Note from AG: If you have a CPA exam question for us, get in touch and we’ll do our best to answer without making you feel like we don’t like you or somehow disrespect your career decisions. No judgments, least of all from a girl who grew up to write for an accounting tabloid.

Today’s question is a good one because it addresses a CPA exam candidate concern that has been valid since the exam went computerized in 2004. I always call BEC the junk drawer of the CPA exam since up until 2011 it contained all the crap left over from other sections that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. I have consistently heard the same complaint: it is random and no matter how well you prepare, you’re going to see a bunch of off-the-wall material that you never covered. This is pretty standard regardless of which review course you are using, so for the purposes of answering the following question we’ll speak generally (not being familiar with Becker’s 2011 product):

I am taking BEC in May 2011. I have seen people writing in the forum that Becker’s materials are not representative of the exam. I have passed FAR, and I felt Becker/Wiley is very representative (as in “no surprises”). For REG, Becker/Wiley is quite representative (prepared me well enough), but still I have to make guesses. I actually felt like giving up half way on REG because there are many twists in the questions that I have never seen before.

So, for BEC, how do you think I should prepare so that there are not many surprises? I am using Becker/Wiley. I can’t take any surprises…

With sections like FAR and REG, it’s assumed that you took at least a couple general accounting courses in school, which would have taught you journal entries, revenue recognition, inventory and maybe even pension accounting if you overachieved and went for Advanced Accounting. But with BEC, you’re dealing with variance analysis, cost accounting and corporate governance; areas many of you probably avoided in college if you could. Meaning not only is it random, it feels more so because so much of it can be unfamiliar.

That being said, a little birdie told me that COSO, corporate governance, ERM and the other new areas in BEC for 2011 showed up last window in larger amounts than suspected, so be sure to review those areas thoroughly. Remember too that the review courses all get their information from the same source, the AICPA. You can get that info too by checking out the CSOs in detail.

With BEC, you can expect to be tested on six core areas in the following percentages (current as of January 1, 2011):

I. Corporate Governance (16% – 20%)
II. Economic Concepts and Analysis (16% – 20%)
III. Financial Management (19% – 23%)
IV. Information Systems and Communications (15% – 19%)
V. Strategic Planning (10% – 14%)
VI. Operations Management (12% – 16%)

Now go back to your materials, do you see a similar breakdown in what you’re covering? One complaint I heard from someone who prepared for BEC in the first quarter was that her Wiley materials did not cover nearly enough corp governance compared to what she saw on her exam.

Until we have better information, be prepared for the unpredictability of BEC to continue. Looking at 2011 material compared to past years, it does appear that the AICPA has addressed some of that unpredictability to create a more succinct section but don’t expect it to be as streamlined as, say, FAR any time soon. Just a guess!