By Gaileon Thompson, CTP, FP&A
Congratulations on taking the next step in your career by taking the FP&A exam! Preparing for the exam requires a commitment of time, which many professionals have in short supply, so making the most efficient use of your studying is of the utmost importance. To help you with that journey, I’d like to share a couple of things that I learned along the way that will hopefully make exam day as stress-free as possible.
For starters, I highly recommend using AFP’s FP&A Learning System. I say this for a number of reasons:
1) The materials go in-depth on the topics that will be covered on the exam, so you know your studies will cover all of the necessary content.
2) The Learning System includes both written text materials and access to an online learning portal with quizzes and sample exam questions that help you gauge your learning progress and understand what areas you know well and what areas may require additional review. The feedback you receive as a result can help you allocate precious study time to those topics that need the most attention.
3) The written materials include a number of case studies to help reinforce the subject matter, and they often involve financial statements and/or calculations. Included in the online portal are worksheets to accompany the case studies, so you can audit the formulas and actually see how the case study progresses in a worksheet. If you are the type of person who learns better by doing rather than just reading, this is an excellent benefit.
Next, I also suggest reviewing the Exam Functionality Tutorial to acquaint yourself with the spreadsheet program that you’ll be using for the exam. As you likely know, there are a number of questions on each exam that are task-based simulations (TBS). Part one has 15 such questions; part two has 35. I say “spreadsheet program” intentionally because it is not Excel. This is an important distinction on a couple of fronts. If you are like me, you use a lot of shortcuts in Excel, some of which you may not even realize that you use. In the exam, these shortcuts will likely not work, so don’t be surprised.
Additionally, while you can, and will, use formulas to solve the TBS problems, you will need to know the variables required and in which order to input them. For example, if you were to calculate Net Present Value in Excel, you would be prompted for the rate and the values in the correct order. However, on the exam, you will need to know to enter “=NPV(rate, value1, [value2], ...)”. While this may seem like a simple example and a “no-brainer” as you’re reading this, keep in mind that there are dozens of formulas you may need to use and the TBS questions are at the end of your exam, when you may already be a bit mentally taxed. Being forewarned is forearmed, so definitely carve out time in your studies to use the resources available to prepare for the exam environment.
I hope that these tips will help you as you prepare for the exam. It is a challenging, but very worthwhile endeavor. Best of luck!
Gaileon Thompson, CTP, FP&A, is senior vice president/group manager, business planning and analysis for Citibank’s Global Consumer Technology division and chairwoman of the FP&A Advisory Council.