If you were ever daunted by your high school English teacher whose midterms and finals consisted of analyzing a piece of poetry or literature in which you had to find all the symbolism, double entendre’s, and various literary devices you could barely name, then breathe a sigh of relief. Because the BEC Written Communication section of the CPA Exam is not that.
There will be 3 Written Communication questions that you will encounter on the BEC which basically tests your ability to write and construct professional, business documents in the event that you need to communicate any issues or concerns you may have with your potential clients in writing. This portion of the BEC exam is not meant to measure how flowery or fluffy you can make your writing; lets save that for those of us who are looking to do creative writing on the side or want to publish our own short novel someday. In actuality, the Written Communication portion of the BEC 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 documentation creation.
What are the graders looking for?
In order to do well on the BEC Written Communications questions, its important to know what the graders are looking for in a well written response:
3. On topic
4. Proper grammar
5. Complete sentences
7. Supporting details
8. Proper formatting
9. Introductions and conclusions
So to make sure that youre answering the questions in a way that encompasses all the above components, follow our tips below to get the most out of your written responses and earn a high score. Remember, 1 out of the 3 Written Communications questions is a pretest, meaning you have to put your best foot forward in answering all 3 questions since only 2 of them will account for 15% of your total BEC score.
BEC Written Communications Tips
1. 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 dont want to spend an exuberant amount of time on one question youre unsure of and only a few minutes for the ones you are sure of, and vice versa.
2. Brainstorm – Sometimes youll 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 dont 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:
a. The format of the document (is it a letter, proposal, etc.)
b. The question thats being asked of you
c. The steps (or methods) you plan on taking/using to answer the question
d. The audience youre writing for
e. 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 youre 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:
a. 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 provides some background information about the topic, and then your last sentence should tell the reader how youre going to solve the problem or what they can do to solve the problem.
b. Body: Use 2-4 paragraphs to explain the steps youre going to use to address/solve the problem. Each paragraph should explain one step and should have the following structure:
1. Topic sentence: Your first sentence should be the step youre going to take that talk about how you are going to address/solve the problem (Paragraph 1 would be step 1,Paragraph 2 would be step 2, etc.)
2. 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 its beneficial to the overall plan, and how it best relates to your given scenario. Include those key words you brainstormed and implement them here.
3. 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.
c. 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. Its 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 its time to actually write the thingwhich is going to be ten times easier now that you’ve brainstormed, organized, and outlined the entire response. Its 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:
a. Tone: Speak in a friendly but professional tone. You dont 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.
b. Syntax: Arrange your words and phrases to create well-formed sentences that dont always have the same structure. Use short and long sentences to play up the rhythm of your writing so it doesnt sound monotonous. Use compound and complex sentences and/or a mixture of both.
c. 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 repetitious 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. Often times 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.
Right on? Write on! Happy studying!