So, you’ve decided to sit for the ABV Exam – congratulations! You’ve likely spent many hours researching the credential, formulating your sales pitch to your firm as to how the ABV credential will round out your education, broaden your skillset, and enable you to offer a greater variety of services to your firm’s clients. Your firm has generously agreed to support you on this endeavor, and now that you’ve visited the AICPA Store to register for the exam and received your notification to schedule, it is all becoming real. The question quickly becomes, “how on earth am I actually going to prepare for this thing?”
As with any other exam, there are simply no shortcuts – to pass the ABV Exam will require a significant amount of dedication and effort on your part. However, with a disciplined and strategic approach to studying, you too can pass. The following are my top five recommendations for preparing for the ABV Exam.
1.) Questions, questions, and more questions
Studies have shown that repetitively answering practice questions in a similar format to what you’ll face on the exam is far more effective than simply reading a textbook and attempting to memorize the material. As someone who has faced more than my fair share of post-graduate exams, I can attest to this – particularly when you are preparing for an exam that is as broad in scope as the ABV Exam. My best advice is to answer all the reading comprehension questions as you go and then periodically retest yourself on each of the chapters you’ve previously studied as you move through the rest of the material to avoid forgetting the material.
2.) Create a study plan and stick to it
This should go without saying, but consistency is key when preparing for a major exam such as the ABV Exam. The challenge in preparing for the ABV Exam is that you’re no longer in school – you have a real life now, with real responsibilities. Be up front with your family, friends and employer to make sure they understand that you’re preparing for an exam, that it’s only temporary, and that you’ll need some understanding for the next few months. If setting a goal of studying 1-2 hours per night works for you then, by all means, do that and stick with it. In my experience, I’ve found that setting an hourly goal each night can lead to more clock-watching and less studying. Each person’s best practices are different; find yours and commit.
3.) Search for real-world applications
Falling in line with my first suggestion, I cannot recommend more strongly that you search for real-world applications to the material that you’re learning throughout the review course. Personally, I was fortunate in that when I sat for the ABV Exam I had already been given an opportunity to begin helping out on valuation modeling and research. As I prepared for the exam, I would frequently try applying concepts I was learning on client work (off the clock) in order to test my understanding of the material. I feel very strongly that these experiences helped reinforce the material in my head and ultimately pass both modules of the ABV Exam on my first attempts.
If you’re not able to assist on any valuation engagements prior to sitting for the exam, I would recommend seeing if your employer will allow you to review any reports they have issued in the past. Thoroughly reading a real work product is another great way to put the concepts you will be learning in a real-world perspective.
4.) Use all available resources
Get creative in how you study. The AICPA has an abundance of materials on its website. Many times, if you aren’t grasping a particular topic, all that’s needed is a different explanation.
5.) Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. In my experience, valuation professionals are some of the friendliest and most fun people out there. They genuinely enjoy their jobs and love sharing knowledge with anyone who will listen. The AICPA has several programs (ABV Champions or Mentor Program) available to provide you with access to experienced professionals who will help guide you through the exam process. See the AICPA’s website for more information on these programs if you’re interested.
Congratulations again on your decision to sit for the ABV Exam. I hope these tips will be useful to you as you begin your journey to becoming an ABV credential holder.
Andrew Blank, CPA/ABV
Senior Consultant, Wipfli LLP – Chicago, IL
Andrew is a senior consultant with Wipfli LLP out of the firm’s Chicago office where he specializes in business valuation and transaction advisory services. In addition, Andrew has been a member of the AICPA’s ABV Credential Committee since September 2016.