an adequate amount of time on each to fully develop the content and understand what is being asked of you. You don’t want to spend an exuberant amount of time on one question that you’re unsure of and only a few minutes for the ones you are sure of, and vice versa.
- Brainstorm. Sometimes you’ll get a question that you automatically know the answer to; other times you may have to think a little bit in order to guide yourself in the right direction to find the answer. In either case, brainstorming is a very helpful way to do that. You don’t have to take a ton of time on this part; maybe a minute or two sorting out the different approaches you can take to answer the question and narrow it down even further thereafter. During your brainstorm, take into consideration the following:
- The format of the document (is it a letter, proposal, etc.)
- The question that’s being asked of you
- The steps (or methods) you plan on taking/using to answer the question
- The audience
- Keywords you can use related to your objective (this is an important one since it will open up many doors for you in terms of adding more technical words/phrases that relate more closely to your topic)
3. Organize by Creating an Outline. Your response should always have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Make sure your reader understands how you got from point A to point B. The best way to do that is to use your brainstorm and break down your response into 3-4 pertinent paragraphs explaining each step or methodology you’re using in order to answer the question. Creating an outline in order to assemble the organization of your response is a great way to ensure that you know exactly what to write and where to write it in logical order. Write bullets and include keywords for each of the areas. The organization/outline of your response should look something like this:
- Thesis (otherwise known as the introductory paragraph): Your first sentence should be a nice rewording or restatement of the question at hand. You should provide a couple of sentences that maybe provide some background information about the topic, and then your last sentence should tell the reader how you’re going to solve the problem or what they can do to solve the problem.
- Body: Use 2-4 paragraphs to explain the steps you’re going to use to address/solve the problem. Each paragraph should explain one step and should have the following structure:
- Topic sentence: Your first sentence should be the step you’re going to take that talks about how you are going to address/solve the problem (Paragraph 1 would be step 1, Paragraph 2 would be step 2, etc.)
- Supporting details: These are sentences that explain and support your topic sentence. Give examples, provide background information, or simply go into detail about how to execute the step, how it’s beneficial to the overall plan, and how it best relates to your given scenario. Include those keywords you brainstormed and implement them here.
- Concluding sentence: Use the last sentence in your first paragraph as a transition into your next paragraph and as a way to wrap up your current point.
- Conclusion: After all your body paragraphs are written, summarize your thesis and the steps you used to solve the problem. Afterward, give the reader your two cents. This is a chance for you to give some valuable advice from a professional opinion as a CPA. It’s always great to end the response with the main point you want your reader to walk away with; mainly that your answer is the best one for x, y, and z reasons.
4. Write. Now it’s time to actually write the thing which is going to be ten times easier now that you’ve brainstormed, organized, and outlined the entire response. It’s practically already written for you! All you have to do is turn your bullets into coherent sentences. Remember to avoid fragments, run-on sentences, and straying from the topic. Here are a few pointers you can use to keep your writing lively and varied:
- Tone: Speak in a friendly but professional tone. You don’t want your reader to feel encumbered with a fire and brimstone exposition. You want to sound informative, approachable, and knowledgeable. Keep your audience in mind.
- Syntax: Arrange your words and phrases to create well-formed sentences that don’t always have the same structure. Use short and long sentences to play up the rhythm of your writing so it doesn’t sound monotonous. Use compound and complex sentences and/or a mixture of both.
- Diction: Be mindful of your word choice. If you can use technical accounting/CPA terminology, great! But only use them in areas that make sense and not as fluff to cover an area that you might not otherwise have a lot of expertise in. Avoid being repetitive when possible.
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. This last one’s so important we had to say it thrice! We can’t stress this point enough. Oftentimes when you’re in the groove of writing, you’ll feel like Superman, soaring through the page, your words and unbelievably clever mind being an impenetrable force of brilliance! But before you turn in that great response, re-read it from beginning to end because chances are that in your moments of genius madness, you may have misspelled a word or two or combined two sentences together that make absolutely no sense.
Check for spelling, grammar, complete sentences, fragments, punctuation, and overall flow of your writing. We know it can sometimes be a pain to re-read what you just wrote but trust us: this extra step will make all the difference between a great response and a mediocre one, no matter how on-point or on-topic you were.
6. Don’t get hung up on one question. If you get the feeling that you spend just a few more minutes on a particular question, you can figure it out. Try not to fall victim to this way of thinking. The best advice is to mark it, keep going, and if you have time at the end of the testlet, go back to it. You cannot afford to waste any time because you will need it to draft your written communications.
Finally, partner with a CPA Review course that uses in-depth answer explanations, has engaging lectures, integrates robust tracking and reports into their course materials, and has a comprehensive app that syncs across all devices. Then, continue studying, reviewing, and working through MCQs and TBSs each and every day, and you will be well prepared for the BEC section of the CPA Exam.