As in other professional tests, the SEE is pretty doable with proper preparation. I’ve taken the time to list out all the tips I have on the Enrolled Agent exam prep today. If you have more, drop below and share with us!
How to be Efficient in Enrolled Agent Exam Prep
The more efficient you are, the less time required to complete the preparation.
1. Know What the SEE is All About
The SEE is in fact a relatively simple exam. It consists of 100 multiple choice questions, with no case studies, simulations or essays whatsoever.
You’ve got 3.5 hours (210 minutes), meaning you can spend 2.1 minutes on average on each question.
In terms of difficulty, you are expected to answer income tax accounting questions in intermediate college level.
2. Settle Down with the Right Review Materials
You may have heard how someone passed by using the IRS publications and past questions alone. But then, the IRS has stopped releasing past questions since 2005. Those questions are based on pretty outdated laws and can be quite misleading.
I also find reading the IRS pubs a very inefficient way to study, because it is designed as a reference material instead of a study guide.
My suggestion: pick a review course that fits your background, learning style and budget.
If it’s hard for you to choose, my general recommendation is Gleim, because:
i) Great feedback from my readers
So far, Gleim is the only one that gets a 100% positive review from my readers, and from what I read from various forums. That’s why it is known to be the most widely used review materials for EA exam, and is officially endorsed by NAEA.
ii) They have the best questions
The EA exam is non-disclosed, and therefore review course providers rely on EA exams candidates to provide feedbacks for them to make improvement. The fact that Gleim has the personal counselor system helps them to gather such feedback more efficiently and accurately, thereby increasing the overall quality of the practice questions.
iii) They have free trials
There is nothing to lose. Why not give it a try?
You can learn more about Gleim EA Review (both the pros and cons) here.
3. Start with a Workable Study Plan
Note the keywords are “start” and “workable” here.
Before any studying and scheduling of the exams, plan.
Yes, planning should be the first and most important part of your EA exam preparation. Proper planning minimizes pitfalls, such as running out of time, getting the wrong materials and missing the scheduling deadline.
Secondly, it has to be realistic. If you haven’t touched tax for years, you can’t expect to know the codes inside-out in two weeks. If tax season is coming up, you may want to include buffer time in your plan.
4. Avoid Cramming
Research has shown that spreading out your studying is better than cramming. It’s generally better to study for 15 hours per week for 4 weeks, than 60 hours non-stop for a week.
Also, try to figure out what’s the best time for you to study. For most people, it’s early morning, but it could be different for you.
5. Embrace the Exam Mode in Practice Questions
When working on the practice questions, you’ll need to alternate between “study mode” and “exam mode”. The exam mode lets you experience the stress of finishing 100 questions within the time limit. It’s an important training on your mental strength and time management.
When you take the mock exam, try working at place that feels like the prometric center, such as the library or a quiet room.
Effective vs Efficient
Being “effective” is different from being “efficient”. An effective student can learn more and perform better given the same amount of studying time.
Clean your desk and room so there is minimal distraction.
7. Stay away from Emails and Social Media
I am not saying that you shouldn’t check email and facebook for a week. It is unrealistic.
But what you can do is to postpone the checking until the time you take a rest, so you can combine the break with something relaxing and enjoyable to do.
The key here is to save the precious “effective studying hours” (e.g. first thing in the morning) on studying rather than on emails.
I quite like this Pomodoro Technique that’s becoming popular in balancing tasks and breaks. You may want to check it out later.
8. Think Long Term
Feel like you absolutely can’t miss this TV episode? Tell me the benefit of you watching this, versus biting the bullet and finishing off with the EA exam, and become an Enrolled Agent.
What’s more important 10 years down the road?
Cut down short term pleasure for longer-time accomplishment and enjoyment of life.
How to Create More Time for Studying
9. Differentiate Sleep and Sleep-in
You do need enough rest for this exam and your life as a professional, spouse and/or parent. But there isn’t a real benefit for sleeping in (except for pleasure, which we said we should wait until after the exam).
So, put your loudest alarm clock at the end of the room. By the time you pick it up, you don’t feel like going back to sleep.
I’ve tried putting my favorite snacks on the bedside… anything that helps to break your sleep will work just fine.
10. Don’t Waste Idle Time
If you have long commute or long wait (e.g. during kids’ sports practice), find a way to make good use of the time.
For me, if it’s only 5-10 minutes, I find the flashcards pretty useful. If I have more than 10 minutes, I might grab a book or work on a few online test prep questions.
