Tips for Passing the Written Communications Section of the BEC Exam
Student Questions on the Written Communications Section
Since the BEC Exam is the only CPA exam with a section on business writing, then students naturally have a lot of questions on it. The most common questions I hear include: “How do I start preparing for it?” “How is it graded?” and “Do you have any tips on passing it?”
When I took the BEC exam, I passed with a near-perfect score of 98, and in this article, I am going to share the same study tools with you that I used myself. We will address the exam structure, how the exam is graded, tips for preparing, and an outline strategy.
After completing the first four test lets on the BEC exam for students move to the fifth and final test let, which is on written communications. In this section, students write three business documents (essays) that make up 15% of the student’s BEC score. Keep in mind that only two of the three essays count toward the student’s score, since one of the essays is “pretested,” meaning that it’s being tested to officially include in future CPA exams. Of course, you will not know which essay is pretested, so give each one your best.
Grading of the Written Communications Section
You might be surprised to learn that the written communications section is almost always graded by a computer instead of a human, which we can use as a strategy for preparing. If a student is close to the passing threshold, then a human scorer will grade the essay instead.
What are the criteria for a high score on the written communications section? The test makers evaluate the essays according to two main criteria: technical writing and writing skills. Technical writing refers to how helpful the writing is to the audience and how relevant it is to the issue. You can think of this as the focus of the content area of the essay. For example, if the writing prompt focuses on debt financing, then all of your content needs to be relevant to debt financing. A crucial part of technical writing is making sure you incorporate as many relevant keywords into your essay as possible.
With the essays being graded by computers, my personal opinion is that every sentence does not have to be perfect. Focus on including relevant terms and the proper use of English, but don’t get too worked up over perfection. It is a business essay, after all, not a New York Times Bestseller.
Writing skills refers to the organization and expression of ideas, meaning that students need to properly organize the essay into an introduction, body, and conclusion. Additionally, students need to implement clear sentence structure, in addition to using proper grammar and spelling.
Preparing for the Written Communications Essays
You might be asking, “Should I specifically prepare for the written communications section?” Well as you are preparing for the other sections of the BEC exam, you are indirectly studying for the written communications section. For example, if you’re studying the IT section and learning key terms about topics like firewalls, then if you get a writing prompt about the pros and cons of firewalls, you will already be prepared—the relevant vocab will already be in your mind. Because of this indirect studying, I don’t find it very useful to study for specific content (technical writing) for the written communications section.
Even though you don’t need to prepare for the content of the essays, you might need to prepare your writing skills. If writing essays is not your forté, or if English is not your first language, then I would suggest spending time developing your writing skills. Find a writing topic that interests you and then practice writing brief four-paragraph essays on the topic. After you write the essay, then you want to review it to learn from your mistakes. I recommend going to the free and incredibly useful proofreading website Grammarly.com. Grammarly will analyze your writing for errors and suggest alternate wordings. Through writing essays and then analyzing them, your English writing abilities will steadily improve.
How Should I Approach Each Writing Prompt?
Once you read the writing prompt, I recommend breaking up your time as follows:
Create an Outline – 3 Minutes
Write the Essay – 15 Minutes
Proofread the Essay – 2 Minutes
Creating an outline is essential for the written communications section. Trust me, don’t try convincing yourself that you will save time by skipping an outline. You will instead get off-topic and lose important points. First, you need to make a list of as many relevant keywords as possible. Remember, the computer grader is looking for relevant terms!
After writing the list of relevant vocab, then add bullet points to the outline to show the topics you will address in each paragraph. After writing the topics of each paragraph, then draw a line from your list of relevant vocab to your outline to show where you will include the keyword.
Now that you have your outline, it’s time to write the essay! Make sure the intro paragraph clearly addresses the main idea of the essay. Then in the body paragraphs, include as much relevant content as possible. In the conclusion paragraph, restate your initial idea in a slightly different way.
Once you write the essay, then go back and review each individual sentence, checking for grammar and spelling errors. After all, you don’t want to lose valuable points just because you used “there” instead of “their,” do you?
So there you have it! In this article, we’ve covered how the Online exams remote proctoring is structured, how it’s graded, and how you can prepare to pass it! I hope that this article has put you one step closer to passing the BEC exam, getting your CPA license, and significantly improving your career!
Kyle Ashcraft, CPA
Kyle Ashcraft is a CPA that scored a 90+ on all four CPA exams. Kyle founded Maxwell CPA Review, which is an exam-prep company that offers one-on-one tutoring for the CPA exams. Kyle can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting MaxwellCPAreview.com