11. Ask for Help
If you have an understanding boss or colleagues, they may be able to take up some extra work. In practice though, it is easier to outsource your non-professional tasks, e.g. cooking, cleaning, and overall management of the household.
Spouse is a great support physically and mentally if they agree that getting the EA is important for you and the family. Older children can be responsible for keeping the house in order.
Grannies and neighbors can also be helpful in different ways. You’ll be amazed how happy your family feels that they can be helpful.
Last resort: hire help. It’s worth the money.
12. Combine Bonding with Studying
This is related to the point above, especially with the kids. Can you bring them to the library — they read the books while you study for the exam? Have older children ask you a question from the flashcard and they check the answer for you. Hey, it’s a game right there!
Looping in family members also help them understand what you are going through, an in turn they are more willing to reach out and provide emotional support.
Multiple Choice Studying Tips
13. Get Familiar with Exam Format and Style
According to the candidate bulletin, the question style is simple enough with 3 types of multiple choice questions:
(i) direct question e.g. what is the color of the cat?
(ii) incomplete sentence e.g. the color of the cat is…
(iii) all of the following except e.g. the color of the cat is all of the following except…
As you can see, they aren’t too tricky. As long as you get used to the question style, it’s not hard to do well.
14. Make Good Use of the Practice Questions
We don’t really learn much from reading the study guides. We learn more from reading the practice questions and understanding the answers.
When you get a question right, read the other answer options to see why they are wrong; when you get the answer wrong, read why they were wrong
It may take you 3 to 4 hours for each topic, but it’s well worth the time.
15. Identify the Weaker Topics
Constantly review this cheat sheet. Does it reveal any patterns, such as:
- Wrong answers in certain topic?
- Wrong answers in certain type and format?
- Wrong answers in certain fact pattern?
The integrated review course has online tracking system to identify your weaker areas by various means.
16. Refine Your Skill in Educated Guessing
It is not surprisingly that candidates repeatedly get caught by questions they have never seen before.
With this in mind, it is very important that candidates practice the art of “educated guessing” through during their study.
In other words, get practices on a large variety of topics and don’t skip around the questions if you don’t mind. Also, don’t be afraid of the “test mode” (vs study mode) — I don’t like the extra stress but that’s precisely why we have to overcome it!
Try your best to get the best answer by whatever means — it could be by elimination, by relating a concept you learned from your other exam for example… this skill is going to be critical in the actual exam.
Exam Taking Strategies
17. Time Management
Since the EA exam is comprised entirely of multiple choice questions, time management is easier than other accounting exams which may include case studies and essays.
You have, on average, 2.1 minutes for each question. Candidates have enough time to complete most of the questions in 1.5 minutes. If you get stuck with one from an obscure tax law, you can spend up to 2 minutes. After that, mark the question and move on. You can always come back afterwards.
18. Read All Choices before Picking the Answer
Many candidates pick the answer that “looks correct” and rush to the next question. But sometimes, there could be a better answer in B, C or D, or that you can choose “all of the above” when all answers are correct.
Always read the 4 possibilities before selecting the answer.
19. Don’t Leave Any Questions Unanswered
There is no penalty for wrong answers. If you run out of time, blind guessing is better than leaving them blank.
20. Anticipate the Correct Answer before Reading the Choices
Sometimes, the available answer choices look “reasonable” and they could do more harm then good by throwing you off and distracting you. In fact, the 3 incorrect answer choices are technically known as “distractors”.
You should always come up with the answer in your head before looking at the choices. If your answer matches with one of the responses, then you can be certain that the particular response is correct.
21. Follow Your First Impression
Multiple choice is all about recognition of things you have learned. If you are well prepared and you have read the question and choice of answers carefully, your first impression is often the best.
If you get stuck, try imagining each choice as the correct answer. People often “feel” that one of the answers is wrong. This happens when you are familiar with a concept but don’t have a firm grasp at it, just like you may know a person but you can’t recall his name.
You will hear stories of people who put in 25 hours and pass. But there are many hard working candidates taking 3,000+ practice questions in preparation for all three parts.
Bottom line: You can pass this test if you put in the work.
Fellow reader Mike shares his tips after passing his exam:
Study the concepts/rules not the questions. Ask why if you don’t know the answer. Understand the question and what the examiners are asking. Don’t study the day before the test. Go do something that day and RELAX, and if you fail, don’t get discouraged.”
If you find these tips helpful, consider signing up to my free mini-course to learn about the exam and get more tips for your passing success. You may learn about the mini-course here or sign up directly below: